Fidelity Month & ‘Hesed’

Fidelity is vital to overcoming the centrifugal force of individualism

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Ecumenism Faith

Fidelity (in Hebrew, hesed) is one of the Lord’s great attributes. The history of salvation is the history of hesed. Because God’s revelation to man is so anchored in fidelity, hesed is an extraordinarily rich Biblical concept.

Adam sinned, yet “even when he lost Your friendship, You did not abandon him to the domain of death” (Eucharistic Prayer IV). Already in Gen 3:15, we read the “Protoevangelium,” the first announcement of the Good News, when God promises that there will be One who crushes the ancient serpent’s head.

But, as Vatican II reminds us, God chose to save man not merely as isolated individuals but in community (Lumen gentium, no. 9), most perfectly as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. So, from that first covenant in Eden, God “again and again offered a covenant to man” — to Noah, to Abraham, to the People of Israel — slowly building a People for Himself. The history of that community also is one of two-sided relationships: God’s fidelity versus human infidelity. While God allowed Israel to experience the consequences of its infidelity (e.g., the Exile), God always remained faithful; God never retracts His Love.

That is why the radical example of Divine hesed — faithfulness — is found in the prophet Hosea. His wife, Gomer, is unfaithful, not just to another “she loved more” but to whomever was interested, as a harlot. Yet she is driven to the desert and to return to her first love, to reconciliation with Hosea. And, though as Christians we almost naturally now speak of God as “Love” (I John 4:8), we forget just what a radical and unheard-of picture (of God as close to us as a spouse) Hosea represented to ancient Israel.

Prof. Robert George of Princeton launched “Fidelity Month” in June 2023. His goal is not a national event as much as a recalling of people to the virtue of fidelity as it applies to God, family, and community, the basic relationships that natural and supernatural revelation disclose. Fidelity is not a “project” as much as the conquest of one soul at a time: renewed fidelity towards God, towards spouse and children, towards the community in which one lives. That is Prof. George’s goal.

Reminding us of fidelity (hesed) is important. God is always faithful. That is the fundamental truth of both the Old and New Testaments. Less lustrous is man’s infidelity. God is always faithful. Man, not so much.

It’s not accidental that St. Paul warns us to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Why does St. Paul warn us? Because it’s not God who wobbles, we do. It’s us whose heads are turned, who put the hand to the plough but look back. God is constant and can help our inconstancy.

As our society devolves into atomized individuals, the glue of fidelity grows weaker. Fidelity only makes sense in relationship. In trying to restore that adhesion, to cure a society dying of loneliness while it bowls alone, we need to turn from our infidelity, to be the imago Dei — the image of a God who is faithful and true — to a world yearning for that vision.

Fidelity to God is ever a challenge, always a call to be renewed, because we are prone to infidelity. Fidelity to family grows more precious as the marriage covenant (and it’s no accident the Church today speaks of marriage as covenant) is increasingly sidelined in favor of ersatz substitutes. June being the month traditionally associated with weddings, it’s fitting it be “Fidelity Month.” Finally, fidelity to our national covenant is ever more imperative, lest our “more perfect union” fragment ever more imperfectly.

 

(For more information on Prof. George’s initiative, see the “Fidelity Month” Public Group on Facebook. On the centrality of hesed, I acknowledge my first Scripture teacher, the late Rev. Robert Wereński. He loved to throw Hebrew words into his lectures, starting on day one with hesed but also reminding us that the God who is faithful to us regards us as His segullah, His “treasure”; see Ex 19:5.)

 

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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