Tag Archives: Divine Providence

Something Greater

I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.

—Matthew 12:6–8

Cross_in_the_Wilderness_by_Frederic_Edwin_Church,_1857_AD,_oil_on_canvas_-_Museo_Nacional_Centro_de_Arte_Reina_Sofía_-_DSC08680Throughout Scripture, we find stories where God asks someone to give up everything for Him. Countless prophets and disciples are asked to separate themselves from earthly attachments, leave their old lives behind, and start from scratch. Why does the God of mercy require such extreme sacrifice from His people?

God uses these experiences of sacrifice not as punishments but to prune our hearts and allow us to grow into who we were created to be. He asks us to let go of our attachments in order to prepare us for a greater mission; to increase our dependence upon Him; to replace our earthly perspective with a heavenly one; and to give us a testimony of the God Who has walked with us and sustained us through every desert, Who has shouldered the crosses we bear.

Jesus does not desire sacrifice for its own sake but to make room for something greater. He sacrificed everything for us as a means to show His mercy. He endured torture, betrayal, wrongful conviction, and death for love of us. He entered into our human condition, sharing with us an intimate closeness. And in doing so, He has redeemed all of our sacrifices, transforming them into pathways of His mercy.

In light of Jesus’s sacrifice, our sufferings are not burdens holding us back but graces lifting us upward toward the Cross of salvation. Sometimes, He requires us to let go of good things so that our hands are open to receive great things. His claim is a bold one: that He Himself is greater than the temple. Greater than the temple! What seemed like blasphemy to the Pharisees is in fact a profound truth: there is no offering more sacred than the Body of Christ, no sacrifice greater than the Mass, and no act of devotion more powerful than His Passion.

Image: Frederic Edwin Church, Cross in the Wilderness / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Mercy, Justice and Grace in “Suits”

Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.

To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.

In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.

The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.

As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.

In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?

Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.

Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.

Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.



Nothing Will Be Wasted

When I saw last Friday’s Gospel reading, I thought, I’m pretty sure I’ve already written a reflection about this story before. Turns out—yepTwice. So I tried to think about what new aspect I could bring to light from this story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. What stood out most to me from John’s version are these words from Jesus:

When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
—John 6:12

Giovanni_Lanfranco_-_Miracle_of_the_Bread_and_Fish_-_WGA12454Jesus has just taken five loaves and two fishes and managed to feed five thousand people. Not only that, but there are leftovers—twelve baskets full of scraps! There is more food left over than there ever was at the beginning. Which leads me to the question: If Jesus can multiply the loaves with such abundance, why does He ask His disciples to go to all the trouble of picking up the crumbs? Why would He need to be economical about saving all the scraps when everyone in the crowd can be satiated by His grace?

This initiative to harvest every single gift that is given us—even the crumbs—is an expression of gratitude, of not taking anything for granted. At the outset, when the disciples were desperate for food, twelve baskets of bread would have seemed a gift. Why wouldn’t it be now? This too is God’s providence, and it should be gratefully received rather than overlooked.

Мадонна с младенцем под яблоней Холст (перев с дерева), масло 87х59 см Между 1520-1526Let us not forget that Jesus started with a few loaves in order to feed the five thousand—He began with a meager offering. He saw, then, in those leftover scraps afterward, the precious raw material for a miracle. We need Jesus to multiply our gifts, but we must begin by doing our own part, offering all that we can, however small it may seem. He will handle the rest.

Only five loaves for five thousand people? A worthy offering. Bread crumbs, broken and scattered around a field? Not to be wasted. Jesus doesn’t overlook the crumbs we give Him; He sees the potential in our offerings. Neither should we overlook the crumbs we receive: the little joys amid a mundane day, the incomplete responses to our prayers, the half-successes as we continue to learn and grow and make mistakes. Our sufferings, too, have value; not one moment of our experience will be wasted. All of it is a gift, to be gathered and given to God.

