God Wants Us to Give Him Our Wills by: CONSTANCE T. HULL

God Wants Us to Give Him Our Wills

CONSTANCE T. HULL

 

The more we grow in our love for God, the more we will desire to see as He sees, to love as He loves, and to forgive as He forgives. But we will stumble and fall repeatedly because our Fallen nature will continue to get the better of us at times.

This movement away from our fallen nature to sainthood occurs as Christ purifies us through a fire that is extremely painful, but that never annihilates us. This purifying fire is how God forms us into the holy saint He is calling each one of us to become. How this is accomplished varies in accordance with God’s will. However different our refinement, the ultimate end for all of us is the same.

One of the most difficult aspects of this refinement process is learning how to submit our will to God’s will, not strictly out of begrudging obedience, but out of love for Him. We are called to echo the words of Our Lord by repeatedly saying to God: “Not my will, but Your will.” This is difficult for us to do because we have our own plans, dreams, and desires, many of them good. Tension arises most keenly when we desire something that is inherently good, but which God—for mysterious reasons—decides is not for us. We struggle to see how our true joy can only be found in surrendering completely to God’s plan for our lives when it is opposed to our own plans.

I know this process well because God has taught me His will through painful means as I refused to relinquish my own grip on what I wanted. His will for me is not the same as what I wanted for my life. In the process of ignoring God’s will, I wrecked my body and my mental health. I endured deep agony and grief because of how much I wanted this great good that the vast majority of my friends get to enjoy: The gift of many children.

The deepest longing of my heart—besides becoming a saint—is to have a son to give to God in the priesthood. I would happily give as many sons to God in the priesthood as possible in an age when far too many Catholic parents do not support a priestly vocation for their sons. The reality is, however, that God has told me “no”. This is not His will for me. I will not have any more children. He is calling me to something else.

It’s not easy for me to say out loud or to write about, but I think it’s essential to demonstrate how often we desire great goods that are not God’s will for us. We don’t get to know why, either. We are called to trust and surrender to His will in love, faith, and hope.

I prayed about this great desire for a son with all of my pregnancies. My first pregnancy I was pregnant with twins. I lost my daughter’s twin very early on. I spent that pregnancy awaiting my only child’s birth experiencing the joy of her arrival and the sorrow of the loss of her twin. My daughter is now 8-years-old. At that point in time, it never occurred to my husband and me that we would not be able to have anymore children and that we would grieve the loss of four children in the years to come.

I did everything that I could do to have another child while staying obedient to Holy Mother Church. During my last pregnancy my, husband stabbed me in the abdomen and the glute muscle with different hormones in the hope that our child would live. After two weeks with a heart beat, I miscarried. The agony of it all was unbearable.

It was after my fourth miscarriage that I realized there was nothing more that I could do. My husband became ill with a dangerous and rare autoimmune disease 10 months after that miscarriage and our lives shifted dramatically. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that God’s will was for us to have one child and that this deep longing of my heart would never be realized. Instead, God would use this agony to sanctify me and others in accordance with His designs, but He wouldn’t be able to do that in me until I agreed to submit to His will.

I had to relinquish my grip on my desire for the great good of more children, especially a son. When I did so, when I gave it all back to God, something unexpected and extraordinary happened. He began to show me the path that He has in mind for me; a plan that continues to unfold daily. A path that isn’t easy—it’s not easy for any of us—but one that would take the deep grief that I carry from losing four children and from not being able to have anymore children and using it for my own sanctification and for—much to my astonishment—the sanctification of priests. Even more amazing is that it is also a path of great joy after so much anguish. After going through an intense period of being called and tested by God, He revealed to me that I will not be the natural/biological mother of a son, but instead I am called to be a spiritual mother to priests and seminarians.

God’s ways are not our own. The path that God is asking me to walk is not the path I would have chosen if left to my own devices. I never would have imagined or predicted what He is asking of me now. It’s a path that many people do not understand, because much like spiritual fatherhood, spiritual motherhood is not of this world. Spiritual parenthood is not something we see as tangibly as natural parenthood. We tend to dismiss it even though to be called to spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood is to serve in a higher order, the supernatural order.

Even as Catholics, we struggle to understand spiritual maternity and spiritual paternity, but this calling is grounded in the deepest levels of reality itself. It is to seek the ultimate good for others in the supernatural order, which at its root, is the deep desire for all people to enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity and with one another. In my case, it is a call in charity from the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate Heart of Mary to see priests become saints in order to lead souls to Christ.

After I relinquished my grip on the desire to have a son of my own, God showed me through a crucible of sorts, that the greatest good He can accomplish through me is by my prayers, sacrifices, suffering, and call to minister to priests and seminarians in an age of scandal. I also seem to spend quite a bit of time explaining the nature of the priesthood to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the laity, which is once again an area where God is able to reach other people through my willingness to live in accordance with His will.

In order to execute my secondary vocation in union with my primary vocation, I must always be on guard against that which is opposed to God’s will for me. One of the temptations that I must fight against is the desire for my own son. By God’s grace I have made tremendous strides in relinquishing my will to His, but I still struggle with the pain I carry. Many well meaning people over the years have told me that I should try to have another child. Some noticing how much I am at ease with priests, will mention that I’d be a great mother to a son who could become a priest. What they do not know is that these comments can cause me great pain because I did everything that I could to have another child and God told me “no.” It is not God’s will for me to have a son of my own become a priest.

We have to be careful going about encouraging other people, especially when we don’t understand their path fully. It is in these moments of temptation that I must face from well-meaning and loving people, that I often think of Our Lord telling St. Peter to get behind Him. Telling me to try to have another child is to tell me to ignore God and to once more be like Jonah—who has been in the Mass Readings this week—heading for Tarshish. This is a part of my Cross and if I don’t embrace it out of love for the Eternal High Priest and His priests, then I’m walking away from Him. This is what He has called me to.

Much in the way that priests relinquish natural fatherhood in order to become spiritual fathers in the supernatural order of grace, God has called me to relinquish my desire for more children in order to be a spiritual mother to priests. This is how God operates and we all have to learn to submit to His plans. No matter how much someone loves me and wants me to have another child or doesn’t understand my call to spiritual motherhood, this is God’s path for me and that desire on the part of my friends can become a major stumbling block for me. It is true for all of us, no matter the mission God has for each one of us. We must seek to love one another, and in so doing, accept God’s plan for our loved ones’ lives. We have to accept God’s plan for our own lives and trust that it is for our ultimate good and because He loves us.

