Tag Archives: Providence

Dying to Self

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
—John 12:24

IMG_7355Dying to self means letting go of all the attachments that keep us from God; it is a purging of all that is not love. This means loosening our grip on our own plans, our desire for comfort and convenience, our tendencies toward selfishness and sin.

We can try to be the boss of our own lives, or we can give Jesus permission to call the shots. If we let Jesus take control, we will face the Cross, but we will also begin to see everything in our lives through His radiant Light.

Only when we throw ourselves upon God’s providence will we find ourselves—our true selves, who God created us to be. Dying to self is not an act of self-abasement but rather an act of faith—that when we cut away all the clutter we will find goodness underneath, that in the core of our being we will find the presence of God. Indeed, this dying to self is the seed of our salvation.

By abandoning our own agenda, we open our hands to receive the truest desires of our hearts. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He will give us gifts greater than any of the earthly attachments we cling to.

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.
Featured image: PD-US

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 We Try to Touch God

Nearly every Sunday, I see it happen: During the Sign of Peace, parishioners near me smile and reach over to shake my baby’s hand. They peer at my him, trying to make eye contact and perhaps be rewarded with a toothy baby smile. I continue to see this fascination when I go on walks or run errands with my son. Friends will hold out their fingers and coo at my baby, waiting for him to look their way and touch them. They yearn to feel my son’s fingers on their skin and to see his blue eyes look up at them. Sometimes, he looks over and grabs their fingers. On other occasions, he doesn’t even notice them. He’s a baby still growing in his awareness of others and the world, so this is to be expected.

The way that other people react to my son makes me think of the woman in the Gospels who suffered from hemorrhages.

“She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.'” (Mk 5:26-28)

This woman longed for the touch of Christ two thousand years ago, and we yearn for His touch today. How often do we feel like we’re in a crowd of people, trying to draw close to God so that He will hear our petitions? How many times do we call out to God, hands outstretched, like those who encounter my baby boy? Just as people will make funny faces or noises in trying to attract my son’s attention, we will do anything to make God look over and touch us. We will pray louder, piling on more prayers, penances, and devotions. If we don’t feel His presence in our lives, we can become exasperated. We think that, like a baby distracted by his many surroundings, God is preoccupied with other matters and is not paying attention to us.

“Rosary” by Myriams-Fotos (2016) via Pixabay. CCO Public Domain.

However, God does not operate in this way. He does not ignore us from afar while we clamor for our voices to be heard. He is not oblivious to our needs and petitions. He knows what we need, even before we ask Him.

“Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Lk 12:7).

When we call out to God, it can be frustrating when we don’t think that our prayers are being answered. We don’t feel the touch of Christ, and we don’t sense that His gaze is upon us. The beautiful reality, though, is that faith is not about our feelings. Even if we don’t have an emotional experience and feel consolation from God, we need to trust that He loves us, cares for us, and is listening to (and answering) our prayers. As we embark on our Lenten journey, let us remember to focus on having faith in God both when it’s easy to see our prayers being answered and when we can’t see visible fruits of our sacrifices and petitions.

God Can Even Overcome Our Imperfect Parenting

“Things were in God’s plan which I had not planned at all. I am coming to the living faith and conviction that – from God’s point of view – there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God’s divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God’s all-seeing eyes.”

The eloquent St. Edith Stein, Jewish convert and Auschwitz concentration camp victim.

While her life was tremendously more sorrow-filled than mine, these words of St. Edith Stein resonate with me and my understanding of God’s control over my life. Everything is in His view; from conception ’til death, He has known my every move, thought, reaction. Furthermore, He brought good out of all things, even my mistakes, so that I might know Him and live with Him for eternity where my mistakes will be no more.

Unfortunately, at times, I give too much emphasis to my mistakes, especially when concerning my role as Father. However, I continue to remember and understand that God is in control and that His Providence will even allow for my bad parenting mistakes to be avenues that bring my children to Him.
As a self-diagnosed overzealous parent, I recognize that there is a lot that I want for my kids and their futures. Furthermore, right now, I want a lot for them in regards to their happiness and proper understanding of the world around them. But, most of all, I want them to have an amazing relationship with Jesus and avoid all of the problems that I went through.

To help set them on the path toward my dreams for them, I have implemented a few methods. I have worked to be present to my kids so that they will not feel an aching desire for a Father-figure their whole lives. I make an effort to emphasize quantity and quality time to cultivate a good relationship with each of them. Also, my wife and I have struggled to filter their entertainment and place limits on their technology time in hope of keeping their lives filled with innocence and wonder.

I still think all of these and more are good things to do, but I notice how much emphasis I have been placing on “my work” to raise my children. Now, I am not saying I should quit caring and let my kids do whatever they want under the guise of my trust that God will handle it. He still wants my participation. However, I think I need to worry less about those times when I fall far from the image of Fatherhood I would like to be and trust that God is ultimately in control of my children’s lives. All I can do is model for them the loving relationship with Him that I would like for them to have.

Essentially, the only power we have is that we can say yes to God’s plan for us. I personally know the deep joy and love that one has when this beautiful acceptance takes place and want my kids to know it as well. We cannot get caught up in the superficial or silly complexities of the mundane day to day that can weigh us down.

For example, when we finally have had enough of the whining and we do not speak in the tone of voice with which, we imagine, St. Joseph and Mother Mary always spoke to Jesus. Or that time we were watching “The Nativity Story” with our 3 year old and the intense birth scene came up. And there are those many other times of guilt when we think we are messing up as parents in some sort of way that we should overcome with trust in God’s love for us.

