Francis Campbell: There’s only one sure bet for promises

By  Francis Campbell
  • March 9, 2018
Promises, promises.

We are forever making them and forever breaking them.

New Year’s resolutions and Lenten commitments offer irrefutable examples of promises broken.

Politicians are acutely adept at making promises while in an opposition or a campaigning role.

Take Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example.

The Liberal platform released prior to the October 2015 federal election contained dozens and dozens of promises. Among them, promises about tax cuts, reduced debt, election reform, home mail delivery and an eventual balanced budget have all not been realized or are unlikely to be fulfilled.

South of our border, Donald Trump’s pre-election promises about immediately repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, to build an extensive security wall between Mexico and the United States and to have Mexico pay for it, tax cuts for all, a Muslim ban/registry and to prosecute his rival, Hillary Clinton, have not materialized.

Promises are, of course, inextricably intertwined with trust and faith. Most voters are skeptical enough not to trust that politicians and political parties will deliver on everything promised.

That level of trust increases exponentially when it comes to vows made by family and friends. But still, intimate personal promises are continually discarded. Marriage vows are predicated upon a “till death do us part” promise.

Still, Michael Butterfield of Butterfield Law in Victoria, B.C., posted a year ago that statistics from 2003 to 2011 place the risk of divorcing before a 30th anniversary in Canada at about 38 to 41 per cent. According to statistics, divorce rates varied significantly from province to province, with Quebec at the highest rate and Newfoundland and Labrador at the lowest end of the divorce spectrum. Statistics pointed to a number of contributing risk factors leading to divorce, including that marriage has become more of an individual choice than a religious one, the liberalization of divorce laws, a lower threshold of tolerance among married couples, low incomes, poverty, youthful marriages and co-habitation.

Linked to broken marriage promises are commitments made to children by parents. Those promises, often tacit commitments, cover everything from emotional and financial security to health and educational needs. Some of these promises are borne by the federal and provincial governments. Promises to spend increased quality time with children, to teach them how to read, to skate, to do crafts or woodwork are vitally important to a child’s development but yet often go unfulfilled. In a Catholic home, the commitment or duty is for parents to introduce and indoctrinate children into the way and teachings of Jesus and the Catholic Church.

Injected into the complicated backdrop of promise, faith and trust is the weekend reading chronicling Abraham’s test before God. Abraham was instructed by God to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on a mountain. Abraham obeyed, bound his son, placed him on the altar for sacrifice, took his knife and raised it to kill his son. An angel of the Lord interjected, spoke to Abraham and saved Isaac’s life.

In his homily, our pastor said he struggled with the passage, asking himself what both God and Abraham could have been thinking. But he concluded that Abraham had tremendous faith in God and His promise that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham had only one son, Isaac, whom he was about to sacrifice, so his confidence in God was that the promise to be the father of nations would somehow be fulfilled.

When Isaac asked his father about the seemingly missing lamb for the burnt offering, Abraham replied that God Himself would provide the sacrificial lamb.

What the Genesis story does not address is Isaac’s reaction after the episode. What confidence could Isaac maintain in his father’s unspoken covenant to protect his safety and his needs after watching Abraham raise the knife above his bound body? That question of trust and faith between Abraham and Isaac is never really reconciled in the narrative, but the underlying message is that unwavering faith and trust in God does not go unrewarded.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is a parallel, a precursor to the story of God and Jesus. God offered His only Son on the cross as a sacrifice to eliminate the sin of mankind and to reconcile man with God. By dying on the cross, Jesus paid the ransom to deliver us from the captivity of sin. But like Isaac, Jesus asked His father if it was possible that the crucifixion could be avoided and, apparently like Isaac, He accepted His father’s will after an initial appeal.

We do continue to make promises with good intent but then fall short of our commitments. Availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Penance or personally asking God for forgiveness, Catholics resolve not to repeat past transgressions, but almost invariably we fail again. That’s what it is to be human.

The promises that do not fail, that are truly trustworthy and believable, have only one source.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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