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The Virtue Of Confidence
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
I doubt if there is any single disposition of soul that we need more, especially in our day, than confidence. The reason is not far to seek, seeing there is so much to discourage even the most hardy souls, especially people who are seriously trying to serve God. Lord, we ask Him, what will happen next? Or, as one bishop wrote to me, quoting the prayer that he regularly addresses to God, Lord! How long, oh Lord, how long?
The confidence of many is shaken, because we live in a time of history when so many are falling away from the faith; when priests and religious, often after years of service of the Church, suddenly it seems, break their commitments and not a few then turn their backs on the Church and attack the very Mother that had given them so much; and when family life is so unstable. We are well past the fifty-percent mark, for now more than one in every two marriages every year in the United States ends in the divorce courts, and hundreds of thousands of children are stranded by selfish mothers and fathers.
Young people tell me they are afraid to get married, as one girl shortly before her wedding said, What I am most afraid of is that what will happen to me is what happened to my mother. Her marriage broke up. And not only is family life breaking up, but the very concept of marriage in large parts of our country is being seriously talked about as a past sociological phenomenon. A judge, who as part of his office regularly assists in civil marriages, said that in the late 1960s he would assist at an average of about four-hundred marriages each year; in 1977, he had ten. They are just shacking up, as they say.
The propaganda against Christ and His Church has never been more incessant, more virulent. You walk through the streets of Rome, within the shadow of Saint Peters and you honestly think you are in Moscow-communist propaganda everywhere, communist slogans everywhere; and the mayor of Rome, a communist.
Then, as we look into our own lives, we have to admit that we too have so often failed the Master. We claim we love Him, but words are cheap; if as He told us, The one who does the Will of my Father, he is the one who loves me, in our honest moments, no matter what others think of us, we know better. We have been very unfaithful.
Naturally, we are afraid: afraid for ourselves, afraid for the Church, and we wonder about the future. Is it any wonder that the Holy Fathers regularly keep repeating and urging the faithful to the practice of hope, to the practice of trust? In a word, we must be confident, in spite of the fact that there is so much evidence to the contrary.
We begin by asking, What is confidence? Before we answer that very simple question, we should first dispose of a problem. There are three words we commonly use together, and they mean almost the same thingbut not quite. They are hope, trust, and confidence. Hope is the assured desire that we shall obtain some future good thing. Trust is the reliance we have on someone that what we hope for we shall obtain. Without trust, there can be no hope. We hope to get things, but only because we trust someone to give us those things. Confidence is the result of hope and trust; it is the peace of heart that comes from the security which is the result of having an assured hope and a firm trust. We can have confidence only if we first trust, and trusting, have hope. When we speak of having confidence, or of confidence being so necessary, we of course mean a confidence that comes from trusting in God and then hoping we shall obtain from Him what He promised to give us.
Confidence in God. It is remarkable how easily people look elsewhere to get that security of soul (which is confidence) than in the one place where alone their confidence will not be betrayed, namely, relying on the promises of God. We live on promises. Our lives are built on hope. A hopeless life is a despairing life, and then it is just a matter of time until the person will die, and as we now know in our country, often by his own hands. The trouble is that unless we are careful, we shall depend on the wrong persons to keep their promises and on the wrong objects to fulfill our hopes.
Just as there are no unbelievers in the worldliterally none, except in mental institutions, because everyone believes, but not everyone believes in Godso there is no one who does not trust. The trouble is not everyone trusts in God. Lets be very plain here: it is not hope alone that will give us peace (and how we want that peace of soul!); and it is not trust alone that will give us security, which is confidence. Either we hope and trust in God, or we shall be infallibly unhappy; in fact, there is a simple formula for unhappiness, and that is trust in creatures. They will never fail to disappoint us, even the most promising of human beings, beginning with ourselves.
Human beings are fickle, changeable, unstablein a word, they are unpredictable. You just cannot depend on people, really and securely and confidentlynot even, I repeat, on that one person who you would think would be the last one to disappoint us, ourselves. And you would think that by now, after having been so often disappointed, we would have enough sense to have learned our lesson. It seems that some people will never learn. No one, no one but God deserves to be trusted absolutely. And it is only absolute trust that can give us absolute confidence.
