NGUYEN: Fidelity - The path to heaven

November 28, 2023

(OSV News photo)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever!” (Ps 136) This is the message on every page of Scripture, like a refrain sung from the peak of Mount Tabor (Josh 19; Judg 4; Mt 17) and echoed even to the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:1).

Israel’s God is a “faithful God” who keeps His covenant “for a thousand generations!” (Deut 7:9) “Emet,” the Hebrew word for “faithfulness,” also translates as “truth.” God is ever faithful because His very essence is love and truth. St. Paul asserts this absolute truth when he asserts that even “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). So, when life inevitably presents us with countless frustrations and unbearable suffering, when those we love and trust the most disappoint us, or even when we let ourselves and our loved ones down, we must still rely with confidence on God, for He is constant. His love is unfailing. His loyalty is absolute. His steadfastness is the rock and fortress on which we can stand firm. Relying on Him, fidelity can become our path to heaven.

The peculiar characteristic of fidelity is that it is at once the fruit of lifelong striving and a purely gratuitous gift from God. In her award-winning novel “Kristin Lavransdatter,” Sigrid Undset paints a poignant scene of the eponymous protagonist pondering over her life as she lay on her deathbed. While waiting for the final Sacraments from the priest, Kristin reminisces on her life as a wife and a mother of seven, a life marked with difficulties, symbolized by the wedding ring she still wore. Her mind pauses to muse on the deep impression the ring has left on her finger and an unearthly peace wells up within her. She is confident that it has been God’s grace that has preserved her to this very moment. Her reliance on God in every circumstance of life has become her path to heaven.

The same invitation to be faithful to the end is extended to each one of us. When we walk in the way of the Lord, our paths must also be permeated by faithful striving. Though this path may seem ordinary and inconspicuous, the hidden but extraordinary love imbuing the ordinariness of our daily lives intimates true progress toward heaven. Small acts of kindness consistently done for the love of God merit more than all the accolades of this world. Such opportunities and examples of holiness abound.

Take, for example, the teenager who is unfailingly present every Saturday morning to visit and assist residents at a retirement home; the homemaker who devotedly packs lunch for his/her spouse and children every day for 20 years and watches them scurry off to work and school, leaving a pile of dirty dishes in the sink; the pastor who readily attends with care to the needs of his parishioners; the religious sister who day in and day out is faithful to the observances of her community. Let us not be deceived by what appears to be a humdrum routine. For the person who loves, the Spirit’s sanctification is at work in the ordinary details of our lives.

This path of fidelity is thus open to everyone, and it is put to the test particularly in times of difficulty — when prayer seems dry and empty; when our mental and physical health are at a weak point and every fiber of our being aches for healing; or when our family life hits a rough patch and we are plagued with misunderstanding and loneliness.

In these times, it is especially important to remain steadfast, relying on God as our rock and sure foundation. If we strive to live in His truth and walk in His love in all circumstances, His grace will uphold us, and an eternal reward awaits us. Do not hesitate, then, to set your eyes on God, our Savior, and take the next step forward.

Perhaps today, you could take some time to reflect on your life’s journey. What milestones have you passed? Where do you struggle to be faithful? Offer these to the Lord and pray for the gift of final perseverance because fidelity is the path to heaven. 

Sister Theresa Marie Chau Nguyen, OP, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of undergraduate theology at the University of St. Thomas.