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  • Writer's pictureFr. Vili Lehtoranta

He is Faithful Who Has Promised

One reason I chose St. Joseph to be the patron of the Sodality of Charity, our parish youth group for girls and young ladies, is his great fidelity. In the Litany of St. Joseph, he is called “Joseph most faithful.” A follower of Christ is faithful to Him and His teachings, and he loves his neighbor as himself.


The word “fidelity” comes from the Latin word fidelis, faithful, or trusty. It means faithfulness, a careful and exact observance of duty, or performance of obligations or vows. St. Paul writes: “He is faithful that hath promised.” (Hebrews 10:23)


Fidelity in our days is rare. Recently I read a news story from Finland. A mother had arranged a birthday party for her daughter who turned eight. The girl had invited five girls from her school to the party. But some of them cancelled a day before, and the rest said on the day of the party, when everything was all set, that they would not come. The girl was left all alone. The mother said in the story that this is what usually happens. The girl is not invited to other children’s birthday parties, either. She had some friends in kindergarten, but when school started, these friends disappeared, and in school she mostly plays by herself. The only consolation is that she has a younger sister who has friends, and they let her play with them.



Imagine the disappointment of a child, being left all by herself, when the guests invited were not faithful to their promise, and did not come. When you are unfaithful to your promise, you bruise and wound a heart. And you don’t just break a promise, you might break a heart as well. If you go through life, as many do, making and breaking promises, you leave suffering and bitterness behind you. You cannot live a life of a faithful follower of Christ until you realize that fidelity to promises is an essential part of charity to our neighbor.


To break a promise to a child may seem to be a trivial thing and not important. But there is the same kind of injustice and cruelty in breaking a promise to a child as there is in breaking more serious promises that are made to adults. The breaking of marriage vow is called infidelity, because the guilty party has not kept his word, i.e. his promise to be faithful. Prophet Malachias writes: “Because the Lord is witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have broken faith though she is your companion, your betrothed wife.” (Malachias 2:14, Confraternity-Douay Version)


In our times Catholics, rightly of course, emphasize how important it is to stay faithful to God and His commandments, and to His true religion. But sometimes they don’t notice that in the Sacred Scriptures there is also a strong emphasis laid upon telling the truth and being honest in human relations. The Apostles make it clear that fidelity is of the essence of brotherhood and charity. St. Paul writes: “Let the charity of the fraternity abide in you.” (Hebrews 13:1) He also writes: “Lie not one to another.” (Colossians 3:9) And he continues: “For the which cause laying away lying, speak ye truth everyone with his neighbor, because we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25) St. Paul also condemns the “double tongued,” (1 Timothy 3:8), and St. James tells that “a man double of mind is inconstant in all his ways.” (James 1:8) That’s what a person who breaks his promises is: double-tongued and double-minded. There is no love in his heart.


It is interesting to note how St. Paul takes time off in his Epistle to the Philippians to tell the story of the magnificent fidelity of Epaphroditus. St. Epaphroditus was the first Bishop of Philippi, and St. Paul calls him “my brother and coadjutor and fellow soldier” and tells the Philippians to “receive him therefore with all joy in our Lord, and such entreat with honor.” (Philippians 2:25,29)


St. Epaphroditus had been commissioned by the Philippians to carry a gift to Paul, and he risked his life in doing so, because “he was sick even to death.” (2:27) St. Paul writes: “Because for the work of Christ, he came to the point of death, yielding his life, that he might fulfill that which on your part wanted toward my service.” (2:30)


St. Paul was deeply grateful for the gift so loyally delivered: “But I have all things, and abound. I was filled after I received of Epaphroditus the things that you sent, an odor of sweetness, an acceptable host, pleasing God. And my God supply all your lack according to His riches in glory, in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:18-19)


It is up to every good Catholic, every loyal citizen, and everyone who wants to help and serve his fellow men, to learn and practice the virtue of keeping his promises. When George Washington was about 14 years old, he wrote out a copy of the 110 Rules of Civility in his school book. Number 82 of those old rules reads: “Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.”



Is it possible for a person to acquire this virtue of fidelity? I think it is not only possible but, for most, relatively easy. It calls only for the formation of a new and better habit, for a little self-control, for a little exercise of strength of will, according to the faith we have received from God. Our Lord said to St. Thomas: Et noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis – “and be not incredulous, but faithful.” (John 20:27)


If a person wants to make a decision to fulfill his promises, there is first a preliminary duty he should attend to. First, he should take a sheet of paper and write down, one by one, all the promises he has made that he has not yet fulfilled. If he examines his conscience faithfully, he will discover a great number of them, big and small. Those that are not in his power to fulfill, he should cancel. Those that are in his power, he should attend to without delay.


Having thus “wiped the slate clean,” he should face the future with a new outlook on the virtue of fidelity. In the future he must determine to be faithful, because “he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected.” (1 John 2:5) There are some guidelines which he should then faithfully follow.


