Faithfulness and Loyalty

I ran across a lovely column by Fr. William Grimm, a MaryKnoll Missioner in Japan, on the difference between faithfulness and loyalty.  This is something I have struggled with myself, and he has really captured something important.  Here are the highlights:

Looking at dogs and their fidelity, I realize that this virtue — whether in a dog or a human — is grounded in history. It is actualized in the present, based in the past. That seems obvious enough. Neither a dog nor a person can be loyal to someone or something which he or she has as yet not encountered.

However, the fact that this human virtue is also a canine virtue should alert us to the possibility that it might not rank as high as others in the hierarchy of virtues.Might there not be a similar virtue that we share with God as the dog shares fidelity with us, an apotheosis of loyalty?  There is, though we lack an English word for it and are forced to use a word usually synonymous with fidelity or loyalty: faithfulness….We too are capable of and called to live this virtue of faithfulness, to live in commitment not solely for the sake of what has been, but for the hopeful vision of what can be, what will be….When we take marriage vows or make some other life commitment, we commit ourselves to faithfulness. We do not know where faithfulness will lead, but we know that it can only last so long as we remain open to new experiences, new insights, new disappointments, new failures, new triumphs and new mysteries.

The virtue of faithfulness can be perverted in two ways.  It can be replaced by loyalty, a loyalty to a past which we find comfortable and secure.  This loyalty can cause us to reject faithfulness to what is new, to what is to come.  At the other extreme, faithfulness to what is to come can be replaced by faith in what we want to come, a future we have decided upon.  In both cases we have turned away from God and his promise and put our faith in ourselves or in our constructed image of God.  We need to reject these comfortable fantasies and embrace the unseen hope which is the Gospel.

As we prepare to enter the holy season of Lent may we remember and have faith in God’s promise:  “See, I make all things new!”

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