Providence and Our Response to Suffering

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Stigmatization of St Catherine of Siena - by BECCAFUMI, Domenico - from Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena

Everything comes from Love, all is Ordained for the Salvation of Man,
God does Nothing without this Goal in Mind.

-Saint Catherine of Siena

 

God Guides Everything by His All-Powerful Providence. Divine Providence consists of the Dispositions by which God Guides all His Creatures with Wisdom and Love, to their Ultimate End. After our First Parents' Fall, Original Sin, God buoyed them up with the Hope of Salvation, by Promising Redemption; and He has never Ceased to show His Solicitude for the Human Race. For He wishes to give Eternal Life to all those who seek Salvation by Patience in Well-Doing.

Even when Man Disobeyed You and lost Your Friendship You did not Abandon him to the Power of Death . . . Again and again You offered a Covenant to Man. (Roman Missal)

 

Providence and Our Response to Suffering

by Father Paul K. Raftery, O.P.

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As we continue to look at the Cross and the Divine Artistry at work in Manipulating the Tragedy of Life to Prosper Good, we come to the Difficult Issue of the Human Response to Suffering. It is one thing to speak of the Spiritual Benefits of Trials in the Abstract, and quite another to Deal with Suffering when it draws near. Then, all Reasoning loses its Appeal, as Pain Saps-away all Peace and Consolation. Our Reflections here will undoubtedly offer Small Consolation for those in the Midst of Grave Suffering. But, that the Rest of us might have Strength when Suffering comes our way, these Reflections are presented as a Training for the Mind and Heart. It is upon the Goodness of God in Lovingly Guiding us through Suffering that we must learn to Fix-our-Attention. The Reality of God’s Goodness needs to be Firmly Grasped in Preparation-for that day when all the Inclinations Arising from Weak Human Nature will be to Deny that Goodness. Then only Faith will Triumph. So it is to Strengthen Faith through Reason that we now turn. Below we will Explore the Great Kindness of God revealed in His Providential Care for all Creation, especially Man Created in His Image and Likeness.

Angels and Man are both Created in the Image and Likeness of God; i.e. Rational (Intellect + Will) Beings

God - Unity (1) of Three (3) Persons

Angels

Man - Unity (1) of Body + Soul

Uncreated
Pure Spirit

Created
Pure Spirit

Body

Soul - Grace resides
within the Soul's Essence

Intellect

Will

Intellect

Will

Mortal:
Subject to
Suffering and
Death

Intellect

Will

Infinite (∞)
Knowledge
and Wisdom

Absolutely
Good and
Loving

Limited
by
Nature

United with
God's Will by
Beatific Vision

Limited
by
Nature

Weakened
by
Original Sin

 

Divine Love and Wisdom

We know that what has been Constant in God's Dealings with Creation has been Love and Wisdom. His Love is the Motivation for bringing every Creature into Existence, and His Wisdom is behind the Making and Maintenance, with Utmost Care, of all that He has Created. In fact, the word "Universe" we use for the 'Visible Creation', implies something Carefully Done, with the Greatest Wisdom. It derives from the Latin for "One" (unus) and "Together" (Versus). At its most Basic-level it means "Combined into a Whole", and "Many Things brought together into One". It points to the astounding Unity and Harmony that has been established in a Visible Creation of Incomprehensible Complexity.

ecocycle.gif (116935 bytes) Incompatible with Love and Wisdom would be Haphazard Acts of Creation, a Rough-bringing things into Existence and then Forcing them into an Unhappy Union. Only a Loving and Wise Creator would produce the Vast-array of Creatures that we find in the World, United in such a Sublime Degree of Harmony and Coordination. Examples abound. The tremendous Explosion of Life on our Planet has been made possible by a very Precise Position of Earth with respect to the Sun, including its Rotation and the Variation in the Exposure it gets to the Sun during the Course of the Year. One of the most Basic Life-requirements of Plants and Animals is Air, for which each supports the other, Plants breathing-in Carbon-Dioxide and exhaling Oxygen, Animals breathing-out Carbon-Dioxide and taking in Oxygen. (Refer to Eco-Cycle Diagram above)

"The Seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter give place to one another in Peace. The Stations of the Winds fulfill their service without Hindrance at the Proper Time. The Everlasting Rprings, created for Enjoyment and Health, supply Sustenance for the Life of Man without fail; and the smallest of animals meet together in Concord and Peace. All these things did the Creator and Master of the Universe ordain to be in Peace and Concord..." (First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, 20:9-11).

 

God in the Details

What this speaks of is the Presence of the Creator’s Wisdom in even the most Minute Details of Creation. Chance, Saint Thomas tells us, is present in Creation. But nothing is left to Chance. Order Prevails over all (Compendium of Theology, 137). The Vast Spectrum of Secondary Causes we spoke of in the previous issue are capable of producing some Effect only through the Creator’s Involvement. When we think of Man as a Secondary Cause, able to form through his Innate Powers a magnificent Space Station, we still have a Work with which the Creator is thoroughly involved. "All Intermediate Causes operate in virtue of the First Cause, so that in a certain way He Himself appears to Act in them all". What could Man do without the very Existence and Innate Abilities given him by God? What could Man do without God, each moment, Sustaining his Existence? "Thus all the Achievements of Secondary Causes can be Attributed to Him, as the Effect Produced by a Tool is Ascribed to the Artisan: when we say that a Smith makes a Knife, we are more correct than when we say that a Hammer did it". Though the Hammer was there forming the Blade, no Blade would have Resulted without the Action of the Smith. So it is for all in the World. No Light would come from the Stars, no Trees would Produce Fruit, no Man would Propel himself beyond Earth's Surface, were it not for the Action of God. He is the Supreme Cause for all that takes place that is Good.

What then of Evil? Here we enter the Realm of the Accidental, which is not Intended by God. As was mentioned in the last issue, Created Things are not Completely Stable in Perfection, as is God. "God Himself is the only Being in whom no Defect can arise". By their very Nature, things from time-to-time Fall Away from their Intended Perfection. Forests are devastated by Fire, Living Things Die and Decay, and Colorful Works of Art Fade with Time. None of this can be Attributed to God's doing. Nor can Man's Wickedness be Traced to Him. Evil on the Part of Man can only be Traced-back to its Origins - the Will of Man (Refer to the above Table). We can through Free Will set ourselves on a Course of Action that is not Willed by God. "Accordingly, although God is the Universal Cause of all things, He is not the Cause of Evil as Evil".

 

Nothing Outside of Providence

We have then the Question of whether Events can Take-place in our World, not Guided by God’s Hand. And the Answer to this is Negative. An Imperfect Example that Comes to Mind is that of a Toddler being Carefully Watched by his Mother. All Created things can, so-to-speak, Bolt-off in some Direction that God did not desire them to go, doing so under the Innate Powers God gave them. But the Divine Control over Creation never Fails. Creation never Gets-away from God, Acting in a Way that He cannot Direct it where He Wants it to go. And what makes this all the more possible for God is His Knowledge that Comprehends all-things. Not only does He have the Power to Draw-back a Creature heading in a Direction He does not Intend, even before the Creature begins its Departure, He has Complete Knowledge of what will Take-place. In fact, since His Knowledge is Eternal, already He sees all the Tragic Events that will Conspire in the World. They are now present before Him. And already He has Planned His Corrective Measures. Such is His Wisdom and Love that He would never be Slow to Steer some Evil in the Direction of the Good Result He desires. He does not let Evil Spiral-out-of-Control. Evil is always a Controlled-Occurrence. When something has gone Awry, we can be sure that God is there, Redirecting it to Good.

Men do this on their Own Level. The Medical Profession routinely Manages the Harmful Effects of Treatment, Directing a Deliberate Wounding of the Body through Surgery, to produce Healing. The Auto Manufacturer provides Protection in case of Accident with Seat Belts and Air Bags. All the more then, does Divine Wisdom do the same on His Universal Level. We Acknowledge the Wisdom of Men in Foreseeing Evil and Steering it in a way that is Beneficial, or, at least Less Harmful. Why should we not Acknowledge the Wisdom of the Creator, Whose Power is Limitless, and Who can direct even the Worst Tragedies with the Greatest of Ease? And should we not remember here especially the World’s most Astounding and Monstrous of Tragedies, the Brutal Execution of the very Son of God made Man, Who came in Love to Save Mankind? Has there been any Act in the Course of Time that has been more Disastrous? Has there been any Act in the Course of Time that has been Turned to such Good?

 

The Goal of Providence

All that has been said so far indicates how important it is for us to Trust in God’s Providential Guidance. His Control of even the most Insignificant of Events is not something that can be denied. We have the Need of Seeing all that takes Place in our Lives as Permitted Ultimately from His Hand.

kolbe.jpg (5469 bytes) Even the Worst of Trials, those that come to us through Evil-Intentioned Men, cannot be Rejected as, Beyond the Reach of Providence. This Reflects the very Words of our Blessed Lord in the Gospels: "You will be Delivered up even by Parents and Brothers and Kinsmen and Friends, and some of you they will Put to Death; you will be Hated by all for My Name’s Sake. But not a Hair of your Head will Perish" (Luke 21:16-18). Our Lord is here Revealing His Divine Knowledge of all that will take place in the Course of History. All of the Attacks on Christians stretching up to our own day, were Clearly Known by Him. It is all present to Him through Direct Vision, and there is nothing lacking in what He sees in each instance of Persecution and Trial. Jesus saw directly what would one day happen to Maximillian Kolbe and to the Missionaries of Charity recently Slain in Sierra Lione. The Sufferings that each of us will have to endure, whether through Persecution for the Faith or the more typical Crosses that come our way, were seen by Him with utmost clarity. Were He to see fit, He could Describe to us in Detail what we will one day face. Thankfully, He keeps it to Himself! Better not to have that Concern on our Minds until the Moment comes!

What is more, He is Fully Capable of Intervening in each of these Tragic Situations on behalf of His Faithful. And this He in fact does. His Promise is to Protect them from Harm. His Statement, however, that "not a Hair of your Head will perish", mentioned with respect to Violent Persecution, clearly demonstrates that Preserving our Lives in this World is NOT the Goal of His Providence. What is being Preserved without Harm is the Life of the Individual for Eternity. Our Lord’s Words to Saint Catherine of Siena carry a similar theme:

"Sometimes I let the Whole World be against the Just, and in the End they Die a Death that leaves Worldly People stunned in Wonder. It seems to them Unjust to see the Just Perishing now at Sea, now in Fire, now Mangled by Beasts, now Physically Killed when their Houses Collapse on top of them. How unreasonable these things seem to the Eye Unenlightened by most Holy Faith! But not so the Faithful, for through Love they have Found and Experienced my Providence in all those Great Things. Thus they see and grasp that I do what I do Providentially, only to Bring-about your Salvation".

Divine Providence that comes in the Form of Trial will thus make no Sense to us at all if there is no Acceptance of the Goal to which God is Working. Clinging to Life-in-this-World will always make Providence Problematic. Wanting little more than a Happy Life in our Present State will cause a Soul to Ultimately consider God’s Providence a Failure. The Goal of Eternal Life is the Key to all that happens in Life.

 

Danger of Rejecting Providence

The Events of our Lives become Filled with Meaning, often Difficult to Discern, but always providing Food-for-Thought, when we Accept our Heavenly Calling. But all eventually becomes Dark and Absurd when that calling is either Rejected or placed Far-back in the Deep Recesses of the Mind. Our Lord speaks to Saint Catherine about Souls that fall into this Latter Category by saying:

"So these Souls certainly Receive of My Providence, but they do not understand it because they do not Know it, and not Knowing it they do not Love it, and therefore they receive no Fruit of Grace from it. Though everything is Upright, they see it all Distorted. Blind as they are they see Light as Darkness and Darkness as Light. So, because their Service and Trust are set on Darkness, they fall to Complaining and Impatience".

Here all Complaining and Impatience in our lives can be Viewed in its Proper Light. But we must make a Distinction. Evaluating a Painful Trial is only Natural. We can make Assessments of what is Taking-place. In this there can be no Harm. Creatures are Fallible. They can be Acknowledged as such. A Nasty Driver on the Freeway can be identified for what he is. This is not the Complaining and Impatience Saint Catherine speaks of. That we are Unhappy about being Subjected-to the Nasty Driver - this is the Issue. That we are Angry and Resentful about having to Face a Trying Situation is where the Problem lies. A Complaining Spirit arises in us when we have left the Act of Assessing of an Imperfect Creature or some Difficult Trial, and gone into what is Essentially a Rebellion Against the Good Providence of God.

Such Rebellion would not be the case, of course, if there were somehow Events that Escape the Control of God. But this is impossible. As has been pointed out, nothing is Outside of His Providence. This Illness that we have come down with has not somehow Slipped-through the Cracks in the Divine Plan without His Notice. This Difficult Family Situation we are in has not somehow happened without His Assent. Whenever we Complain about the way our Lives are Progressing, about the Trying Situations we find ourselves in, we should not Imagine that this is Directed to any other Source. There is no other Ultimate Explanation for why we find ourselves in some Trial than Divine Wisdom. And this includes our own Imperfections. All that we are and all that we will Face has been Worked-out with the Greatest Care. All is Guided by the Hand of God for that One (1), Crucial Goal, that One (1) All-encompassing Objective of Eternal Life.

 

Surrender to Providence

What is at-stake for Surrender to the Providence of God, then is Accepting Eternal Life as the only Goal there Ultimately is for us, Seeking it at all Cost, and being Willing to Pay any Price for it. This is the Message of Jesus’ Parables about Eternal Life in the Gospels. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Treasure that a Man found Hidden in a Field. He sold all that he had to Purchase that Field. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Pearl of Immense Beauty and Value discovered by a Merchant. He went and exchanged all that he had to buy it (Matthew 13:44-45). No Price is Too High to Pay for this Treasure. No Trial is Too Great to go through. No Frustrations are Too Much to Endure.

What of our Weak Natures, that can only take so much? What of our Weak Wills that draw-back from Pain? If we were giving ourselves over to Random Experiences of Suffering to gain Heaven, then we would have something to Worry about. But our Grasp of the Truth about Providence dispels such Fears. We, in fact, do not Subject ourselves to Random Occurrences of Trial. We will never have to Face them. God, through His Grace, is Reinforcing in us what is Weak. And, in His Absolute Mastery over all Creation, He is Filtering out all that we cannot Bear, and all that would be Detrimental to our Heavenly Goal. We are left with a completely Unique Blend of Grace, Trial, and Consolation that He prepares for us Individually with the most Meticulous and Loving Care. To this we are Surrendering ourselves. And so we find Our Lord Pleading to Saint Catherine:

"How can People see me Feeding and Nurturing the Worm within the Dry Wood, Pasturing the Brute Beasts, Nourishing the Fish in the Sea, all the Animals on the Earth and the Birds in the Air, Commanding the Sun to shine on the Plants and the Dew to Fertilize the Soil, and not believe that I Nourish Them as well, My Creatures made in My Image and Likeness? As a matter of fact, all this is done by My Goodness to Serve them. No matter where they turn, Spiritually and Materially they will find nothing but My Deep Burning Charity and the Greatest, Gentle, True, Perfect Providence".

 

Prayer to Divine Providence

O Sweet and Tender Providence of God, into Thy Hands I commend my Spirit, to Thee I abandon myself, my Hopes, my Fears, my Desires, my Repugnance's, my Temporal and Eternal Prospects. To Thee I commit the Wants of my Perishable Body, to Thee I commit the far more Precious Interests of my Immortal Soul, for whose interests I have Nothing to Fear while I withdraw it not from Thy Bosom. Though my Faults are many, my Misery Great, my Spiritual Poverty Extreme, my Hope in Thee surpasses all. It is Greater than my Difficulties, Stronger than Death. Though Temptations should Assail me, I will Hope in Thee, though I should Sink beneath my Weakness, I will Hope in Thee still, though I should Break my Resolutions a Thousand Times, I will look to Thee Confidently for Grace to keep them at last; though Thou shouldst Slay me, even then will I Trust Thee, for Thou art my God, my Father and my Friend. Thou art my Kind, my Tender, my Indulgent Parent, and I am Thy Loving Child, who cast myself into Thy Arms and beg Thy Blessing, who put my Trust in Thee, and so Trusting, shall Never be Confounded.

Amen

 

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