Faith Matters – Abide


16 Apr 2019

Lately there have been a number if situations that have made me more aware of how much words matter. Word can affirm just as they can destroy. The way we interact with one another is visible not only in our actions but by the things we say or the way we speak of, to, or about others.

Words can be hollow and empty if not sincere or acted on in some way. Conversely words can be powerful, even when they are devoid of a subsequent action. Words are not often devoid of intent or action. However, it’s often difficult to interpret the intent that someone has and therefore at times we speculate and judge the words offered by another based upon what we know or who we judge the other to be.


During Lent it’s worth spending some time considering words and the way in which they affirm our identity or expose us as not being the person we would like others to think us to be.

The term Catholic is not simply a noun. Being a Catholic is a verb. To be Catholic a person must act out their faith. The things we say, our action and the impression people have of us either validate our identity or are a thin veneer that disguises our selfishness or self-righteousness. During Lent we are called to remove the things in our lives that hold us back from complete faithfulness. We are encouraged to prayer in a different way to renew our relationship with God. We are also called to give. How we give varies but to truly give we need to make ourselves uncomfortable in some way.

As Easter draws near the following reading from John’s Gospel has been hovering over me, constantly prompting me to discern what it is that needs attention. These words have something in them that are deeper than what is offered, but what is going on here has been elusive and something is prompting a deeper exploration of what is hidden.

‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’  (John 15:9-17)


The message is simple: follow the commandments of Jesus, sacrifice for others and love as he did. This is a wonderful reading during Lent. But there is something more going on here. There is a word that is different that grabs my attention. The word is abide. A strange but lovely word that is not common in society, nor the Bible.

Abide is a word found only 43 times in the Bible. The Gospel of John accounts for a third of its use. The New Testament is almost exclusively used by John and in the first epistle of John. It’s extremely interesting that after all of the scholarly work completed over the centuries and all of the revisions of the Bible that this word has been retained.

The English definition of this word is to accept and act in accordance with a recommendation or rule, or that a feeling or memory continues without fading or being lost. This definition certainly fits the initial interpretation. Exploring the use of the word in the Old Testament the meaning is clearly juridical.

In accepting the contemporary definition is good, however, the root of the word is found the 13th century. The Old English word abidan means to remain, wait or dwell. This definition offers more colour to the modern definition. The word dwell is what I hear when I read the verse. Jesus is instructing us to live in his love, not to follow a rule. The intent I believe is personal and reciprocal in nature.

Although the Old English definition is acceptable there is still something missing. Investigating this word further reveals that the original Greek term meno or meno. This word has a similar definition but offers more nuance. Two components of the definition of the word meno are to continue to be present and to be held, kept, continually. This is where I find contentment.


When Jesus asks us to abide in his love he is asking us to be present and held continually in his love. The English translation lacks depth and although a lovely word abide, or at least our understanding of the word, limits our ability to truly appreciate and respond to what is asked of us. When we abide we are present to Jesus and a held continually in his unchanging complete and pure love.

During Lent the word abide is a term that can guide us. To abide is to do. The word is a verb. We need to act if we are to abide in his love. The challenge is to consider how to respond in an adequate way to the love Jesus has and gives to us. As we draw closer to the celebration of Easter use the word abide to draw you nearer to Jesus. Over these remaining weeks of Lent remember that words matter, select them carefully and let them illustrate who you are, and what being Catholic looks like.

Brendan Nicholls is liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius College, Geelong.

Image: Getty

Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.
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