1. Giovanni Lanfranco, Miracle of the Bread and Fish / PD-US
2. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Virgin and Child under an Apple Tree (detail) / PD-US

Originally posted at Work in Progress: Frassati Reflections.

Bringing Good out of Evil

After going to Confession at the Cathedral, on several occasions my boyfriend and I have been blessed to be able to bring blessings to others there.

For instance, we met a middle-aged man who had suffered two strokes and found it very difficult to walk, but he perseveres in going to Confession and Mass every week, and tries to keep working where he can. We were able to give him a lift home and help him up to his very high-rise apartment.

On another occasion, I bumped into an acquaintance in the queue. After we had made our Confessions and said our penance, I chatted with him and discovered that he was looking for work. I was then able to link him up with another friend’s father who needed an assistant for his business.

In Italy in places like Pisa, the town hall and the cathedral are often located near each other. Cathedral squares functioned as meeting places where people conducted their daily business.

In today’s churches, we too can find mutual support in the Body of Christ by providential meetings and conversations.

I’m sorry for my sins, but I’m glad I was at Confession!


Image: Pinterest

When You Give, God Gives More

By guest writer Tasman Westbury.

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
Luke 6:30

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:41

During the journey which led me from atheism through “exploratory Christianity” into the Catholic Church, I was homeless for awhile, and living on welfare payments. But one week, I decided to take these words of scripture to heart, and put them into practice.

I had about $20 left in my bank account, but I resolved to give to whomever asked money of me. When I was down to my last couple of dollars, someone asked me for some change. Initially, I resisted his request, but after thinking about it, I figured that I would be able to survive until my next payment, and gave him my last bit of cash.

Soon after that, I was listening to a Protestant street preacher, and met a Protestant acquaintance nearby. While I was asking after him, he decided to give me $100, just like that.

Then I visited a community which had broken away from the Catholic Church, and a lady suddenly pressed $50 into my hand, then reached back into her pocket and gave me another $50.

God is amazing, and He works through the most unexpected people to provide for our every need. When we have a radical trust in Him, He will respond like the prodigal father.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Luke 6:38


Image: PD/US

Tasman Westbury is a new Catholic who is currently exploring the Church’s treasure trove, which is found within prayer life.

The Stranger Who Saved My Life

By guest writer T.E.W. with Jean Elizabeth Seah.

Five years ago, my entire world had collapsed. My mother was dying of cancer, I was unemployed and battling drug addiction, and my first long-term girlfriend, the light of my life, had left me. I was an atheist, and it felt like everything that made my life meaningful had been stripped away. I had nothing left to live for.

One evening, after having been awake on “ice” for about five days, I was emotionally at the lowest I have ever been. I thought, “I’m done. What’s the point of it all? It would just be simpler and I would be less of a burden on everyone if I just wasn’t here.”

That night, I was out to dinner with my parents. When I returned to the table, my mother was speaking to a lady, and introduced us. I briefly said hello, not engaging in a proper conversation on account of feeling like an empty shell. Then I left to go home by myself.

I got into the car and just sat there with the car door open, unable to move in my utter despair. I kept going over everything in my head: how I had lost my girlfriend, how I was slowly losing my mother to cancer, and considering the waste I had made of my life since becoming an adult. It was all too much. So, very calmly, I considered driving down the highway at an extreme speed and turning the wheel sharply with enough force to roll the car into either oncoming traffic or a safety rail.

After about 20 minutes, my mother’s friend emerged from the pub and approached my car. At least, that was what it looked like, until I realized that she was heading to her car, which was parked next to mine. She noticed me and bid me good night. With what I imagine was a very sad and empty look on my face, I returned her salutation. She perceived that I was in pain and decided to sit down with me. I expressed to her how I was feeling, that everything was just pointless and how I felt like I was a waste of oxygen.

