On Confidence (continued): Reply to Some Objections
The Lord tells us by the Prophet Isaias that His thoughts are not our thoughts,
and that as the heavens are exalted above the earth so are His ways above our
ways and His thoughts above our thoughts (Is. 55, 8-9). Hence it comes
about that Providence is very often misunderstood by the man of weak faith
and imperfect mortification. We now proceed to specify four immediate
causes of such misunderstandings.
1. Providence remains in the shadow so as to give us the opportunity
and the merit of exercising our faith, whereas we want to see. God hides
Himself behind secondary causes; the more these become manifest, the less does
He appear. Without Him they can do nothing, they could not even exist. We know
this well enough. And nevertheless, instead of ascending to Him, we make the
mistake of confining our attention to the external phenomenon, agreeable or
otherwise, and more or less enveloped in mystery. He does not enlighten us
as to the particular end He pursues, the paths whereby He is conducting
us thither, or the way already traversed. And we, far from putting blind confidence
in Him, are anxious for this knowledge, and almost venture to ask Him for explanations.
Would a little child be impatient to know where its mother is taking it,
or why she chooses one road rather than another? Does not the patient go so
far as to entrust his health, his life, the integrity of his members, to his
physician or surgeon? This latter is only a man, but we have confidence in him
on account of his devotion to his science and his professional skill. Should
we not, then, impose infinitely more confidence in God, the almighty Physician,
the incomparable Saviour? But at least when all is dark around us and we know
not where we are, how we should welcome a ray of light! Ah, if we had even the
assurance that this is in truth the operation of grace, and that so far all
goes well! As a rule, however, it is only when the Divine Artist has completed
His work that we are in a position to appreciate it. God wills us to be content
with pure faith and, putting our trust in Him, to preserve our hearts in peace,
despite the enveloping darkness. And this is the first cause of our misunderstandings.
2. Providence has views very different from ours regarding both the
end to be pursued and the means of attaining it. So long as we have not entirely
renounced the spirit of the world, we desire to discover a heaven here below,
or at least a path of roses conducting us to paradise. Therefore we become
unduly attached to the esteem of good people, to the love of our relatives and
friends, to the consolations of piety, to tranquility of soul, etc. Therefore
also we feel such a repugnance for humiliations, contradictions, sicknesses,
and trials of every description. Consolation and success seem to us, at least
in some degree, the reward of virtue; aridity and adversity the chastisement
of vice. We are astonished when we behold the sinner often prospering in
this life, and the just man undone. God, on the other hand, has no intention
of giving us a heaven on earth; He desires that we should merit our heaven,
and as beautiful a one as possible. If the sinner is obstinately determined
to ruin himself for eternity, it is necessary that he should receive in time
the recompense of whatever little good he may do. With regard to the elect,
their reward is reserved for them in paradise. Meanwhile, the essential thing
is that they be purified and sanctified ever more and more, and made richer
and richer in merits. Tribulation serves admirably as a means to these ends.
God, therefore, deaf to everything but the voice of His austere and wise affection,
labours to reproduce in us Jesus crucified, so that hereafter we may reign with
Jesus glorified. Who does not know the Beatitudes enumerated by the Divine Master?
The cross, accordingly, is the present He most willingly offers to His friends.
"Look at My whole life, full of suffering," He said to St. Theresa
the Elder, "and be persuaded that they whom My Father loves most dearly
shall receive from Him the heaviest crosses. The measure of His love is also
the measure of the suffering He sends. How could I better prove My affection
for you than by desiring for you that which I desired for Myself?" Language
supremely wise, yet how little understood! Here we have the second cause of
3. Providence smites us severely, and poor nature complains. Our passions
boil over, our pride seduces us, our wills allow themselves to be carried away.
Grievously wounded by sin, we resemble one afflicted by a gangrened member.
We realise clearly enough that nothing but an amputation can save us. Yet we
have not the courage to carry out the operation ourselves. Therefore God, Whose
love has no weakness in it, determines to render us this painful service.
As a consequence, He sends us these unforeseen difficulties, this destitution,
this contempt, these humiliations, this loss of external goods, this illness
which is wasting our strength. All are the instruments wherewith He binds and
squeezes the diseased member, strikes on the sound part, wounds and cuts to
the quick. Nature cries out in pain. But God pays no heed, because this severe
treatment is necessary for our cure and the preservation of our lives. Those
tribulations which come to us from outside are sent as a remedy for the evil
within us: to restrain our liberty that is so apt to wander, and to bridle the
passions that carry us away. We have here the reason why God permits obstacles
to our designs to appear from every quarter, why He ordains that our employments
should be so full of troubles, that we can never enjoy the peace we so long
for, that our superiors are so often opposed to our desires. This also explains
why our nature is subject to so many infirmities, why our occupations are so
tiresome, why men seem so unjust and so annoyingly variable in temper. We have
to endure assaults on every side from a thousand different opponents, so that
our wills, only too free, being thus exercised, harassed, and exhausted, may
at last detach themselves from themselves, and for the future have no other
desire except to be conformed to the will of God. But our wills refuse so to
die to themselves, and this is the third cause of our misunderstandings.