First of all, make few promises. One philosopher said: “Those that are most slow in making a promise are the most faithful in the performance of it.” When I read that news story about the girl who was left alone on her birthday, I was sad, because it showed me how much times have changed. When I was growing up, whether you were a Christian or a pagan, you wouldn’t even dream of doing something like that, to accept an invitation and then just not show up. All kinds of questions go through the mind of a child – or an adult – whose heart has been pierced by a broken promise. Why did he do it? Why make a promise in the first place, if he was not going to be faithful to it? If you are invited to a birthday party, or some other occasion, or asked a favor, and you don’t want to go, or think you can’t make it, just say: “I’m sorry, I have other engagements, I can’t make it.” People might think that you’re being little rude, but that doesn’t come even close to the disappointment your host has if you break your word and don’t show up.


Secondly, when you make a promise, mean it. And when you have made a promise, let nothing stop you from fulfilling it. You might, for example, promise to go to dinner at your parents; and then your friend tells you that there is an outing on that same day and time, and asks you to come with him. Some people might simply inform the parents that something else came up, and cancel the dinner. No, that won’t do, because you promised your parents first. Maybe you think that you see your parents all the time, and they don’t mind. There’s no way you can know that. Your parents might be hurt to the core of their hearts because you broke your promise, but they say nothing because they don’t want to hurt your feelings and act towards you as selfishly as you did to them. But even if they actually don’t mind, that’s not the point. To habitually be unfaithful to your word gives you a reputation that you are unreliable, that your word cannot be trusted. People will respect you and rely on you only if you are faithful to your word and you have fidelity in your heart and on your lips.


Thirdly, it is always unwise to make vague or ill-defined promises. A promise should be definite and unconditioned. For example, if you have a habit to come to Mass late, and want to get rid of this bad habit, do not make a promise such as: “I’ll try my best to get to church on time.” In this way, when you are making the promise, you are already excusing yourself. Instead, you must make a promise like: “From now on, I will always be on time!” Or, if you have a report you have to submit, don’t promise to deliver it in some indefinite period, like that you’ll give it “soon.” You must give a definite promise, such as: “I will give it to you personally Monday morning at eight.” Vague words like “soon” are such subjective terms that, depending on the person making the promise, they can mean almost anything. And, based on my own experience, very often “soon” ends up being “never”.


Lastly, sometimes it does happen that it becomes impossible to keep your word. You might catch a sudden illness, or you are called on a sudden mission in your work which you cannot postpone. But, keep this in mind: if circumstances which are beyond your control render it impossible for you to keep your promise, make some reparation. Of course, if you had a good reason not to keep your promise, it’s not your fault. But, do you remember that girl who was left by herself on her birthday? Maybe all the girls whom she invited and did not come had a good reason to miss the birthday party. But it doesn’t matter to the offended person if you had a good or bad reason. All he knows is that you had made a promise, and you didn’t keep your word, you were unfaithful. When that happens, say something like: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t keep my promise. Is there anything I can do to repay you?” As anyone who has had his heart broken knows, an apology is a poor substitute for a promise kept, but anything is better than nothing.


Who among us is not disappointed when he looks back over the years, and recalls to mind the promises that were made to him but never kept? Whether asked for or simply given, whether by relatives or friends, whether about important or trivial matters, whether by word of mouth or in writing, these promises were made only to be broken.


Fidelity truly is a rare virtue. There are numerous people who are temperate, many who are chaste, numberless amount of generous and brave. But how few are impeccable in respect to the promises they make. That kind of a faithful man was St. Joseph, who is also the patron of families and of fathers. He was a humble, quiet, and modest man, a man most faithful. When the Holy Family lived here on earth during Our Lord’s hidden years, very few people even knew that they existed at all, and those who did, saw nothing exceptional in them. St. Joseph was faithful to his duties to God, to his work, and to his family.



It’s these kinds of people who are faithful. They always keep their word. When they promise to meet you somewhere, hail, rain, or snow, they turn up, and they turn up punctually. And nothing but death can stop them from keeping their promises. They are the kind of friends that are precious to have. They are not double-tongued or double-minded. You can trust them.


All of us are obliged to examine our conscience, but it doesn’t hurt sometimes to count our blessings, too. The sudden death of Bishop Dolan showed us that sometimes we don’t know our blessings until they are gone. So look around you today and think: among all the people whom you know, of how many can you say: “That person always keeps his word”? And count yourself very blessed if you have a friend, a parent, a spouse, or a child like that.


And if you are a friend, a parent or a spouse, never think that these little things, like a kind word, a happy moment of play, or keeping your promise are not important. Not only are they important, but, especially for a child, they mean all the world. It is to these quiet and loving followers of Christ, to whom He addresses His words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

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