Why? Because only God really knows the future, which faith tells us is in His hands. He does not wait for the future to happen, He makes it happen. Only He knows what we need and what is best for us, and He knows far better than we, because it might be that the things we want are not the things we need, so that our very hopes can be airy dreams. God knows.
Again, why is only confidence in God sure not to disappoint us? Because only God is really able to do what needs to be done, and change what needs to be changed, and give to us and to the world of the future what we and the world need. Knowing what we need is not enough. Someone in this universe must be able to meet that need. No one person, no nation of persons, no world of people, have the ability to satisfy what we need.
Finally, this confidence will not be disappointed because only God really loves us so much that He is willing to take care of us down to the smallest detail. There are no trifles with God; where we are concerned, nothing is unimportant. Only He is so good, even though we have so often done wrong to Him. And this may be one reason why some people dont trust God more, they are afraid of God. Lord, they tell Him, I want to trust you, but I have so often done wrong against you. Do you still really love me?
Remember the words of Peter when the Lord questioned him after the Resurrection? It is hidden behind the lines of Johns Gospel. The reason Jesus asked Peter what He did is that He knew Peter was scared. Peter wondered whether he could still rely on his Master, whom he had betrayed. So Jesus asked Peter, Do you love me? And He kept repeating the same question, which really meant, Peter, do you trust me? Thats the question that He asks us, and the answer should be unequivocal: Yes Lord, I know Ive been a scoundrel. Ive done evil in your eyes; and except for your mercy right now, I would be in hell. But I know you love methank Godmore than I have loved you. Why have confidence in God? Because this God loves us.
In the light of all of this, what should be our attitude? It should be one of complete, disarming, childlike confidence in God. But as by now we so well know, confidence must be worked at. Its a virtue. The graces are there. The opportunities are there. But we must cultivate confidence; we are to grow in it. Let me suggest some down-to-earth recommendations.
First, avoid worry at all costs. We may be sure that worry is displeasing to God. Christ could not have been plainer in telling His first followers and telling us, Do not be afraid; do not let your hearts be troubled. In a word, do not worry. Nothing, in my estimation, is so bad as not trusting God. In fact, in its ultimate, this is the one unforgiveable sin and worry is a form of distrust.
Second, watch your thoughts. What we think determines what we are. We become what our minds make us. Therefore, think thoughts of confidence, favor thoughts of trust, encourage only thoughts that give you courage. We are masters and mistresses of our own minds. In fact, there is no more important use that we are to make of our freedom than to freely watch our thoughts. Is it any wonder that we are, or can be, in such trouble? We cannot allow all kinds of negativisms, all kinds of fears and phobias, to find haven in our minds and still expect that we will have confidence in God. We will become victims of the specters of our own minds.
We are, rather, to tell ourselves that God loves us; and if there is one kind of thought that we should favor on our minds as often as possible, it is the thought of Gods love. How could anyone distrust God when he looks at the crucifix and sees how much God loves us; or when he looks at the tabernacle and sees to what length Gods love has not only made Him one of us, but then devised a means of remaining in our midst and, when we receive Him, to become literally part of us? Favor every kind of thought that gives you courage; discard every kind of thought that discourages.
Third, keep telling yourself that there is no such thing as chance in the world. We must keep reminding ourselves that God is behind everything; He is within everything; He is beneath everything that we casually say happens in our lives. That is not truenothing happens in our lives, nothing. Be sure that all things work together unto good, as Saint Paul tells us, provided we love God and have the wisdom to see that no matter what befalls us, it is somehow planned by the all-loving Providence of God. We make a lot of mistakes. Others make mistakes. But God never does.
This is perhaps the acid test of confidence in God, to believe in Him so totally that we are sure, without wavering, that He uses our mistakes and those of others somehow, not only for our good, but mysteriously, for our greater good. He uses even our sins and the sins of others to work out the designs of His Providence. If we have any doubt about thatand we should notall we have to do is remind ourselves of what happened on Calvary, the cluster of crimes that finally brought Jesus to His death. Yet, God planned from all eternity to use mens sinstreachery, cowardice, betrayal, envy, pride, ambition. He used human crime to bring about the redemption of the world. Keep telling yourself, God is behind everything.
One final thought, a fourth recommendation. Tell God often that you trust Him. I have found it useful to have on my desk a little card which says: Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You. Tell God, which for us means the God-man, that you trust Him. And then trust Him to do the rest.
Transcription of the Homily
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