This conversation was just enough to bring my mind back into a realistic space of reason. And I am of the firm belief that this conversation enabled me to get home safely that evening without resorting to reckless and selfish actions that would have brought such destruction and pain to the lives of others. Now as a Catholic Christian, I say that it was God who held me there in my seat for 20 minutes, knowing that I didn’t really want to do something stupid but needed a point of reference that I was unable to provide for myself at that moment. He inspired this lady to come out at the precise moment she did to provide that point of reference.

This past Easter, I was received into the Catholic Church. A relapse had led me to take up residence in a men’s shelter beside a humble little church near the Brisbane River, with a personal vow to give up drugs forever. Living among other addicts, I recognized that our Heavenly Father had brought me to this place as a means to be able to face my demons head on, to practice saying no to drugs when offered. I recognized that if God had brought me here to honor my vow in an environment surrounded by illicit substance use, then I should trust that He wouldn’t just leave me to battle on my own. I believed He was there and if I was willing to work with Him to overcome this poisonous struggle, I would be able to access an invaluable source of strength to be able to say no the moment drugs were offered, before it even became a temptation. This strength came from no-one other than Christ Jesus: “I can do all things through He who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) As I stayed clean, I was able to see how those around me were affected by substance abuse. Is that how I was when I was under the influence? I never want to go back there!

The parish community welcomed me, and the priests were patient with me and my views and rambling interpretations of scripture. I developed a close bond with one of the priests and  really resonated with how he explained aspects of Sacred Tradition to me. To top it off, God had a splendid surprise in store!

During a weekly prayer meeting, I began chatting with an Anglican lady, who was also in the process of being received into the Catholic Church. When I told her my name, it rang a bell. She said that she believed that she knew my parents. She then mentioned our old local hotel and a wave of realization swept over me. This was the woman who had had a chat with me one night in a parking lot, five and a half years ago when I was at my lowest and didn’t believe in God. It is truly amazing how God works in our lives, showing us that when we open ourselves to a real relationship with Him, we make room for Him to move and guide us in the most marvelous ways.

All these years later, thanks to that woman’s kind words, I have survived the dark times of my life, and have had the privilege of entering into the joy of the Catholic faith, beginning a new relationship, and seeking gainful employment, having been freed of the shackles of my past.

Today, as I go about my business, I make it a point to speak words of encouragement and good cheer to people in the shops and the streets. You never know whose life you might save with a mere smile, whose hope you might reignite today with consolation, whose soul you might draw to God by being Christ to them.

I like to tell people: “Each and every day as you go about your business, along the way, seek out and find others to deliberately engage with them with the sole intention of sharing your smile, because your smile is a gift God has given us to inspire the world. So go and inspire those around you. You just don’t know whose life you might save.”

Originally published at Aleteia.

Give Thanks At All Times

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
– G. K. Chesterton

In all things discern the wisdom and providence of God, and in all things give Him thanks.
– St. Teresa of Avila

The human spirit without the flame of divine love tends to reach the level of the beast, while on the other hand, charity, the love of God, raises even to the throne of God. Give thanks without ever growing weary for the liberality of such a good Father and ask Him to increase holy charity more and more in your heart.
– Padre Pio

My boyfriend is a fresh convert to Catholicism, and he has an endearing/irritating habit of pausing to say grace before ingesting just about everything.

Early in our relationship, he said grace over a cup of tea, and I sighed, “Soon you’ll be on the level of my friend Clare, who says grace before drinking water!”

He smiled sheepishly. “I do that too!”

Sometimes it amuses or annoys me, because I’m using to keeping grace just for main meals, and pausing to say grace before every bit of nutrition is unfamiliar to me; I am impatient to just get on with things. But the more I pause to say grace before downing cups of tea, nibbling on biscuits, or vegging out in front of the TV with my beloved and a mug of hot chocolate, the more it creates a spirit of thankfulness for the many blessings I usually take for granted.

