Oh, how a few months can change our lives. It feels like 2020 has already lasted longer than 12 months; quarantines, mandates and hospitalizations; canceled activities, canceled Masses and canceled classes. We have finally started to return to a semblance of normality; Mass attendance at partial capacity, some classes in-person with social distance, and many stores and shops are now open. But as we approach the end of this liturgical year and start the new liturgical year at the end of November, where was God in all of this? Where was his grace? I think one way to look at this is through God’s divine attributes.
God has undoubtedly been present in the hospital room of every struggling patient. He has been by the bedside of each person that lost their earthly battle for life. He was there to receive their soul when their time on earth came to an end. He was there with the adult siblings who gathered to say their final goodbyes to their parents at the funeral home. He was there as those same siblings vowed before me and one another to keep the best family traditions going after so many years of their parents leading by example.
God was present when a friend of the family informed the father of five children and grandfather of six of a new job opportunity. God was there in the meals cooked to feed a family whose mom was in the hospital and whose dad couldn’t get out of bed. God was there in the love, God was there in the concern, God was there in the unending acts of charity. God was there when love was made real through actions. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ so that he would not only know our human condition from his omniscience but he would know it from experience. God knows our struggles and our temptations. He knows the way we think and the limitations of earthly life. Because of this, he also knows how to insert his grace and his promptings in our life. A father of a family is losing his daughter to a negative relationship. God gives him the conviction that he must act to save her heart and maybe even her life. He knows his restrictions on phone or internet use will not be popular but God gives him the gift of fortitude to establish new house rules around the use of technology.
A mother feels the burden of a family that is drifting apart. She is living with her own family and children what she lived in her family of origin: disagreements that turn family members cold to each other; the coldness leads to silence and disconnection. It will not be easy to talk about the elephant in the room to her sister but God gives her the courage to call her and talk it out. God also gives this mother the wisdom to take a road trip to bring her daughter home from college and now she has several uninterrupted hours to address some much-needed conversations. God knows our complicated relationships; he also lived them and he has the necessary knowledge and gifts to help us maneuver our own relationships.
There is no shortage of prayer requests being added to my prayer intention list. At least 15 minutes a day are spent just on prayer requests: specific people, specific illnesses, specific needs. I am continually amazed at how God can move with his mighty power, so quietly and imperceptible that many people do not even notice the hand of God at work, but from my vantage point I see his intervention. I hear the story of the man on the organ donation list who finally received a kidney from a young man who loved God but whose earthly life came to an end but whose kidney has given a second chance at life for a father and grandfather. I hear about the woman who has been out of work for so long that she has completed every single item on her to-do list, every home project, every leftover craft and has finally received a call back just before her savings ran out. I hear about the young person suffering from a debilitating disease, losing weight, not able to eat, losing hope, who finally goes to see the sixth doctor and who finally receives a treatment that begins to improve the symptoms that have kept her in and out of hospitals for a year.
I hear about the seminarian who has fallen in love with God, has heard the call to follow the Good Shepherd and who, even in the darkness of the pandemic, freely pledges his live to the service of God and His Church. In so doing, he receives power to bless, to make Jesus present on the altar, to forgive sins, to touch countless people in the name and in the person of Jesus Christ. I have seen his power moving in and out of people’s lives. Just ask around and I am positive you will hear countless more stories like these.
As a young man in our parish youth group, we would often hear and respond: “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.” This is perhaps the most simple and most difficult of God’s qualities to accept. We instinctively believe that God is good but for many people there is an unspoken second belief, “God is good so long as good things happen in my life.” But this would be a shortsighted and ultimately shallow understanding of God’s goodness. A better way to look at it is like the Apostles just before the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. Recall that Jesus felt pity for the crowd of thousands that had been following him all day long to listen to his teachings. He tells the Apostles to feed the crowd themselves. The Apostles do the math and not even 200 days of wages would be enough to feed such a multitude. All they had were two fish and five loaves. Here is a critical truth regarding God’s goodness. God’s goodness is given permission to make itself present through our own trust and our own humility. The Apostles knew they didn’t have enough money, they knew they didn’t have enough food, yet, trustingly and a little embarrassed, they give to Jesus what little they had. You know the rest of the story, from those two fish and five loaves more than 5,000 men plus even more women and children were fed and there was food to spare.
As we finish up this Church year, it is helpful to reflect how God has been present to us. As we begin a new Church year, it is helpful to meditate on the ways we can continue to work like the Apostles; how we can continue to give to the Lord what little we have, knowing, trusting, in humble confidence, that from our very little, God can do so much more in the lives of very many people. Let us put our two fish and five loaves in the Lord’s hands in this coming year and I think we will be equally surprised at what God can do with even a little that is freely given.