Circular Letter: Summer 2022
Co-workers in God’s Loving Providence
One dangerously stormy night on the Sea of Galilee, as the Apostles struggled to keep the boat from filling, Jesus slept calmly on a cushion in the stern. In their distress, they could hardly believe His indifference to their common plight and woke Him with the reproach, “Teacher, do You not care if we perish?!” But Jesus rose and rebuked not only the wind and the waves, but also gently the Apostles, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (cf. Mk 4:35-41) Given the current storms in the Church and the world today—the threat of schism in Germany, the abuse scandals even among Bishops, the senseless, brutal war in Ukraine which threatens to escalate, the blindness and hostility of so many regarding the dignity of life and marriage—we, too, may be tempted to ask, “Where is God in all this? Did Christ really rise from the dead and ‘overcome the world’ (Jn 16:33)?”
The Plan of God
By God’s mercy and the free gift of faith, however, we do not live “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Having “loved us to the end” (Jn 13:1), Jesus reveals to men the goodness and fidelity of God, who loves and cares for us even to the point of giving us “His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). God created us with a plan in mind, and He carries out that plan to the end (though some of His free creatures rebel): to make us sharers in His divine life. “God, who ‘dwells in unapproachable light’, wants to communicate His own divine life to the men He freely created, in order to adopt them as His sons in His Only-begotten Son (1 Tim 6:16). By revealing Himself, God wishes to make them capable of responding to Him, and of knowing Him and of loving Him far beyond their own natural capacity” (CCC 52). This is the divine “plan”, that men and Angels, as intelligent creatures, should freely choose to believe in and love God, and so come to share in His divine nature. This wise and loving plan and the care with which God directs all to their final end we call “Divine Providence”.
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 its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God’s absolute sovereignty over the course of events: “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3). (CCC 303)
Angels and Men as free, secondary causes
God created the world in statu viae, that is “in a state of being on the way” and not in a state of completion or perfection (cf. CCC 302). He gives to intelligent creatures “the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of His plan” (CCC 306). We are offered the grace to cooperate toward our own physical good and spiritual perfection, and even that of others. What a dignity it is to be, for example, a mother, a father, a teacher, a doctor, a counsellor or even a priest—instruments in the hand of God for the good of others. He “enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings (cf. Col 1:24). They then fully become ‘God’s fellow workers’ and ‘co-workers for His kingdom’” (CCC 307).
Angels are also instruments of Divine Providence, fulfilling God’s will as “secondary causes” in the hand of God. “With their whole beings, the Angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they ‘always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven’ (Mt18:10), they are the ‘mighty ones who do His word, hearkening to the voice of His word’ (Ps 103:20)” (CCC 329). Thus, they too are given the dignity to cooperate with God in His work of both creation and Redemption. Regarding their contribution to the harmony of creation, St. Thomas cites the teachings of the Fathers saying,
For Augustine says (QQ. 83, qu. 79): “Every visible thing in this world has an angelic power placed over it”; and Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii, 4): “The devil was one of the angelic powers who presided over the terrestrial order”; and Origen says …that “the world has need of Angels who preside over beasts, and over the birth of animals, and trees, and plants, and over the increase of all other things” (Hom. xiv in Num.). (Summa Theo. I, q. 110, a. 1 ad 3)
Even more importantly, the Angels are given the great dignity of collaborating with Christ in His work of Redemption. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14).
Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the Divine Plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself. From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word Incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of Angels. (CCC 332-333a)
Perhaps the greatest dignity and joy of the Angels as collaborators with Divine Providence, however, is their service as Guardian Angels. “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession (cf. Mt 18:10; Lk 16:22; Ps 34:7; Ps 91:10-13; Tob 12:12; etc.). ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’” (CCC 336, citing St. Basil). Jesus entrusts the Angel with this task and calls him to imitate Himself in His Incarnation and Passion, through this Guardian Angel service on earth. But He also gives to the Angel Mary as a model of humble, merciful, interceding love for us poor sinners.
“Blessed are you, Angel, My worker, My servant, when men reproach and despise, slander and persecute you! I am your reward! You are to walk upon earth in imitation of Me, silent, listening and obedient, poor, pure and faithful. You may care for the man of whom I was thinking when I created you, from his first to his last breath on earth – and Me in him! You, as the first created, may carry My Cross of Redemption after Me – and with the Cross, bring also the last created, man, to My Throne. As a light of illumination, I will even give you the word of exhortation and instruction for your protégé. I bind you to your Queen, Mary, My Mother. I let you accompany your protégé poor and lowly in imitation of My Passion. [The Angel, though in glory, suffers spiritually from his solicitude and concern over our salvation.] But I give you the power of intercession and the protective mantle of My Mother. Thus you will fulfill your collaboration in the Redemption of the world as My servant!” (Mother Gabriele, Readings I, Fall Letter 1963)
We see from all this how “God wills the interdependence of creatures. …no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other” (CCC 340). Each in his own way, Angel, man and the material world, fits into the Providence of God for the good of the whole, to the greater glory of God. “Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed Himself as Love” (Benedict XVI, Spe salvi 5).
