I was in the Target store on East Lake Blvd earlier this week. There were a few things I needed to pick up. As I entered the store a young mother, with her young son, walked past me. The mother seemed very calm and happy; the young son was anything but calm and happy. As the mom walked through the aisles of the store the little boy pointed to everything he saw, and screamed, “Mom, I want that!”
During the ten to fifteen minutes that it took me to finish my shopping the little boy repeated his entreaties tirelessly, “Mom, I want that!” I never heard the mother’s voice. She remained calm and happy, even though her son was increasingly cranky and demanding.
I’m sure that the little kid left the store without getting any of the things he desired so ardently. I’m equally certain that the mother and son left the store together. They were in complete disagreement with one another about what the little boy should and shouldn’t get, but I’m sure it never entered their minds to sever their relationship. That mother would never have traded her son for another child, even another child who was much better behaved. The little boy would never have gone looking for another mom, even if the new one would give him everything he demanded.
There is an unspoken commitment between parents and children, a commitment that is irrevocable. The first reading this Sunday uses the image of a mother’s love for her child to describe the ideal life of faith.
The prophet Isaiah foretold a golden age of faithfulness to the Mosaic covenant in which God would say, “I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.” (Isa 66:12-14)
Isaiah said that the ideal to which we should aspire in our faith is like the bond between a parent and a child. Catholics are ferocious in their attachment to the Church, and equally ferocious in their judgments about the Church. Any conversation between Catholics leads inevitably to strong statements about what period of time was the “golden age” of the Church, or which parish has the most devout community life, or which Pope was the best of the Church’s popes.
The Scriptures this Sunday offer a challenge to our judgments about the “golden age” of the Church. The Scriptures say that faith is like the bond between parent and child. The parent-child bond isn’t one that depends on the behavior of either party. The young mother in the store was steadfast in not responding to her son’s inappropriate demands; the little boy was determined to be annoying. The two were in total disagreement, but neither of them would have left the other.
The kind of faith that God demands is not measured by whether we get all our prayers answered, nor by whether we are always perfectly behaved. The kind of faith that God demands is measured by our commitment never to look for another. God will never abandon us, and look for another People. In the same fashion, we are obliged never to give our loyalty and love to any god but the One, True God.
When was the best era of the Church’s life? When was the golden age of faith? That ideal relationship between God and ourselves happens when we participate fully and actively at Mass, attending to the Scripture readings, giving good example of our faith to our fellow believers, and receiving the Eucharist reverently. That ideal relationship between God and ourselves happens when were are honest and trustworthy in our speech and actions. That era occurs for us when we give public witness to our faith in Jesus.
We don’t have to wait to inaugurate the golden age of faith. It doesn’t depend on our first achieving a certain level of virtue, any more than parenting depends on consistent virtue in parents and children. The golden age of faith is immediately accessible to us when we live in an irrevocable bond of loyalty to God. The golden age of the Church occurs to individual believers, and parish communities, when the baptized make an honest effort to live their baptismal vows.
God asks our faithfulness now, during this Mass, for the rest of this day, into tomorrow and until our last day of life. God is faithful, as a parent is faithful. It’s our turn, right now, to return to God the same faithfulness that God shows us. Faith is present in our lives, even when virtue is absent, because faith is constituted by irrevocable commitment. In the absence of wholehearted commitment, however, there is no faith and no possibility for virtue.
The “golden age” of faith can be right now; it happens for us when we live in a bond of trust that can never be broken.