4. Providence sometimes employs means which disconcert us. The judgments
of God are incomprehensible. We can neither penetrate their motives nor
recognise the ways whereby He chooses to bring them to effect. "God begins
by annihilating those whom He entrusts with any enterprise. Death is the ordinary
way by which He leads to life. Nobody understands the road on which he is travelling."
Neither do we understand how the divine action will turn to the advantage of
souls. It seems to us not seldom to tend in the opposite way. But let us adore
the sovereign wisdom which has disposed all things most perfectly. Let us be
convinced that even what appear to be obstacles shall serve it as means, and
that from the evils it permits it will be able to draw the good it has invariably
in view, viz., the glory of God through the progress of the Church and the
salvation and sanctification of souls.
Consequently, if we look at the question in the light of God we shall be forced
to the conclusion that very often in this world what are called evils are not
really such, nor is everything good which appears so to us. There are failures
wherewith Providence blesses us, and there are successes which it sends us in
punishment of our faults.
Of the countless examples on record, let us cite just a few. God promised to
make Abraham the father of a great people, and that all nations should
be blest in his seed. And then He commanded him to immolate the son through
whom this promise would have to be fulfilled! Had He forgotten His word? Certainly
not. But He willed to put to the test the faith of His servant, designing at
the proper moment to stay his hand. He purposes to make the kingdom of the Pharaos
subject to Joseph, and begins by abandoning him to the malice of his
brethren. The poor boy was thrown into a well, led into Egypt, sold as a
slave, then languished many years in prison. His career seemed to be ruined
beyond hope. And yet it was through this series of calamities that God conducted
him to his glorious destiny. Gideon was miraculously chosen to deliver
his country from the yoke of the Madianites. He assembled a hastily levied army,
which scarcely amounted to a fourth of the opposing force. But instead of increasing
the numbers, the Lord dismissed nearly all. He retained only three hundred,
and arming these with trumpets and lamps in earthen pitchers, He led them forth
to what seemed more likely to be a butchery than a battle. And yet with this
unpromising host He won for His people an astonishing and decisive victory.
But let us leave the Old Testament.
After the triumph on Palm Sunday, Our Lord was betrayed, arrested, abandoned,
denied, judged, condemned, buffeted, scourged, crucified, robbed of His reputation.
Was it thus God the Father secured to His Son the nations of the earth as
His inheritance? Hell was triumphant and all seemed lost. Nevertheless,
it was precisely through this apparent defeat that Christ victoriously achieved
our salvation. Again, He chose what was weak to confound the strong. With a
dozen fishermen, ignorant and unknown, He went forth to conquer the world. They
could do nothing of themselves, but He was with them. During three centuries
He permitted His Church to be exposed to violent persecution, which indeed,
according to the prophetic word, shall never wholly cease; but so far from being
destroyed by the rage of her enemies, she was rather invigorated. The blood
of martyrs has always been the seed of Christians, and it is so still, even
in our own times. In vain the impiety of philosophers and the sophistries of
heresiarchs endeavoured to extinguish the lights of heaven: their efforts only
served to render the faith more definite and luminous. The kings and nations
of the earth raged "against the Lord and against His Christ" (Acts
4:26), Who neverthelesss was their real support; but in His own good time
the Son of the Carpenter, the Galilean, always victorious, has brought His persecutors
down to the dust and cited their souls to His judgment seat. Whilst a never-ceasing
succession of revolutions shake and convulse the world, the cross alone remains
standing, luminous and indestructible, above the ruins of thrones and empires.
There are still other means, unlikely means, which God chooses to save a people,
or to stir the multitudes, or to establish religious institutes. He once exercised
in this way wonderful mercy in favour of the kingdom of France: in order to
save it from total and imminent ruin, He raised up, not powerful armies, but
an innocent child, a poor shepherdess, and it was by means of this feeble instrument
He delivered Orleans, and brought the king in triumph to Rheims, where he was
to be crowned. In quite recent times, He aroused whole nations by the voice
of the Cure of Ars, a humble country priest, with but little resources
apart from his sanctity.
Taken from Holy
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