Drawing good out of evil
While this freedom and dignity to collaborate allows Angels and men to freely choose to love and serve God and His plan of creation and salvation, it also implies that they can freely choose to rebel against Him and not serve. And in fact, the highest Angel and his cohorts, as well as our first parents chose not to serve: non serviam! (While the former rebelled definitively, human beings remain capable of repentance until death.) Both physical and moral evil thus entered the world through the rebellion and sin of these free creatures against God. As a result, “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Rom 8:22). Indeed, our faith in God can be severely tried in the face of evil. Many ask how can a good God exist if there is so much evil and suffering in the world?
But the plan of God is not frustrated by this evil choice of Angel and man; because He is almighty, He can even direct this evil toward the accomplishment of His overall plan. “God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil (cf. Mt 28:19-20). God permits it, however, because He respects the freedom of His creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it” (CCC 311). That is to say, God allows lesser evils in order to bring about greater goods that would otherwise not come to be, for the good of the whole and the fulfillment of His plan. St. Thomas Aquinas illustrates,
A lion would cease to live, if there were no slaying of animals; and there would be no patience of martyrs, if there were no tyrannical persecution. Thus Augustine says (Enchiridion 2): “Almighty God would in no wise permit evil to exist in His works, unless He were so almighty and so good as to produce good even from evil.” (Summa Theol. I q. 22, a. 2, resp.)
Thus, God is so powerful, wise and loving, that His Providence can bring a greater good even out of the evil and sins of His free creatures—secondary causes—who wittingly or unwittingly act against His plan.
Nothing is impossible with God, who disposes His works according to His will. (cf. Jer 27:5, Lk 1:37) He is the Lord of the universe, whose order He established and which remains wholly subject to Him and at His disposal. He is master of history, governing hearts and events in keeping with His will: “It is always in Your power to show great strength, and who can withstand the strength of Your arm?” (Wisd 11:21). (CCC 269)
Thus, by faith we can trust God even in the face of the evil caused by the bad will of men or demons. For “we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose [to be Saints (Douay Rheims)]” (Rom 8:28); and “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established” (Prov 19:21).
Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. This faith glories in its weaknesses in order to draw to itself Christ’s power (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that “nothing will be impossible with God”, and was able to magnify the Lord: “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” (CCC 273)
Seeing the Plan of God in our Life
We see many examples of evil working for the good in the Bible. For example, Joseph of the Old Testament was sold by his own brothers into slavery and suffered many hardships and injustices until he finally became—by the mysterious workings of God’s Providence through the very bad will and sins of those around him (including his own brothers)—second in the kingdom under Pharaoh. In this capacity, he was able to save Egypt and many surrounding lands from famine. On being reunited with his brothers, he did not take vengeance upon them, but rather recognized through the eyes of faith the Providence of God in his life. He says to them: “It was not you who sent me here, but God… Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve His present end, the survival of many people” (Gen 45:8, 50:20). Thus, he was able to forgive his brothers and become an instrument of God’s mercy for them and many others.
In that his innocent suffering brought about a greater good for many, Joseph serves as a type of Christ. “From the greatest moral evil ever committed—the rejection and murder of God’s only Son caused by the sins of all men—God, by His grace that ‘abounded all the more’ (cf. Rom 5:20), brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our Redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good” (CCC 312). By this example of the death of God’s own Son, God wants to teach us to trust in Him, even in our own hardships and crosses. Jesus has gone before us and remains with us in trial. He is the Good Shepherd who leads us through the valley of darkness (cf. Ps 22). St. Thomas More had this vision of faith, as he consoled his daughter shortly before his martyrdom, “Nothing can come but that what God wills. And I [am] very sure that whatsoever [may come to] be, seem it ever so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best” (cited in CCC 313).
In our own day, Pope St. John Paul the Great, for example, also recognized in his life the marvelous ways of Divine Providence. Through his suffering under Nazism and then Communism, his forced labor, the loss of all his close family members at a very young age, God was forming him to be the Pope who would bring down the Berlin wall, who would be the great defender of religious freedom, the patron of families and promoter of the dignity of work. “Today I know that it was not mere chance. Amid the overwhelming evil of the war, everything in my own personal life was tending towards the good of my vocation” (Gift and Mystery, p. 36). Even the assassination attempt of May 13, 1981, he saw as a fulfillment of the secret of Fatima, and that it was “a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path,” enabling “the Pope in his throes” to halt “at the threshold of death” (John Paul II, CDF, Message of Fatima). Thus through trials, even those suffered at the hands of evil men, God forms and leads us to be and to do what He has planned from all eternity. St. Catherine of Siena says to those who are scandalized and rebel against what happens to them: “Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind” (cited in CCC 313).
Trusting in God’s Mercy
Jesus calls us to trust in the loving, wise workings of the Father, also in the face of our own failings and sins. Given that we turn again in loving repentance, God can draw good even out of our falls. “Confidence and love!” This was the message of St. Therese of Lisieux, who had unlimited trust in the dispositions of Providence, seeing all as coming forth from the hand of our loving Father in Heaven and working toward her sanctification.
