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Peter Stockland: ‘Make us worthy of the promises of Christ’

  • December 5, 2021

Often when a particular friend of mine says certain things, I don’t react right away. In fact, it might require days. Or impose a prudent pause until the 12th of Never.

Sometimes it’s because I’m blabbering on about a given obsession of the moment and can’t recalibrate my speaking-listening-thinking brain modules quickly enough.

More frequently, it’s because this friend regularly says things with such rare simplicity, clarity and unpretentious certainty that it seems imprudent to bark back some silence-filling sound bite.

Last week, in the prelude days of Advent, we were discussing contemporary relationships, namely the transience of them, and the way in which what G.K. Chesterton called “the superstition of divorce” has morphed into a mythology of omnipresent impermanence. My take was that this is rooted in the fatal cultural fallacy that, as an old song has it, yesterday is dead and gone. In other words, the past simply ceases to exist when the “present” elbows it out of the way.

Of course, such belief is clearly wrong. The very sky light that illuminates our days belongs to the past. It’s already almost nine minutes old by the time it crosses the 147.5 million kilometres between the sun and the Earth. Starlight in the heavens was generated thousands, if not millions, of light years away.

It’s the past reaching us from objects that have completed their cosmic life cycle, yet their light radiates still, world without end, amen. Closer to home, streets and buildings are the work of human hands in the past. We don’t, unless we live in Montreal, witness them being purposelessly torn up or torn down on daily basis.

My friend did not outright dismiss my verbal amble. Instead, her answer, rather than appealing to history, invoked the human heart. The core of the problem, she said, is that the culture has taught too many women to accept that men behaving badly are still good men. Men, being mere men, are only too happy to wear the crown of that contradiction. Then she said the sentence that left me in a state of unrealizable response: “Good men keep their promises.”

In one sense, the words fit with my appeal for the past. A promise, after all, is in its essence the past calling the present to constant account. But it was her placing of promise at the centre of goodness — i.e., the moral life — itself that elevated our conversation into the realm of silence for me.

I’d willingly bet that a frighteningly high number of us — I’ll go out on a limb and say especially women — would, in a word association test, more likely associate “promise” with “broken” or “disappointment” than with intrinsic good and goodness.

Which of us, after all, even pretends to truly believe political promises? Hearing the phrase reminds us reflexively of the extent to which it is a euphemism for, indeed a cognate of, expected lying. When it comes to the world of commerce and consumption, all of us regard the promises of marketing as fraudulent.

Even with such hyper-awareness that almost nothing will ever work as promised, how many of us consider our own promises a measure of our basic goodness? How many of us, when we say “I promise I’ll get you that project to you by 3 p.m. Friday,” consider our failure to do so encompassing a moral failing?

And yet we, as Catholics, implore our Blessed Mother to “make us worthy of the promises of Christ.” We implicitly recognize that Christ’s goodness endures in His promises to us, and our venture in life is to ascend the path of worthinesstoward that good. So how is it that we are flummoxed by, even forget, that good men and good women keep their promises?

It’s a question I promise to ponder as Advent proceeds for it is a season that is narratively pregnant with promise just as our Blessed Mother carried in her pregnant womb The Promise that would deliver us.

Advent, of course, is the time of waiting. It’s a holding still in the silence before acting or re-acting. It is, in that sense, a time of simplicity, of growing clarity, of unpretentious certainty that what is about to happen will make us, when all is said and done, worthy of the promises of Christ.

(Stockland is publisher of and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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