Almost all of my friends have sons and I listen frequently as they express their hope that at least one of their sons will become a priest one day. It is a hope that I have for them as well, since the Church needs good holy men to be priests, but it also causes me pain that I must repeatedly offer up to Christ on the Cross for the sake of His priests. I must say to myself: “Not my will, Your will.” And as I’ve told my friends who can have more children, I am overjoyed for them and I will be there to love and serve them regardless of any pain I experience from my own Cross. In so doing, I’m also given the opportunity to offer my own suffering up for my priest sons.  This is the way of the Cross. This is the way of love that Christ has called me to.

All of us must seek to conform ourselves to Christ in love and to seek to live in union with God’s will for each one of our lives. As we do so, the Holy Spirit will infuse us with greater faith, hope, and charity. The more we are obedient to God’s will, the more we will become like Christ and the more we will experience the joy that can only come from following Him.

It doesn’t matter if the people around us understand our path or not. The saints were often misunderstood and we are all called to be saints. What matters is that we are seeking to surrender our lives to Christ. There is work that Christ wants to do through us, but we get in the way if we place our own desires over His. We must set our face towards Jerusalem and seek to always be in union with Him, no matter the cost.

“…spiritual joy depends on the Cross. By beginning to forget ourselves for Love of God, we find him, at least obscurely. And since God is our joy, this joy is proportionate to our self-denial and union with him.”

Robert Cardinal Sarah

By Constance T. Hull

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

Mirror mirror on the wall do I look like Our Lord at all? by Edifa 

Mirror mirror on the wall do I look like Our Lord at all?

Edifa 

Every day, we contemplate our image in the mirror, to brush our hair or to put some makeup on. We wonder whether we are attractive enough or how to conceal some blemish, improve our looks and our body. But what if we try to transpose all these thoughts and gestures into our spiritual life?

You, of course, remember the very beautiful Evil Queen from the story of Snow White? Each day, she asked her mirror whether she was the fairest of them all. And one day, the truthful mirror told her that there was indeed someone fairer. The queen got so upset that she decided to get rid of her rival.

This fairy-tale queen is not the only one to scrutinize her image. Who can possibly boast of having never been in need of a mirror to show us a flattering image? We all examine our mirrors, peering into their surface, observing ourselves in thousands of ways. Why do we do this? To see that all is well, to see that the reality corresponds to the picture we have of ourselves. We are terrified that we are nothing like the image we wish to project. We really need someone, a mirror, for example, to tell us: “You are so good and so attractive! You look so perfect!” We panic at the thought of having missed a tiny vital detail that will lower us in the eyes of others provoking smirks, whisperings behind our back and outright laughter once we leave the room. Deep down inside we fear that what we do to others will be done to us.

How others see us

Secretly, we also examine our mirror, because we like what we see. There is this wicked delight in contemplating one’s own image. Since we are not really certain that other people can appreciate us at our true value, we can at least tell ourselves what we wish to have heard from the others. So, sometimes we end up talking to our own reflection in the mirror. We look at our image, in some cases feeling reassured, in others succumbing to despair. We see ourselves as attractive or repulsive.

What would we not do to improve our looks? And this is how the dialogue with the mirror begins: should I put some more makeup, change my hairstyle, put some jewelry on, and conceal that horrible blemish on my skin?

Really, our mirrors give us a lot of trouble. And the biggest of them is that mirrors are how others see us. Inevitably, they send back an image that we examine with growing apprehension. What will other people think? Here is the biggest ever-present problem we don’t dare to mention.

The sign of God’s glory

Those who want to progress on the path to spiritual life have to separate themselves from the mirrors. They should no longer feel preoccupied with their image, especially if it merely concerns some superficial traits.

The Bible teaches us that we are the very reflection of God Himself. We have been created in His image and we still long for it. When we peer into the mirror, are we not trying to see Him, in whose image we have been made? We seek but we cannot find. We would like to see an image of perfection, without a wrinkle or a blemish. But what we find is ourselves with our limitations and imperfections that we loath. This brings to mind one of the most beautiful passages from Saint Paul: “But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in the mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We can see the sign of God’s glory in the face of each person. It is barely perceptible, tarnished, yet very real.

It is sin that deforms and scars the face. In his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray describing the fall of one man, Oscar Wilde evoked this disfigurement. To keep his youthful face, a young man of great beauty makes a pact with the devil. His face will never bear any mark of his evil deeds. It won’t be he who grows old, but his portrait made in the full bloom of his youth. Thus, despite his scandalous life, he seems to be able to save the appearances. But in the end the truth comes out – he is found dead with his face disfigured by years of debauchery. This story is the opposite of what the life of a saint should be like according to the Lord.

To see the face of the Lord progressively replace our own.

Saints are people who accept to see themselves for who they really are. They do not fret about their physical appearance, but about the marks of sin. Looking into the mirror saints see themselves as they are. And they are not content with what they see. Similarly, as they examine their conscience, when they truly see themselves, consider their deeds, what has occupied their minds, they are filled with shame. But far from despairing, they find a way to change.

Whatever the fashionable young women do to revamp their image, the saints do to conceal the lines burrowed by sin, the blemishes of evil, the traces of misdeeds. The saints are the people, who as they peer into the mirror see the face of Our Lord Jesus Christ gradually replacing their own. They look alike, since it is no longer he or she who lives but Christ who lives through them. It is an ideal that only few can attain, but it is a goal for each and everyone among us.

This is no longer the case of appearance but of resemblance. Those who love God the Father like Jesus does, those who live for others like Mother Teresa did, those who no longer worry about what others might think of them, those who see the trials of life as signs from God and share in the suffering of Christ, will perceive through their features those of the Lord. Their mirror will reflect back some of God’s glory. And when they finally pass on – a human being disfigured by life of sin will give place to the one transfigured by the glory of God.

Brother Alain Quilici

Where is God Calling Us to Serve? CONSTANCE T. HULL

 

Where is God Calling Us to Serve?

CONSTANCE T. HULL

Today is the feast day of both St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Lawrence Giustiniani. These two saints—who lived nearly 600 years apart—show us how to follow the will of God for our lives when others do not understand it. Mother Teresa was given “a call within a call” to leave her initial religious order in order to start the Missionaries of Charity, working amongst the poorest of the poor.

St. Lawrence Giustiniani was known for his religious piety, humility, and rigorous practices of penance. His mother sought an arranged marriage for him, but he chose religious life and the priesthood.

Many people who loved both of these saints did not fully understand what God was asking of them. Some even stood in the way of God’s will for them, but both Mother Teresa and St. Lawrence sought to follow God’s will above all else.