I am reminded of a story about St. Dominic Savio, the young student of St. John Bosco:

… there was a visitor in the house who was asked to stay for dinner. When the meal was put on the table, the man sat down and began eating without making the Sign of the Cross or saying any prayer. Dominic did not presume to correct the visitor, but left the table and stayed away until the visitor had gone. When asked by his parents why he had acted in this very unusual way, he said, “I did not like to be at table with one who eats just like animals do.” (Don Bosco, Life of Dominic Savio)

We humans have been given the gift of an intellect which can recognize the gratuitousness of all creation and the workings of Divine Providence in our lives. Let us pause to give thanks for every blessing from our Heavenly Father, and thus be moved to return our love for His in all that we do.

One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong with us is worth one thousand thank yous when things are agreeable to our inclination.
– St. John of Ávila

Giving thanks is not weakness but strength, for it involves self-repression.
– Venerable Archbishop Sheen, Those Mysterious Priests

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:18

You ought to ask our Lord for just one thing, to love Him. All the rest should be thanksgiving.
– Padre Pio

Image: CrossWalk

The Good News About Suffering

We are surrounded by human suffering. Many people are hurting in today’s world. Some suffering is horrific and some minor, but every kind can be soothed, and even removed, by trusting in God’s infinite Love and Mercy. Furthermore, God desires for us to become images of His Love and Mercy and to play a role in the alleviation of the suffering of others.

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

God brings good out of all situations for those who love Him. Nothing on our planet has happened, is happening, or will happen without God’s allowance. And He would not allow something to occur if He could not use the situation for our good.
Sometimes, we who have our tiny perspective of the world, history, and even our own life, forget this. We forget that God has the bird’s eye view of every human’s life and desires all to find fulfillment in Himself. We lose sight of the fact that He understands that there is nothing in our existence worth more than this fulfillment and that even our temporal suffering is worth it if it helps us to our Salvation.
So does God hurt us to save us? No, He allows us to be hurt to save us, seeing the pain we experience infinitely less important than our salvation. Our pains come from ourselves, other humans, or the world around us, which has been broken by the first humans and many more thereafter.
Humanity was created with, by, in, and for Love, to be Loved and to Love. However, love cannot be forced. It must be freely given and accepted or we would be merely programmed robots instead of free humans who can choose and therefore Love. So, with the freedom to choose comes the freedom to be wrong, and with the wrong choice comes the undesired outcome, which will bring with it some level of pain as proportionate to the choice.
God is Love. He knows us. He knows what we can take and what would be too much for us.

“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

God is faithful and will not let us be tried beyond our strength. In the Gospel, Jesus asks what father would give his son a snake when the son asks for a fish, or a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread. God is a Good Father. Sometimes it might seem to us like He is giving us stones and snakes, but in reality we are getting bread and fish.
God wants to give us every desire of our hearts, but we have tarnished hearts filled with desires that could keep us from God and Salvation. Therefore, God might need to change our hearts, redirect them, in order to satisfy us completely. Anxiety, sadness, pain, discomfort, death, all these remind us of our human nature and need for God.
This humble remembrance of our humanity allows us to approach God in the way we ought. In return, He provides for us in all of our necessities. Keeping this in mind, we can live each day in the satisfaction that God will provide for us today and in the future. We can be at peace with the truth that we already posses, in a way, all that we need, because we know that God will provide it.
Suffering is a difficult aspect of the human condition. It has caused many to walk away from the Faith and seek consolation in other things. However, it is only through God that we can overcome suffering.
My favorite example of this is found with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was able to transform suffering with love. She understood the value of her suffering in the currency of souls saved. Furthermore, she loved God and souls so much that she said she could no longer suffer as she fully grasped the true meaning behind it.
Likewise, Jesus said to St. Faustina, “accept all sufferings with love”. By keeping these words of Our Lord to heart, we can find in our suffering opportunities to grow in virtue and open the floodgates of grace into our lives. This grace will not leave us unchanged. But first, we must change our approach and our attitude toward suffering, and in particular, our approach and attitude toward the daily grind of our lives.

“If you wish to feel and to have an attraction for suffering, you are in search of your own consolation, for when we love anything, pain disappears.”
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux