The Virtue of Confidence
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. †
I suggest that we reflect on the virtue of confidence. I doubt if there is any single disposition of soul that we need especially in our day more than confidence. The reason is not far to seek. See 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?”
In a time in history when so many are falling away from the faith. When priest and religious, often after years of service of the Church, suddenly as 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. When family life is so unstable, we are now well past the fifty percent mark, it is now more than one in two marriages every year in the United States that ends in the divorce courts. The tens and hundreds of thousands of children stranded by selfish mothers and fathers. Young people tell me they are afraid to get married. As one girl shortly before her wedding told me, “What I am most of afraid of is that what will happen to me is what happened to my mother. Her marriage broke up, I am afraid.” And not only family life is breaking up, but the very concept of marriage in large parts of our country is being seriously talked about as a past sociological phenomenon. One of my students in New York told me, “Speaking to a judge who was part of his office assists regularly at civil marriages. Ten years ago he was on the bench. He would average at least four hundred marriages he would assist at each year. Last year he had ten.” They are as they say just, “shacking up”.
With 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 St. Peters and you honestly think you’re in Moscow, Communist propaganda everywhere, Communist slogans everywhere, and as you know the mayor of Rome a communist. Then as we look into our own lives and 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 that does the will of My Father he is the one that loves Me”, in our honest moments, no matter what others may think of us, we know better. We have been very unfaithful ourselves. Naturally we are afraid, afraid for ourselves, afraid for the Church, and we wonder about the future. Is it any wonder the Holy Father regularly keeps repeating and urging the faithful to the practice of Hope, to the practice of Trust? In a word be confident, because there is so much evidence to the contrary.
We begin therefore by asking ourselves, “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 thing, but not quite: 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, ah yes, 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 then we speak of having confidence or of confidence being so necessary, we of course mean a confidence that comes from trusting in God. And therefore, 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, then 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 when 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 world, literally none except in mental institutions. Everyone believes, but not everyone believes in God. So there is no one who does not trust. So there is no one who does not trust, the trouble is that not every one trusts in God.
Let’s be very plain here. It is not hope alone that will give us peace, and how we want that peace of soul! Or trust alone that will give us security, which is confidence. It must be either hope and trust in God or we shall be infallibly unhappy. In fact, I would almost give a simple formula for unhappiness: trust in creatures. They will never fail to disappoint you. Even the most promising of human beings beginning shall I mention the fact, with ourselves, human beings are fickle, they are changeable, they are unstable. In a word they are unpredictable. You just can not bank; you can not depend on people. Really, securely, confidently, not even, I repeat how that one person who you would think would be the last one to disappoint us. And you would also think that by now having so often been disappointed we would have enough sense to have learned our lesson. It seems that some people will never learn.
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 is best for us, far better than we know. Because it may be that the things that we want (this is a very safe statement) are not the things we need, so that our very hopes can be our very 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 us in the world of the future what we in the world need. Knowing what we need, we know, 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. And finally 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 don’t 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?” And then we recall those words of Peter. Remember, when the Lord asked him? And the reason that Jesus asked Peter what He did, is that He knew it is hidden behind the lines of John. He knew that Peter was scared. Peter wondered whether he would still rely on his Master, whom he had betrayed. So He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” And He kept repeating the same question, which really meant, “Peter do you trust me?” That is the question that He asks us. And the answer should be unequivocal; “Yes Lord I know I have been a scoundrel. I have done evil in your eyes and except for your mercy right now I would be in hell. But I know that You love me, thank God, more than I have loved you.”
Why confidence in God: because this God loves us. We now ask ourselves, in the light of what we have seen what should be our attitude? It should be one of complete disarming, childlike confidence in God. What is by now we so well know, confidence must be worked at. It is a virtue. The graces are there; the opportunities are there. We must cultivate confidence; we are to grow in it. Let me suggest some down to earth recommendations. First, avoid worry at all costs. 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 unforgivable sin. And worry is a form of distrust.
Second, watch your thoughts. What we think determines what we are. We become what are minds make us. Therefore, think thoughts of confidence. Favor thoughts of trust. Encourage only thoughts that give you courage. And we are masters and mistresses of our own minds. In fact, I cannot think of a more important use that we are to make of our freedom than to freely watch our thoughts. Is it any wonder we are, or can be in such trouble? We can not allow all kinds of negativisms, all kinds of fears and phobias to find haven in our minds and expect to have confidence in God. We will become victims of the specters of our own mind. God, we are to tell ourselves, 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 God’s love. How can 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 God’s love has made Him one of us, and then devised a means of remaining in our midsts, and when we receive Him to become literally part of us. Favor every kind of thought that gives your courage. Discard every kind of thought that discourages.
Thirdly, Keep telling yourself that there is no such thing as chance in the world. God, we must keep reminding ourselves, is behind everything. He is within everything; He is beneath everything as we casually say, “happens” in our lives. That is not true. Nothing happens in our lives. NOTHING! Be sure that all things work together unto good, as St. Paul tells us, provided we love God and have the wisdom to see 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. Yet, and this perhaps is the acid test of confidence in God, to believe in Him so totally that we are sure, don’t waver be sure, 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 that and we should not, all we have to do is remind ourselves of what happened, unquotes “on Calvary”. The cluster of crimes that finally brought Jesus to His death yet God planned from all eternity to use men’s sins: treachery, cowardliness, betrayal, envy, pride, ambition. He used human crime to bring about the redemption of the world. Keep telling yourself, God is behind everything. The latest pain you have experienced, the most recent injustice, God is behind everything.
One final thought: my fourth recommendation. Tell God often, just tell Him, you trust Him. I have found it useful to have on my desk this little card: “Sacred Heart of Jesus I trust in You.” Tell God, which for us that means the God Man that we trust in Him, and then trust Him to do the rest.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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