The path to holiness is largely about learning how to relinquish our own wants and desires for the will of God. It is a holy detachment from the things of this world, including the opinions of others, even people we love very much. This isn’t easy for any of us. It’s a constant battle as we navigate our relationships with others.

There will be times for all of us when we will find ourselves at odds with spouses, family, friends, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, and other people we trust and rely on. God will lead us down a path that differs from what He is asking of the people around us. We will have to make the choice to accept that path. As we journey down that path, there will be periods of confusion and conflict as we attempt to understand and live what Christ is requiring of of us. The saints know this better than anyone.

What we discover in these periods of conflict and confusion is that the more we live in accordance with God’s will, the greater the peace we will find in our souls. The more we battle against what He is asking of us, the more we will live in a state of turbulence and unrest. I was reminded of this recently when I resigned from the last ministry I am involved in in my parish. It is a ministry that I have been involved in for nearly a decade: pro-life ministry.

St. Lawrence Giustiniani

It is not because I no longer firmly believe in the great need for Catholics to be a light to a culture lost in darkness and death. Abortion is the greatest human rights issue of our day and I still plan to attend the March for Life. It is also true that euthanasia is on the rise and violations of the dignity of the human person are rampant. The reality is, and some will not understand, God pulled me out because He has different battles that He needs me to wage. They are largely hidden battles fought through prayer, penance, and the great desire to learn how to love with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. My family is my primary vocation, but Christ has also given me a secondary vocation of fighting for His priests. I can’t do that if I am engaged in battles everywhere else.

I am pulled in a lot of different directions by different people, especially in my parish. As I start to allow myself to get pulled in these different directions, the unrest in my soul builds because I know it is not where God is asking me to go. I still struggle to say “no” to people when they ask things of me. Sound familiar? It’s something a lot of us have a hard time doing. We must learn to say “no”, because if we don’t, we may find ourselves saying “no” to God and “yes” to a path He doesn’t want us to walk. He gives us the grace to fight the battles He is asking of us, not everyone else’s.

We are not called to serve in every ministry or charity within our parish or community. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes people make in ministry is not discerning where God is asking them to serve. Sometimes we have to go down the wrong path a few times in order to discern where we are best able to use our God-given gifts. Other times, God may call us to a ministry for a set amount of time and then pull us towards another ministry or vocation. Problems arise when we are not open to God’s will over our own or when we fear what others will think of us over what God is asking us to do. He knows the best mode of sanctification for each one of us and it differs from our neighbor.

The saints serve as guides to show us how best to love and serve God. Mother Teresa, St. Lawrence Giustiniani, and many other saints surrendered themselves fully to God’s will. There is no other way to become a saint except in choosing to give one’s self fully over to God and allowing His grace to sanctify us. ‘Not my will, but Your will.’ This includes a willingness on our part to do things that may hurt others even though it’s not what we are trying to do. It means knowing when to stand up and fight and when to leave things to prayer. It’s an openness to all that God is doing in our lives, especially the very things we don’t understand. No matter what this life brings and what is asked of us, Christ is with always us, and that is enough.

By Constance T. Hull

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

Dung Heaps, the Devil, and the Catholic Orchestra by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

Dung Heaps, the Devil, and the Catholic Orchestra

Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

 

Catholic teaching is like an orchestra. There are a lot of interactive parts including doctrines, dogmas, practices (disciplines) that reinforce Church teaching (such as meatless Fridays in witness to the Sacrifice of Good Friday), liturgy, Scriptures, tradition, and so on. Theological speculation attempts to harmonize all these elements of the Faith.

Even the illiterate among us sense when an orchestra is out of tune. Call this, the “sense of the faithful.” It’s useful, therefore, now and then, to recall the overall portrait of the Catholic “thing” – and to identify a couple of false notes that ordinary people can identify with certainty, and also things that it’s proper to consider uncertain.

For instance, when a grieving child asks a parish priest whether a beloved dead dog went to heaven, a pastoral/theological decision becomes unavoidable.  Aquinas argues that animals have souls, but not eternal souls.  So when a dog dies, beloved or not, the dog returns to the prime matter whence he emerged.

Covenant theologians, however, generally prefer the metaphors of Scripture.  They would likely point to the Book of Revelation.  Pets – along with all of God’s good Creation – will be purified of all evil and be assumed into heavenly glory and “made new” on the last day. (cf. Rev. 21:1-5)

Either answer is possible and neither is de fide.

But theologians also attempt to resolve apparent conflicts in Church doctrine. Baptism (liturgical, by blood, or by desire) is necessary for salvation. When a newborn baby dies without baptism, questions of salvation arise. Saint Augustine proposed the doctrine of limbo – a place of bliss, but without the beatific vision. Some theologians consider that opinion ill-advised and invoke God’s infinite mercy. Concerning unresolved theological arguments, we must be content with doctrinal mysteries – even as we continue to hope for resolution of the disputes.

Some theologians have suggested the possibility of an “empty hell.” Jesus redeemed us on the Cross, to be sure. But our salvation comes with cooperating with His graces – and is therefore not a sure thing.  So we need not pretend to be erudite theologians to question the “empty hell” theology.  Jesus repeatedly seems to say that angels have fallen there, along with human beings.

Why would beings composed of body and soul such as ourselves fare any better than angels?  Universal salvation seems too good to be true. Nevertheless, charity requires that we assume goodwill towards theologians working on the frontiers of Catholic teaching.

After all, we cannot reduce the beauty of the Catholic faith only to conceptual statements. Even the most binding doctrines can be restated, without violation of their truth value, in light of evolving understanding brought about by science and other branches of human knowledge.

*

Advances in our scientific understanding of the created universe, for example, wonderfully enhance the poetic creation account in Genesis. Science is the study of the handiwork of God expanding our horizons to endless mysteries. Yet we continue to look at the world with the same simple wonder as the ancients.

At the end of the day, even the theological power hitters strike out from time to time. The indisputably great Thomas Aquinas failed to grasp the significance of the Immaculate Conception (not an official Church dogma until 1854). So as long as the power hitters allow theological lightweights like us to stick to the teachings of the basics of the Faith, we need not be disturbed.

But theology is too important to be left to the theologians. So there are limits to intellectual charity. Sometimes the faithful must firmly reject theological nonsense regardless of the claims of the intellectuals.  Various doctrines that emerge from theological speculation are dangerous and wrong.

Martin Luther compared man to a dung heap. Original sin destroyed our human nature, in this view. God’s grace does not restore our dignity but covers up the mess like a snowfall on a dung heap. In contrast, Catholics believe Original Sin seriously wounded – but did not destroy – our nature.  God restores us in the Baptismal font and continues to heal us in our encounter with Him in the Sacraments. You don’t need to be a towering intellectual to reject errant Protestant teachings and hold that God does not create junk.

