The only question I recall from my First Communion examination is, “What does ‘amen’ mean?” I had no idea, and wondered why it mattered. Two decades later, the answer met me in the last chapter of Mother Mary Francis’s exquisite meditations on the Anima Christi prayer. The “amen” that we append, usually mindlessly, to our prayers is crucial, because it signifies our agreement to all that we have just professed, our commitment to carrying it out.
In Hebrew, amen means “verily” or “truly.” Mother Mary Francis contrasts the moment of fiat, “let it be,” with the “host of ‘amens’ [a fiat requires] to be complete” (136). By God’s fiat, creation began, but without His constant upholding it, it would not continue. By Mary’s fiat, God took flesh in her womb, but her role required continued “amens” to the joys and sufferings of mothering God. By Christ’s fiat in the Garden of Gethsemane, He accepted His Passion, but He had to say “amen” to that Passion again and again in the subsequent hours of abandonment, mockery and torture.
As this article was being drafted, I learned that a dear mentor, Fr. Matthew Lamb of Ave Maria University, was slipping rapidly toward death. Grief flooded my soul, but not on his account. The final “amen” he was about to say would be for him but the last of many daily “amens” in the intimate friendship he lived with God.
I recalled with particular vividness one moment at the beginning of a class period when Father was chatting with his students. While recounting a conversation from earlier in the day, he suddenly realized that the conversation had involved unnecessary negativity on his part. “I will have to make some reparation for that,” he murmured reflectively. This was a man whose fiat to the Christian and to the priestly life was sustained by moment-by-moment “amens,” by commitment to prayer, by a life of charity toward his students and colleagues, by penance when he fell short.
God models for us, by His own faithfulness, the perseverance to which we are called. In Isaiah 65:16, God is called the “God of amen,” the God of truth, of faithfulness. The context is God’s renewed pledge to redeem Israel, despite her infidelity. “My servants shall shout for joy of heart … Whoever takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth [amen]; for the hardships of the past shall be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.”
It is the fact that God never gives up on us that gives us the strength to soldier on despite suffering and failure. The next lines in Isaiah are: “See, I am creating a new heavens and a new earth,” a promise echoed in the last book of the Bible, where John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Fr. Lamb lived each moment in the light of that new heavens and new earth. His hope sustained his every amen, and his last.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.