Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

12 March 2013

Partial Perspective and Plenary Providence

On the eve of the conclave that shall elect Pope the Next, I can add nothing to that momentous topic, except to pass along one papabile's comments relating to the past Sunday's Gospel of the Prodigal Son.

Let it be done to the Church according to His Word!
From the midst of the flames the Cardinals cried out with one voice: "Blessed be God!"
(Photo credit: Taipei Times)
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Paragraph 314 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face", will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth.
I get to work with people who have issues with God.  Many of them attribute their issues in great measure to a dysfunctional upbringing, deficiencies in their religious and spiritual formation, and choices they made in a less-than-optimal condition.  Despite the significant healing that has occurred in their lives, they often experience flare-ups of frustration concerning their plight.  At the peak of pique, the script hardly ever changes: Why doesn't an all-powerful God doesn't change the situation?

It's a replay of the age-old tension between divine omnipotence and human freedom.  God is not simply maneuvering us through all the interactions of our lives.  Everybody makes choices, and the real-time interplay of everybody's free choices causes considerable conflict in the short and long term.  External and internal forces compromise our freedom to some extent; like Saint Paul, we lament the evil that we so readily commit, and the good that we seem unable to accomplish despite our best interests (Rom 7:15-24).  The perennial human objective is to maximize responsibility for our own decisions while relying humbly on the grace of God.  Alas, not everyone is working toward that objective with equal attentiveness at every moment, with often disastrous results.

We do not see the bigger picture at any given time.  If we could zoom out and view the myriad matrices of decision, we might well leave judgment up to Someone more qualified.  For the believer, this crazy, mixed-up life prompts us to renew our trust in the higher harmony that daily dissonance obscures.  From a self-centered vantage point, the aggregate of bad choices affects us--which is all that matters when matters are all messy.  But we do well to recall the drops we've been adding to that bucket: our own sinful choices.  Whether or not we can clearly trace out the lines of unsavory influences in our lives, it nonetheless remains for us to move forward in the steadfast discharge of virtue.

Often in our conversations, people will admit to me that they are tired.  As they explain the events of a typical day, I can understand where they're coming from, most of the time.  Now a mentor of mine once told me, "You can find sympathy under 's' in the dictionary."  At first hearing, I was rather irritated; at the same time, I hoped to be able to use the line someday because it's so dang clever.  Usually, I offer the trite-yet-true answer, the one I've so frequently and gratefully received: "That's life."  I say "gratefully," because it consoles me to know that I'm not as alone as I think I am.  Members of the Body of Christ are never alone.

I encourage the people who seek counsel from me (for whatever reason!) to trust in the ways of Providence and to persevere in doing their best.  That's what people tell me, anyhow, and it seems to work.  The "sabbath rest" of God's faithful awaits us: the day of re-creation when "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well" (Julian of Norwich).  Meanwhile we must seek out islands of wellness for ourselves, lest the journey be all travail.  Prayer and conversation, reading, exercise, and music have been beneficial to me.  Like-minded people, priests and laity, offer encouragement and challenge in due measure.  I can only hope that my association with them has proved as beneficial to them as it has been for me.

Prefer the company of those who offer you a sense of perspective and a motive for trust in the goodness of God at work in your own life.  The Church--your parish community, the worthy associations and friendships you make along the Way--can be a vital part of your "sabbath," if you wish.
So says the Crown Prince of This World (cf. Jn 12:31)

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