We can also find nonsense at high levels in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.  In a recent interview, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., the superior general of the Society of Jesus, said, “Good and evil are in a permanent war in the human conscience and we have ways to point them out. . . .Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Did a symbol tempt Eve in the Garden and did the same symbol tempt Jesus in the desert?  Saint Paul writes, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)  Did Saint Paul lie, or was he merely lacking a modern Jesuit education?  We may not believe in the Devil, but the Devil keeps close tabs on us.

When the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a son, Mary was perplexed.  Her question to Gabriel was not disrespectful, dismissive, or skeptical.  With fidelity, she asked, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” (Luke 1:34) Mary responded to Gabriel’s explanation with her magnificent fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

God speaks to us through the glorious orchestra of the Catholic Faith, and the essentials of Catholic doctrine are accessible to all. We respond with devotion and, with God’s grace, holy theological reflection. When in doubt, the simple but firm faith of Our Lady is the answer.

 

*Image: Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael, 1509-10 [Apostolic Palace, Vatican]

Nativity: The birth of the Christ Child has to occur in the soul Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP |

Nativity: The birth of the Christ Child has to occur in the soul

Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP |

In this month of the Rosary, take a moment to reflect on the Third Joyful Mystery.

Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. Saint Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me. – Meister Eckhart

Jesus Christ is born! The eternal Word by which all things were made has entered creation. God speaks a new mystery: he has become like us in all things but sin. Through the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Word Incarnate has taken flesh.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).

The King of Kings enters the world in poverty, reminding his every disciple that to be a follower of Jesus means to be a beggar. Helpless, a child who needed a mother to change and bathe him, our God enters into our human estate and transforms it by the grace of faith. To have faith is to become like a little child, looking always up to God above to care and sustain.

Pope Benedict XVI writes, “For you the Savior is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything.”

Like Meister Eckhart before him, Pope Benedict understands that the nativity of the Christ Child has to occur in the soul.

We must go, like shepherds, to see the Infant King, allowing his reign to change the very shape of our lives. St. Irenaeus puts it this way, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, of his boundless love became what we are, that he might make us what he himself is.”

God has become very close to us. We must respond, allowing this proximity to convert our souls. If he is born, my life must look like he has been born!

Many cannot see the King in the Infant. They would have preferred his birth to have been more noble, his reign to have been not in the hearts of the humble, but a more impressive conquest of the proud. And yet only the life and death of the simple Christ could change the very substance of our lives. Only the hope of Bethlehem, only the hope of Christmas, can transform our worn and weary world. End of article Quoted

 

What Are the Nine Choirs of Angels? JOHN HORGAN

What Are the Nine Choirs of Angels?

  1. JOHN HORGAN

 

We know from Christian tradition and from the Holy Scriptures that there are different names given to groups of angels — nine “choirs” of angels in all. Over the centuries, many theologians and spiritual writers have considered the choirs from various perspectives.

A helpful spiritual truth to internalize as we grow in our love for God and progress along our spiritual journey: Whatever other purposes they may have, the hierarchy of angels is meant to help us to understand the qualities of God and how we might grow in the ways of holiness. It provides us with a sense of order, progress, and ascent in our understanding of how God’s infinite knowledge establishes and maintains the order and beauty of creation through principles that we can grasp and through the ministry and oversight of His faithful servants, the angels.

These designations are not matters of dogma but rather spiritual tools to help us to appreciate the ways of holiness — the means by which God assists us through the mediation of the angels. The names themselves describe either a characteristics of these mighty spirits or an aspect of their mission in God’s plan.

The Angelic Hierarchy

In the fourth and fifth centuries, we begin to see an increasing inter­est in the role of the angels among the Fathers of the Church and other Christian writers. One of these was an anony­mous fifth-century monk who wrote under the name of St. Paul’s famous convert, Dionysius the Areopagite. He is commonly known as “Pseudo-Dionysius” and is the person to whom we owe our com­mon Christian understanding of the relationship between the ranks and choirs of the angels.

St. Thomas made intelligence the basis of the classification of the angels, who are themselves purely intellectual beings. The angels do not all have the same degree of likeness to the Lord, however; some participate in or reflect the divine perfections more than others. Therefore, according to the Angelic Doctor, angels belong to different choirs according to their intelligence and their place in God’s plan.

Outline of the Order of Angels

The highest group of angels — the seraphim, the cherubim, and the thrones — not only contemplate God directly but are totally concerned with Him. In Him, they contemplate the source of all cre­ation, the ultimate ideas and causes from which all creation flows. In other words, they contemplate God in His highest perfections.

The second level, or sphere, of the angels — the dominations, the virtues, and the powers — do not possess the same kind of unified vision as the higher choirs. They see reality divided into the fundamental causes from which all things stem. And then the third group — the principalities, the archangels, and the angels — have a further de­volved understanding of the truth of the universe, from the large and basic causes of all things into a multiplicity of particular causes.

But Pseudo-Dionysius also believed, as did St. Thomas, that the angels of the higher choirs enlighten those of the lower choirs, sharing their intelligence and understanding with them so that there is, in fact, true communication among the angels. And the angels in this way can cooperate with one another to fulfill the mission that God gives them.

This article is from His Angels at Our Side.

The Arrangement of the Angels of the Lord (according to Pseudo-Dionysius)

Let’s turn to the individual choirs so that we can examine the powers each have, and how they relate with one another.

Seraphim

The seraphim are the angels closest to God. As such, they reflect most immediately the highest attribute of God manifest in cre­ation: His love. They are on fire with the love of God; the very name means “incandescent ones” or “burning ones.” Classical sa­cred art portrays them as entirely red and ablaze. They are usually depicted as having six wings but no faces — simply a sea or ring of flame around the Holy Trinity. Because of this burning love, more than any other angel they have the most perfect knowledge of God, which makes them the most perfect adorers. St. Jerome notes that they not only burn by themselves, but they also inflame others with the love of God.

According to the prophet Isaiah, the seraphim are the angels whom he hears crying out “Holy, holy, holy,” as one of them purifies Isaiah’s mouth with a coal from the altar so that he might serve as the Lord’s messenger (Isa. 6:3–8). In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Mass, the priest evokes this moment as he prays for worthiness in proclaiming the Gospel. We too should pray to the seraphim that we might be purified in our responsibilities as teachers and bearers of the Word to our families, our friends, and all those over whom we have responsibility. It was a seraph who appeared to St. Francis of Assisi when he received the stigmata. Later mystics, too, will speak of the seraphim as the Lord’s messen­gers and intermediaries when they had extraordinary experiences of loving and transforming divine union.