It is not because I have been preserved from mortal sin that I lift up my heart to God in trust and love. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit, I should lose nothing of my confidence: my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Savior. I know that He loves the prodigal son, I have heard His words to St. Mary Magdalene, to the woman taken in adultery, and to the woman of Samaria. No one could frighten me, for I know what to believe concerning His Mercy and His Love. And I know that all that multitude of sins would disappear in an instant, even as a drop of water cast into a flaming furnace…. Dearest Mother, if weak and imperfect souls like mine felt what I feel, none would despair of reaching the summit of the Mountain of Love, since Jesus does not ask for great deeds, but only for gratitude and self-surrender. (Story of a Soul, XI)
Like the “good thief” on the Cross, we want to trust that though we suffer justly for our sins, Jesus does not forget us, but will forgive and sanctify us if we humbly repent (cf. Lk 23:40 ff.).
We see, then, that God does not abandon His creation: He watches over it solicitously as a wise, loving and merciful Father, leading each and every soul along his personal path according to the designs of His Divine Providence. Hence, Jesus calls us to abandon ourselves with childlike trust into the hands of our heavenly Father: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’…Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:31-33). “Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence” (CCC 301).
Fellow workers for the Kingdom
While many have abused their freedom, having chosen to rebel and work against God’s loving plan of salvation, God invites us rather to become “co-workers for the Kingdom of God” (Col 4:11) and in Christ’s redemptive work. In Heaven we shall realize what a great dignity and privilege it is to work for souls, to become instruments of mercy in the hands of God. Yet this work, by God’s unfathomable Providence, goes by way of the “foolishness of the Cross” whereby in dying He has gained the victory.
In the most mysterious way, God the Father has revealed His almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of His Son, by which He conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:24-25). (CCC 272).
In order to become Christ’s fellow workers, we will also follow the way of the Cross, of loving expiation for souls. In a Way of the Cross, Mother Gabriele describes the invitation of Jesus to work with Him for souls:
“Offer yourself for them to the Father in Heaven. Wherever you find spiritual need or spiritual death, walk with Me on the Way of the Cross for them, fall with Me over them in that you hold out your life to God for them, in that you offer My Blood to the Father in Heaven for them, in that you do not shrink back from any sacrifice in order to help their souls. Do you want this?” (Struggling with God, VIII)
Trusting and accepting in trial
By uniting ourselves with Jesus, we can work for souls by saying yes to the will of the Father, accepting and offering up our trials and hardships for the sake of souls. “We ask our Father to unite our will to His Son’s, in order to fulfill His will, His plan of salvation for the life of the world. We are radically incapable of this, but united with Jesus and with the power of His Holy Spirit, we can surrender our will to Him and decide to choose what His Son has always chosen: to do what is pleasing to the Father” (CCC 2825). The Cross always presents a struggle for us, a decision to deny oneself and to give oneself to God, by faith to share in Christ’s distress over the eternal destiny of souls. But this self-giving dying to self is at the essence of genuine love. We must always remember that God loved us first, that Jesus died for us out of love. Through the Cross, we want to enter into the dynamic of this love. He will give us the grace if we want it.
Do not run from the Cross, you would be running away from the love of the Lord. He whom God loves, He binds to the Cross. Therefore, he who loves the Cross is already bound by God’s love. From whatever the Lord suffers—in His Church—you, too, shall suffer from it. And what the Lord loves, you, too, shall love. The measure of your—spiritual—dying out of love, is the measure of your vision for what is eternal. (Mother Gabriele, Essence of the Cross)
By accepting a humiliation, by remaining silent, by submitting to a dominant person, by patience in trying situations—out of love for God—often in this way of self-denial we can overcome our self-love and grow in holiness more effectively than through many hours of prayer.
Sometimes we do not have the courage to go on, to trust that God will bring good out of our misery and suffering, out of a seemingly hopeless situation. But Jesus asks us, “Do you not believe that I will help you? Do you believe that I would leave you alone in your affliction? Do you not know what fidelity is? Have you forgotten that I love you?” (Struggling with God, IV). It is the Lord who carries us: we have only to say yes, to accept and offer it to God out of love. This is what the Angel taught the children of Fatima:
“Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you.… Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.”
Our Guardian Angel also helps us to see through our trials and sufferings to the loving hand of God who sends or permits them, for our good and the good of souls, the Church and the world. He helps us to speak our “Yes, Lord, for love of You! Save souls! Save priests! Save the consecrated!”
The ‘yes’ of Mary
“Have you no faith?” Jesus asked the disciples. In faith, we want to trust and submit ourselves to the workings of Divine Providence in our lives and in the world. We know that the Cross of Christ has conquered, and thus we can feel safe in His hands. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world!” (Jn 16:33). At Fatima, it was revealed that this victory will come through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Pope Benedict XVI comments, “The heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, [His wisdom, His love, the might of His hand!], is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her Heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Savior into the world—because, thanks to her yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time” (Card. Ratzinger, Message of Fatima). Like Mary, we too want to become “co-workers in truth”, with a believing heart, a trusting heart that knows how to say yes even in darkness and storms, because we know and firmly believe that God is Love.
Sr. Maria Basilea
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