We have a perfect Father in Heaven who can make up for our imperfections. We know that our kids deserve Jesus and they can have Him. All that we can do is our best to help them come to know Him.
God’s Providence means that only good comes out of all things for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Therefore, if we truly love Him, and our kids know this, then we have nothing to worry about with our parenting. True love of God would mean we are trying our best as parents anyway and so I imagine that there can be very little we could do to keep our children from knowing God.

Although, we cannot drop the ball either. As parents we are the primary educators of our children and so we must take seriously our role as parents to shape our children. Just as our kids learn to walk and talk by being around us, they will pick up a love of Christ through our witness as well. Moreover, just as we teach them to read and write and perform math calculations, we should teach them how to pray and know about their Faith so that they can make it their own.

A classic quotation from St. Augustine is that “we must work as if everything depends upon us and pray as if everything depends upon God”. This fits perfectly into the task of parenting in that we must take it seriously and strive to give our children the best life of holiness, but remember that God is the One who is in control and He is most Faithful. Keeping in mind that His desire for my kids to know Him and love Him is greater than mine brings me great peace. Furthermore, it helps me the get over the many mistakes I make as a father, as I know that God is bringing good from them for both my and my children’s well-being.

Regret

“Live as though dying daily.”

-St. Antony of Egypt, as recorded by St. Athanasius

We have almost no viable perspective from which to evaluate our past actions or decisions. We are, after all, products of those choices, and the perspective from which and the values against which we would measure the things we have done are themselves the results of the choices we have made.

Our own perfections most often seem to be the consequences of the lousiest choices we have made. Most of my best progress comes from serious reflection on the unpleasant consequences of my past actions. More than regret, a kind of helpless fatalism can seem the most reasonable response to experience. I see now that what I did was not best, perhaps, but I didn’t see it then, and I only see it now because I actually did it. Who am I to say that I would have this perfection, this knowledge, this robust and conscious capacity to choose rightly in any number of analogous future cases, if I had not done it?

And yet, how often on shallow reflection do those choices seem wrong that after more experience and deeper consideration turn out to have been for the better? “#$%(# this diet!” “I hate the piano, Mommy, do I have to?!” Choices like these yield little immediate fruit; we find that we are only in a position to see them in their full light, to appreciate enough of their good consequences to make peace with their pain, after one, two, or three years. Why should we not begin to suspect that we might find ourselves grateful after all for the pain of our past actions in the twilight of happy old age, a lifetime’s journey through the humanioria that that has filled out our inner depths and given us insight into all aspects of ourselves, and that even the perfection of insight we once thought we possessed was itself just a zig to be zagged, a yin to be yanged, another path our Selfgeist had to traverse in its quest of self-discovery?

All of this is to say that we are unable to see ourselves sub specie aeternitatis, seeing what we can see through lenses colored by what we have done, unable to peer past our present into the working-out of all our past actions that will go on for years to come. Even if we try, we cannot begin to suspect the impact of the smallest choices we once made on the people we have become, and left to ourselves we are quite powerless to determine whether those choices were ultimately for good or for ill.

We often see how God has led us through our sins back to Him. Providence works wonders that way. In that light, even for the Christian it is obscure whether some truly regrettable past action was right or wrong for him. The Church sings of the felix culpa of Adam; seeing such incomprehensibly good consequences from the Fall, She finds it difficult to believe that it was wrong at all, since God’s redemptive power has put everything so right.

The same can be seen on the natural level. Beloved children are born to fornicators and adulterers, and even if one repents of the sin, it is difficult for him to regret having done what he did; on how many lustful glances, impure touches, rapes, forced marriages, incestuous unions, and the like does our own existence depend? Shall we regret every sin ever committed? Shall we regret thereby our own existence? Every child coming into the world is a new basic locus of moral value; doesn’t he give some value to the actions that begat him?

Life is not for the naive. We cannot simply regret our pasts, wish that we had made every decision rightly, and lament the happiness we have lost as a result of those choices. Inevitably when we do so we imagine some great “Undo” button on life, which we press and then the picture isn’t there anymore, and we start over. But we never start over, not even in MSPaint. We never imagine ourselves back at square one along with the bitmap. We imagine ourselves redoing the painting in light of our mistakes.

We like to imagine our lives, our experiences, our memories, our happiness, as something separate from ourselves, as a drawing which we stand back from and are creating. They aren’t. Our lives are ourselves in process, and it is our eternal self, which exists in its most finished form in this present moment, and which will stand finished for good or for ill in the eternal moment, that is the drawing. Undoing our experiences would be tantamount to trying to correct a mistake we do not remember making.

At the same time, we cannot let our faith shrink. We cannot simply resign ourselves to the fact that God has worked with us in our failures, shaped us into what we are in spite of and in full consideration of our sins, using even these as He can to bring us to perfection, and conclude sola fide, that it is just as well for us to have sinned as not to have sinned. We must have the faith to acknowledge that it would have been better for us never to have sinned, and what is most painful, to realize that we cannot ever see how. Objective right and objective wrong mean nothing less than that, although I cannot see all of the consequences of my actions, and even though I can see the good that God has brought out of my wrongdoing, I can still affirm that it would have been better for me if I had not sinned.

And so in bliss we will be perfectly happy, even in the knowledge that there was yet more that God was calling us to be, if we had but answered Him. But God seeks us where we are, and He will make us all that we now can be, if only we let Him.