Cherubim

The cherubim have a deep intellectual knowledge of divine se­crets and of the ultimate causes of things; their name means “all-knowing one.” As such, they constantly contemplate the wisdom and the love of God in His relationship with mankind. They reflect His omniscience. The cherubim were the mighty adorers of the first covenant in its wisdom; images of the cherubim were the only images of beings that were permitted in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. Their carved figures adorned the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, which prefigured both the Virgin Mary “taberna­cling” the unborn Christ and the Eucharistic tabernacles of our churches, containing the new manna of Christ’s sacramental Body and Blood. Embroideries of the cherubim also covered the beautiful drapery that separated the Holy of Holies from the outer court of the Temple. It was that veil that was ripped from top to bottom when Our Lord died on the Cross as the sign that He had passed into the Eternal Sanctuary and that the Temple of Jerusalem had fulfilled its purpose (Matt. 27:51). The cherubim are still consid­ered protectors of the New Covenant and so are often depicted on tabernacles and Eucharistic vessels.

Thrones

The thrones, as their name suggests, can be thought of as be­ings raised up to form the seat of God’s authority and mercy. A throne manifests the glory and authority of a king; it expresses stability and power. And since a throne is also a judgment seat, these angels are especially concerned with divine judgments and ordinances.

In the early Church, a common representation of God’s glory in Heaven was a mosaic behind the altar and above the seat of the bishop that represented an empty throne with a radiant cross mounted above it. This image represented Christ the King, Lord of all and Judge of the living and the dead. But His judgment seat was also a throne of mercy, for Christ has redeemed the world by His Cross. His love has brought us to salvation. The thrones are never seen or experienced as “flying” but as “rolling” across the heavens, in keeping with their manifesting the Lord’s stability.

* * *

The second hierarchy receives knowledge of divine secrets through the first three choirs — knowledge that they could not perceive by themselves. The ardor of the seraphim inflames their love; the wisdom of the cherubim reveals the depth of the mysteries; and the stability of the thrones draws them into constant adoration of God’s majesty. In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas teaches that the names “domination,” “power,” and “principality” belong to government in different ways. The place of a lord is to prescribe what is to be done, and so Gregory says that “some companies of the angels, because others are subject to obedience to them, are called dominations.”

Dominations

The dominations are concerned with the government of the uni­verse. They are the first of the three choirs in the second ring, which is the ring of the cosmos — the angels who are charged with great and universal stewardships. The dominations in particular are involved in the workings of divine power. They coordinate the ministries of all the angels who deal with creation. We see in the angelic world that the Church’s teaching that God works through secondary causes is beautifully demonstrated. The angels mediate God’s power just as the saints intercede for us with Him.

Virtues

St. Peter mentions the virtues in his first epistle (3:22), as does St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians (1:16). The name is in some way a mistranslation or at least a “false cognate,” since this choir of angels does not deal with acquired habits (virtues), but rather exercises innate, raw power over the physical universe. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, their name refers to “a certain powerful and unshakable virility welling forth into all their Godlike energies, . . . mounting upwards in fullness of power to an assimilation with God; never falling away from the divine life through its own weakness, but ascending unwaveringly to the super-essential Virtue which is the Source of virtue.”1 They are the lords of causality and the principles of cosmic order in the material realm. They ensure the well-being of the world.

Powers

The powers (dunameis) form the third and last choir of the sec­ond angelic hierarchy, according to Pseudo-Dionysius, while other scholars and spiritual writers consider them to be the fifth choir. This choir is mentioned occasionally in the Old Testament, such as in the book of Daniel where we read, “Bless the Lord, all pow­ers, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever” (Dan. 3:39). Some scholars maintain that the name “powers” is also used to indicate angels in general, since it is the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew sabaoth. In the New Testament St. Paul writes that there are powers who have remained faithful to God and powers who have fallen away and become part of the empire of Satan (Eph. 6:12). The choir of powers is thought to introduce man to the higher mysteries while repressing the attacks of the “hostile powers” of Hell against the deepest laws of physical creation.

* * *

The third sphere of angels is concerned with Almighty God’s plan of salvation for mankind. It receives from the highest sphere its focus on the immutability of God, which is manifested in creation by the harmonious principles and intelligent organization of the laws of nature, which are upheld by the angels of the second sphere. In turn, the angels of this third sphere pour out their influence on those who have the greatest interaction with us in the ordinary course of things established by God.

Princes or Principalities

The princes are also described as having members who have fallen away and others who have remained faithful. Principalities are the leading choir of the last hierarchy of angels. Their activities are described by Pseudo-Dionysius in this way, “The name of the Celestial Principalities signifies their Godlike princeliness and au­thoritativeness in an Order which is holy and most fitting to the princely Powers.” They are often seen as being the guardians of nations or peoples; this is why St. Michael is described in the book of Daniel as “the prince of Israel,” who comes to the aid of Gabriel against the demonic prince of Persia. It seems fitting that this first choir in the “ring of salvation” should also look after the spiritual structure of the supernatural life of the Church.

Archangels

This choir is the most known and loved in popular devotion. Among the archangels we find St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. It is traditionally believed, due to the statements of Ra­phael in the book of Tobit, that there are only seven archangels.

Three of their names occur in Scripture, and so the Church uses these names in our worship — St. Michael, the prince of the heav­enly host and the only one called “archangel” in the Scriptures; St. Gabriel, the messenger of the Incarnation; and St. Raphael, the angel of healing and of medicine.

The names of the other four are not used in our Liturgy, though there are certain churches that preserve these names and make use of them in private devotion, including some Eastern Catholic Churches. Roman Catholics of­ten refer to them as the seven archangels or the seven assisting spirits around the throne of God.

The seven archangels have been regarded from the very begin­ning as having a special place in God’s plan; their number is often associated with the seven days of the week and the seven sacraments. It is thought that the archangels were outstanding in their fidelity to God, and so in the writings of the saints they are often called archan­gel princes, an appellation that connotes leadership and authority in the heavenly realm. Many spiritual authors and mystics speak of their special assistance and often attribute other “groups of seven” to their protection or patronage — virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so on. The archangels are also associated with the protection of nations, dioceses, religious communities, and the mission of the Church.

Angels

The ninth and final choir of angels is composed of those who are most involved with the doings of mankind. These angels are those who are sent out on missions from God and from whom the guard­ian angels are chosen. The angels who fill up this choir may be the lowest, but they are beloved because the Lord places them at our sides to watch over us and to care for us. They are the ministers of Christ’s love and our protectors. They defend us against harm and temptation. They warn us of impending evil and inspire us to remain faithful to God in prayer.

This article is adapted from a chapter in His Angels at Our Side: Understanding Their Power in Our Souls and the World. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.

image: The Nine Choirs of Angels surround Jesus, God the Father, and Mary from BL YT 31, f. 40v in Matfré Ermengau of Béziers’s Breviari d’Amour.

By Fr. John Horgan

Father John G. Horgan is a priest of the Archdiocese of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, and the pastor of St Pius X Parish. A native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, he graduated from Harvard, as well as the Angelicum in Rome, before being ordained by St. John Paul II in 1986. He has lectured and consulted on questions of moral theology and healthcare ethics in Canada and the United States. Father has had a life-long interest in the Angels and Saints and was credentialed through the Vatican’s special training course for those involved in the process of “saint-making” in 1997. He has served as a vice-postulator for the cause of Blessed Marie of Jesus Deluil-Martiny and has advised on several other causes. Father John has been involved with EWTN, the Eternal Word Global Television Network, since the early 1990s; he made several appearances with Mother Angelica, and has filmed two television series.

 

How Will You Face the Four Last Things? NNAMDI MONEME, OMV

How Will You Face the Four Last Things?

NNAMDI MONEME, OMV

“My child, remember you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, why did Lazarus end up in heaven and Dives, the rich man, end up in the torments of hell? There is nothing wrong or evil in having wealth and comfort that would condemn the rich Dives to hell. And there is nothing good about being poor and being deprived of the basic necessities of life that would automatically win heaven for the poor Lazarus. So why does Abraham say to Dives, “My child, remember you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”

In their Thanksgiving prayer after each Mass in the convents of the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters usually recite a prayer to Mary, the Mother of God, which has a particularly striking line, “Bless your own Missionaries of Charity. Help us to the do all the good we can.” After the reception of the greatest blessing, Christ Himself in Holy Communion, the sisters pray that they may never omit any good that they can do for the greater glory of God and for the good of others.

Dives lacked this desire and firm resolve to do all the good that he could with the blessings that God offered to him. He neglected the numerous possible goods that he could have done for Lazarus with the blessings that he had received from God. He was not expected to solve all Lazarus’ problems but to do some good to him. Having omitted the one good that he could and should have done, he ended up in hell, the place of endless and unremitting torture.

 

On his part Lazarus entered heaven because he patiently endured the evil that he could not change or avoid. He shows silent endurance in life as well as silence in paradise when Dives is still trying to boss him around, “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue… Send Lazarus to my brothers to warn them lest they too come to this place of torment.” Lazarus does not let his sufferings in life separate him from God or diminish his trust in God. His friendship with Abraham here on earth despite his deprivations prepares him to be at Abraham’s bosom in paradise.

Our spiritual life orients us to heaven and away from hell when we are ready to use all God’s blessings to do all the good that we can do and to patiently endure all the evils that we cannot change, overcome, or avoid.  In our secular and materialistic times, we are constantly tempted to reduce our Christian life to merely receiving and enjoying good things and avoiding bad things. Let us be certain: we are made for God, to be with Him forever in heaven, whether we receive good or bad things in this life.

Thus our Christian life is all about receiving with faith the innumerable riches offered to us in Jesus Christ and preparing ourselves and others to face the Four Last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell. The certainty of our own death reminds us that time is short and that this is the moment to do all the good we can and endure unavoidable evils.

Judgement reminds us that the God who has bestowed His blessings on us will subject each and every one of us to strict personal account of how we have made use of His gifts during the time allotted to us. Our goal is to enter heaven and avoid hell by doing all the good we can by the grace of God as we endure the evils of this life. We cannot afford to neglect any doable good or succumb to any avoidable or surmountable evils if we are going to be in heaven.

We walk the path to hell when we willfully ignore the good that divine providence places in our path, reveals to us, and moves us to fulfill. That is why we beg for forgiveness for all our omissions in the Confiteor at Mass, “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

St. Paul writes to Timothy, reminding him that his primary vocation is not just to be bishop, but to attain eternal life, “Lay hold to eternal life, to which you were called when you made the confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Timothy will journey along the path to eternal life as long as he does not omit any of the commandments, “Keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is to focus on Christ and draw strength from Him because Jesus “gave testimony before Pontus Pilate for the noble profession.” Jesus is that “faithful witness,”(Rev 1:5) who did the good of proclaiming the truth even when His life was at stake. Like Him, we too enter into life by doing the good we can and enduring what comes our way.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how firmly resolved are we to do all the good we can today for the greater glory of God and for the good of our neighbors? How are we succumbing to the prevailing tendency today to pick and choose only those commandments or teachings of Christ that appeal to us and rejecting those that are difficult or unpopular in our culture today?

We have an example of this willful omitting of the good to be done that is right before us when we all jump on the climate change bandwagon while we yawn in unpardonable indifference as babies are being aborted and their intact and severed body parts are being sold by biotech companies like StemExpress. We easily look the other way as abortionists like the late Ulrich Klopfer store remains of thousands of murdered babies like trophies in the home. We unreflectingly pretend to care for the environment while being indifferent to the brutal slaughter and selling of the parts of the unborn who are ironically meant to be the due inheritors of the environment from us.

We must also ask ourselves how ready and willing are we to endure for the sake of Christ what we cannot change, overcome, or avoid in life. How ready and willing are we to endure nagging temptations, addictions, persecutions, insults, inner struggles, sickness, repeated failures, suffering and death of loved ones, conflict with loved ones, etc.?

We need to ponder and reflect on the Four Last Things constantly so that we strive to overcome any indifference towards the good to be done now or to become so self-indulgent to the point that we do not endure anything for Christ in this life. The Four Last Things remind us that hell and heaven are final destinations. There is no migration from one to the other as Abraham stated in the parable, “A great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”

This is the time that God pours His blessings on us – graces of the Holy Spirit that can do and endure all things, divine mercy that forgives all sins, truth that sets us free, desires to serve others, the companionship and support of Mama Mary, the Saints and angels, talents and gifts that can bring hope and joy to many people, and, of course, the gift of time to make amends and begin again. How we make use of these blessings now will determine our eternal destiny.

