The popular Catholic writer, Scott Hahn, begins his book, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, with a story from the 1983 earthquake in Armenia which killed 30,000 people. A father had just dropped his son off at school when the devastating earthquake hit. He ran through the streets yelling out his son’s name. When he arrived at the school it had been reduced to a pile of rubble. He called his son’s name out again and again, “Armand! Armand!” but he could not find him. Some of the bystanders put their arms around him and told him that it was no use. There was no hope of finding any of the children alive.
However, the father remembered the promise he made to his son that if anything should happen to him, he would be there to save him. So the father went over to the pile of rubble that had been his son’s school and started to dig. He cleared away bricks, chunks of asphalt and broken glass. At first, some of the bystanders tried to help him. But as the hours went on, they abandoned him telling him that it was no use. But the father, driven by the promise he made to his son, would not let up. Ten, twenty hours passed and he was still at it clearing away as much debris as he could and yelling out his son’s name.
He continued his efforts well into the next day even though the police came by to tell him there was no hope. Finally, after over thirty hours of digging, he called out his son’s name and heard a faint voice calling out from under the rubble, “Papa, Papa!” Digging with even more fervor and calling out his son’s name, he was able to reach the place where he and several of his classmates were, rescuing all of them. Everyone was amazed and overjoyed. Young Armand turned to his classmates and told them, “See. I told you my father would keep his promise.”
This moving story cannot help but make us think about our Heavenly Father. No matter what, He keeps His promises. There is nowhere we can go that He cannot find us. There is no trouble we can get ourselves into that He cannot lift us out of. If an earthly father can take such care to keep his children safe and rescue them when they are in danger, what lengths will our Heavenly Father who is love itself not go to rescue, save and comfort us?
Today’s first reading from the book of Genesis gives us a beautiful example of one of God’s promises. After rescuing Noah and his family from the flood, God seals a covenant with them promising never to devastate the earth again. As a sign of His promise, He paints a beautiful rainbow across the sky. God makes a promise that He will not punish His people but save them. He will treat His people tenderly rather than harshly. He will show compassion rather than judgment.
Throughout the Old Testament, our Heavenly Father made many other promises as well. The greatest of these promises is that He would send a Messiah, a Saviour, to free His people from their sins and deliver them from death. For many centuries the people of the Old Testament held firm to that promise. They knew that God was faithful and that He would keep His promise no matter how long it took.
When Jesus appears on the scene in Galilee preaching the good news, His first words are, “This is the time of fulfillment.” With Jesus, all of God’s promises are fulfilled. Through His death, we are delivered from our sins. Through His resurrection, we are delivered from death. Through the gift of His Spirit, we live with our hearts set on the things of heaven. And when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, we will receive the inheritance of eternal life He has kept for us in heaven from the beginning of time. God is a Father who keeps His promises. And all of His promises are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
As we begin our Lenten journey, it is important for us to keep our hearts and minds focused on this great love our Heavenly Father has for us. Though this is a time for us to mourn our sins and to strengthen our resolve for doing good through penance, we must never lose sight of why we want to rid ourselves of sin. Sin displeases God. It offends the One who has shown us so much love. If He did not love us, our evil-doing would not hurt Him as much as it does. As we meditate on His fatherly care for us, it makes us even more determined not to hurt or offend Him again. We may be able to change our behaviour through fear or guilt, but love is the most powerful motivator. It is love that should be motivating and driving whatever penances or acts of self-denial we undertake throughout these forty days.
All the promises God made to the people of Israel He now extends to us through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. They are given to us through our baptism, as Saint Peter reminds us in today’s second reading. Through that great sacrament, our sins are forgiven and God’s Holy Spirit takes up His home within us. It gives us the right to be called sons and daughters of God and to inherit all the promises He makes to those who love Him. We should call to mind our baptism every day and lay claim to God’s promise that He will be there to save us whenever we call. He is a Father who keeps His promises. No matter what happens, we can be sure of that.