Scripture tells the story of the prophet Hosea, a man commissioned by God to marry a woman named Gomer who will prove unfaithful to him. “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord” (Hos 1:2). Despite knowing of her future infidelity, Hosea receives Gomer, and he remains steadfast in his fidelity towards her. The episode mirrors the relationship between God and his people. Throughout history, God espouses his people by covenant and blesses them, but they forget his blessings and the fire of their love for him grows dim.
He gave the people of Israel a law by which to live righteously in preparation for Christ. The law gave them a concrete way to worship God and show fidelity to him as a people peculiarly his own, but they tired of the practices that set them apart from others. His people began to live like those who did not know God. Having abandoned their observances, they turned to other gods, and were led into ruin, exile, and desperation.
I suspect that such decline never begins with worshipping Baal or some other idol, but rather with forgetting God’s gifts. Other evils eventually follow. This temptation remains with us today. One may have a deep spiritual experience that leads her to commit herself to Jesus. She changes her life, begins praying regularly and intently, and engages in the Church’s sacramental observances. But if she forgets God’s true gifts and looks to worldly consolations instead of divine ones, she may soon feel disenchanted with her fellow church-goers, become frustrated with seemingly fruitless prayer, and take her Sunday morning, along with everything else she gave to God, back for herself.
She may turn from God, but Hosea’s fidelity to Gomer exemplifies God’s response to infidelity. He will not abandon her, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. … And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt” (Hos 2:14-15). Ruin and exile fit into God’s providence; they make our reliance on him all the more evident. God’s arms are always open to re-receive his prodigal children, and we must never despair of his love for us or for those we love.
Gomer’s path to God, however, is not the only one. We need not stray. By habitually recalling God’s gifts, especially those of the Sacraments, to which those Old Testament observances were precursors, we can avoid wandering from God’s love. We may notice other gifts more readily—jobs gained, exams passed, charity given—and it’s good to remember and be grateful for these; nonetheless, the Sacraments offer grace, that eternal gift which will endure even as the earth and the sky pass away. St. Thomas points out, “The good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe” (ST II-II q. 113, a. 9, ad. 2). If we contemplate the eternal good of the Sacraments, and if we regularly and worthily receive the Eucharist and go to Confession, we shall not stray from God. By remembering the true signs of God’s fidelity, we ourselves shall be faithful. We shall remain in his love, and our joy in heaven will be all the greater.
Image: Anonymous, Hosea and Gomer