The Eucharist we receive is the greatest of God’s blessings because it is the gift of Himself. This sacramental grace enlightens us to the good to be done here and now as well as the grace to do so and endure all evils. If we are going to use these blessings well, we must ask ourselves the following questions adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

  • What good have I done and what evil have I endured for Christ in the past?
  • What good am I doing now and what evil am I enduring now for Christ?
  • What good will I do now and what evil will I endure for Christ in the future?

Our honest answer to these questions will determine if we will face the Four Last Things with confidence in Christ and enter into heaven or not.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

 

By Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations’ Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

Dung Heaps, the Devil, and the Catholic Orchestra

Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

Catholic teaching is like an orchestra. There are a lot of interactive parts including doctrines, dogmas, practices (disciplines) that reinforce Church teaching (such as meatless Fridays in witness to the Sacrifice of Good Friday), liturgy, Scriptures, tradition, and so on. Theological speculation attempts to harmonize all these elements of the Faith.

Even the illiterate among us sense when an orchestra is out of tune. Call this, the “sense of the faithful.” It’s useful, therefore, now and then, to recall the overall portrait of the Catholic “thing” – and to identify a couple of false notes that ordinary people can identify with certainty, and also things that it’s proper to consider uncertain.

For instance, when a grieving child asks a parish priest whether a beloved dead dog went to heaven, a pastoral/theological decision becomes unavoidable.  Aquinas argues that animals have souls, but not eternal souls.  So when a dog dies, beloved or not, the dog returns to the prime matter whence he emerged.

Covenant theologians, however, generally prefer the metaphors of Scripture.  They would likely point to the Book of Revelation.  Pets – along with all of God’s good Creation – will be purified of all evil and be assumed into heavenly glory and “made new” on the last day. (cf. Rev. 21:1-5)

Either answer is possible and neither is de fide.

But theologians also attempt to resolve apparent conflicts in Church doctrine. Baptism (liturgical, by blood, or by desire) is necessary for salvation. When a newborn baby dies without baptism, questions of salvation arise. Saint Augustine proposed the doctrine of limbo – a place of bliss, but without the beatific vision. Some theologians consider that opinion ill-advised and invoke God’s infinite mercy. Concerning unresolved theological arguments, we must be content with doctrinal mysteries – even as we continue to hope for resolution of the disputes.

Some theologians have suggested the possibility of an “empty hell.” Jesus redeemed us on the Cross, to be sure. But our salvation comes with cooperating with His graces – and is therefore not a sure thing.  So we need not pretend to be erudite theologians to question the “empty hell” theology.  Jesus repeatedly seems to say that angels have fallen there, along with human beings.

Why would beings composed of body and soul such as ourselves fare any better than angels?  Universal salvation seems too good to be true. Nevertheless, charity requires that we assume goodwill towards theologians working on the frontiers of Catholic teaching.

After all, we cannot reduce the beauty of the Catholic faith only to conceptual statements. Even the most binding doctrines can be restated, without violation of their truth value, in light of evolving understanding brought about by science and other branches of human knowledge.

*

Advances in our scientific understanding of the created universe, for example, wonderfully enhance the poetic creation account in Genesis. Science is the study of the handiwork of God expanding our horizons to endless mysteries. Yet we continue to look at the world with the same simple wonder as the ancients.

At the end of the day, even the theological power hitters strike out from time to time. The indisputably great Thomas Aquinas failed to grasp the significance of the Immaculate Conception (not an official Church dogma until 1854). So as long as the power hitters allow theological lightweights like us to stick to the teachings of the basics of the Faith, we need not be disturbed.

But theology is too important to be left to the theologians. So there are limits to intellectual charity. Sometimes the faithful must firmly reject theological nonsense regardless of the claims of the intellectuals.  Various doctrines that emerge from theological speculation are dangerous and wrong.

Martin Luther compared man to a dung heap. Original sin destroyed our human nature, in this view. God’s grace does not restore our dignity but covers up the mess like a snowfall on a dung heap. In contrast, Catholics believe Original Sin seriously wounded – but did not destroy – our nature.  God restores us in the Baptismal font and continues to heal us in our encounter with Him in the Sacraments. You don’t need to be a towering intellectual to reject errant Protestant teachings and hold that God does not create junk.

We can also find nonsense at high levels in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.  In a recent interview, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., the superior general of the Society of Jesus, said, “Good and evil are in a permanent war in the human conscience and we have ways to point them out. . . .Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Did a symbol tempt Eve in the Garden and did the same symbol tempt Jesus in the desert?  Saint Paul writes, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)  Did Saint Paul lie, or was he merely lacking a modern Jesuit education?  We may not believe in the Devil, but the Devil keeps close tabs on us.

When the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a son, Mary was perplexed.  Her question to Gabriel was not disrespectful, dismissive, or skeptical.  With fidelity, she asked, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” (Luke 1:34) Mary responded to Gabriel’s explanation with her magnificent fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

God speaks to us through the glorious orchestra of the Catholic Faith, and the essentials of Catholic doctrine are accessible to all. We respond with devotion and, with God’s grace, holy theological reflection. When in doubt, the simple but firm faith of Our Lady is the answer.

 

*Image: Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael, 1509-10 [Apostolic Palace, Vatican]

St Therese Of Lisieux’s Way of Abandonment & Peace by JOEL GUIBERT

St Therese Of Lisieux’s Way of Abandonment & Peace

  1. JOEL GUIBERT

“Providence” is a word that needs to be given a new meaning because it has been forgotten or caricatured to such an extent. For many people, providence conjures up only a “palliative” for the ends of months that are a little difficult. Just as “irrigation” minimized agricultural wastes, the abundance in our society has finally freed man from believing in God: “Come on, sir, let’s get with it. You are not really going to trust this ‘gentle dreamer’ named Jesus, who asserts that you must not worry about anything, that God takes care of it?”

To turn away from faith in providence, as soon as this word is blurted out, we hasten to caricature it, not in a mean way, but simply by regurgitating the atmosphere of the times we are living in: “Do you still believe in a God who would determine in advance everything that will happen to you, without letting your liberty have any say in it? Do you still believe in a God who seems indifferent to evil and the suffering of men?” The weight of these caricatures certainly assures them of a long career, but if we dare to allow Providence to speak for Himself, we will have some surprises, some good surprises!

God did not content Himself with creating the world in the way that one builds something out of Legos and then leaves it: “Dear creatures, here is the Christmas present, have fun, and, above all, do not bother me; my divine job has ended!” Certainly, in each instance, God “carries” His creation, but in His love, the Trinity “carries” us as part of a benevolent plan: “All historical events unfold according to the will or permission of divine Providence, and God attains His objectives in history.”

