“Faith of Our Fathers, Holy Faith”: The Possibility of Faith That Endures

by Tabi Arrey

 

F. W. Faber, the famous English, Anglican- turned-Catholic composer is responsible for the rich repertoire of hymns that have endured in both Catholic and Protestant traditions. His hymns, rich in theological detail and historical accuracy, highlight the specific elements of faith and culture that are intimately connected with the lives of English people of his time, and beyond. Some of his famous hymns include: “Sweet Savior, Bless Us ‘Ere We Go,” “O Purest of Creatures” (hymn to Mary), “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” and “Faith of our Fathers,” which is arguably the most famous and must-sing hymn of his entire composition and collection. The hymn first appeared in his book, Jesus and Mary: Catholic Hymns for Singing and Reading. This hymn acknowledges and recognizes, with great joy, the endurance of the English Martyrs who were persistent in their faith and constant in prayer even as they faced “dungeon,” “fire,” “sword,” and the relentless fury of Henry VIII.

Fast-forward 169 years later and the situation is very much the same. The faith of many has been tested in every way possible. Not too long ago, another wave of sexual scandals hit the Church like a mighty storm, and commenting on it, most people were of the opinion that it kills faith and ruptures trust in every imaginable way. Someone mentioned to me that they would not blame anyone who chose to walk away from the Church while the flames of the crisis were still burning; for others, who were barely recovering from the first scandal and beginning once again to find their place within the communion of faith, the situation could not have been any worse.

 

As bleak as the current state of affairs were and are for the Church, there are others who chose to stay. Why stay? Why remain faithful to a tradition that has failed us countless times? Is it possible to look in the face of these perpetrators of falsehood, so to speak, and still see in them the loving gaze of God in Christ? The same formula of questions could be posed regarding the ceaseless violence perpetrated against certain religious groups, ethnicities, and other particular individuals: why would a faithful God allow such nefariousness? And to those who foster and fuel a polarizing divide— politically, socially, and even ideologically—who bluster barbs of hate speech, the question could be asked: is it still possible to “love both friend and foe in all our strife”? This is the sign of our times, this is the culture in which we live. Regardless of the pervasiveness of this contemporary culture from ecclesiastical to political and social structures, I still believe in the possibility of a faith that would endure to the end, just like the English martyrs, those before them, and those after them. I still believe that my faith can counter hate with love, violence with peace, and non-existence with co-existence.

My faith is neither arbitrary nor fiducial. I believe because I have given a free, conscious, and real assent to the God of history, the same God who makes the sun rise on the good and the ungodly, and send down rain on the righteous and the sinner (Matt. 5:45). I believe because I am not the originator and guarantor of my faith; my faith is a gift, a gift which asks that I be ready to make my defense to anyone who demands of me an account and reason for the hope that is in me (1 Pet. 3:15). Because of this, my faith challenges my comfort zone, pushes me out of it, and brings me face to face with the uncomfortable and the unfathomable. My faith is not a weight or yoke that I carry on my shoulders, ready to give it up the moment things get difficult, hard, and even bizarre. And precisely because it is a story that God himself has created, my faith invites me to endure to the end (Matt. 24:13) and to join the chorus in joyful song: “Faith of our Fathers, Holy Faith! We will be true to thee till death.”

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