Certain people will prefer this simpler formula to the more technical expression “Providential plan of God”: “God the Father has a personal plan of love for my life!” The whole object of this book resides in the response to this question: “Do I want to enter into this very concrete plan of love that God has for my life through an abandonment that is confident and active?” Unfortunately, our wounded unreflective minds often convey this false image of an active God presiding over the life of men from very high up and very far above. No, Providence implicates Himself in the smallest details of our lives: “The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and of history,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us (303). If this is the case, what space and what great love we can give to the smallest details of our lives! “Everything is so big in religion. . . . To pick up a pin out of love can convert a soul. What a mystery!” Thérèse marvels.

 

Modern man, having removed God from his life, seems to be more and more desperate in facing the history of this world, which appears to be more a state of confusion than a marvelous design coming from the hands of a “good God.” Today, it is difficult for many to affirm that God is the Lord of history. But “we firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history” (CCC 314). Let us not be afraid to “proclaim the word . . . whether it is convenient or inconvenient” (2 Tim. 4:2); let us proclaim this truth of faith, — lest, on the Day of Judgment, we be accused of not helping a society in danger of despair! The dogma of providence is a “truth to be lived out,” a truth that changes life. Abandonment to the God of love renews life by injecting it with an immense hope. It offers meaning — perhaps the ultimate meaning of the history of the world and of our lives.

This discovery, or rediscovery, of a God who is very near men’s lives, has perhaps already allowed for the growth of the idea of providence. Now let us confront two difficulties that frequently prevent us from abandoning ourselves to God: 1.) If God has a plan of love for my life, am I still free? 2.) How can I have confidence in this plan of God for my life when evil and suffering befall me?

This article is from Abandonment to God: The Way of Peace of St. Therese of Lisieux.

If God has a plan of love, what happens to my freedom?

How does one reconcile a providential plan that God knows from all eternity — “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) — with a human freedom that is worthy of that name — that is to say, fully free?

Let us leave aside the scenario of a providential plan that is about “predestination.” In this scenario, God has so well determined things that certain people would be predestined from all eternity to be happy, whereas others would be predestined to experience eternal punishment, even before exercising their freedom. If this were the case, we would not be God’s friends (John 15:15) but rather His toys, on which this perverse tyrant would get away with all kinds of whims. No, God has a favorable plan for everyone because He is Love. This plan fully includes and infinitely respects the exercise of our freedom: “God is the master of history. But despite that, He conceived it in such a way as to allow freedom to play its role.”

First & Secondary Causes

God is really the sovereign Master of His plan of love and, to carry it out, He calls upon His creatures, who are “secondary causes.” “God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes” (CCC 308). Thus, the sun is a secondary cause, which allows for the conditions of human existence on earth. Through the act of procreation and the love that they manifest, parents are the secondary causes of their children. In this way, they allow the free love of God to show through.

Thérèse confided about the witness of her father in prayer: “Then we all went upstairs to say our night prayers together and the little Queen was alone near her King, having only to look at him to see how the saints pray.” Let us go further on. Even a disagreeable person can be a secondary cause when, through a biting remark, he teaches us to be healed of our pride!

We have a hard time thinking of God — who would act in man without limiting his freedom — as a First Cause, who would work through secondary causes.

God does not quash our freedom. We often convey this wounded vision of the omnipotence of God, who could only squash our poor, limited freedom like a bulldozer. Yes, God is omnipotent and capable of creating worlds! But His power is such that it can penetrate man’s liberty without ever assaulting it: “Do not think that you are drawn against your will; the will is drawn also by love and delight,” Saint Augustine so magnificently says in commenting on John 6:44. Not only is our freedom not squashed by God’s, but it is also elevated to a divine dignity, since God makes us co-workers (1 Corinthians 3:9) in His benevolent plan.

God does not compete with our freedom. Nor is there competition between God and man like the game musical chairs, in which there is only one chair, and if God were to take it, man would lose his freedom to sit down. No, God acts in man. The chair is one-hundred percent God’s and 100 percent man’s. “God acts in every agent.” There is cooperation, but on two levels; the secondary cause’s action cannot be put on the level of God, who is the First Cause. Thus, it is not necessary to take the trouble to “catch God” acting in our lives, directly or through secondary causes, for His action will always be “other” than human action, which we will not notice with our human eyes. So, if I choose to abandon myself to God, my freedom will not suffer from it. On the contrary, it will increase!

If the sovereign freedom of God constantly mingles with man’s freedom, let us not be astonished if the Bible or the saints seem to attribute everything that happens to them directly to God, while often not paying much attention to secondary causes: “The Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributes actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes. This is not a ‘primitive mode of speech,’ but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world.” It so happens that certain highly intellectual people look at the Scriptures or the words of the saints from on high, as if their language lacks a scientific rigor. It is this haughty judgment that has scales in its eyes. It confines reality to appearances while denying the One who places it in human beings at all times. A saint really deserves to be called an “illuminated one.” He is far from hovering in unreality. His eagle look allows him to pierce reality to the point of discerning the providential hand of the Father behind what is visible.

God, Master of history, and man, master of his liberty

Considering God and man’s freedom already confronts us with the mystery of evil. The freedom of creatures — men and fallen angels — is such that they can choose evil. How can God achieve His plan of love if His creatures use their liberty to sin?

Man, who is perfectly free, even if he works to destroy God’s plan of love, nonetheless collaborates with it indirectly, since God is capable of mysteriously using for a greater good the evil that is committed: “God is the master of history. But despite that, he conceived it in such a way as to let freedom play out its role. So, it is possible for me to move away from His plan for me. . . . God, on the one hand, fully accepts freedom and, on the other hand, He is so great that He can transform failure and destruction into a new beginning that even surpasses these and appears to be greater and better.”

Can we say the same thing about the energy-sapping work of the fallen angels — the demons? Yes, it is the paradox noted by Goethe in this description: [Satan], the one who always wants evil and always does good. The Devil and his band devastate in vain, for their evil action is “integrated” into the mysterious plan of salvation. “Even with those who do not do what He wants, God does what He wants.” We must contemplate Christ the Conqueror to discover such astonishing perspectives!

This article is from a a chapter in Fr. Guibert’s book, Abandonment to God: The Way of Peace of St. Therese of Lis

Re-blogged from Tim

Leftovers

When I have time
I’ll spend it with You

When I have extra
I’ll share it with You

When I am desperate
I’ll pray to You

When I so inclined
I’ll give You my praise

When I need something in return
I’ll give You my love

You are the first in line
For my leftovers

But wisdom says
To give You my wealth

And of my labor
I am to give You my first fruits

Help me Lord
To match the widow’s generosity