Thursday, October 18, 2012

Providence: what's that?

When I was growing up and got some "big idea," my mother would always say to me, "Have you asked God if it is what he wants?" The fallen part of me would resist doing this. But, without fail, whenever I did so I would discover that, "Yes, it is God's will—full speed ahead," or, "No, it's not what God wants, and aren't you happy you found out sooner than later." What my mother was teaching me was to honor and love divine providence.

What Is Divine Providence?

God has loved us into existence, and that love governs every instant and action of our life. This constant, all-encompassing care is what we call divine providence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to it as the dispositions by which God guides us, his creatures, with wisdom and love to our ultimate end—our perfection (see 302 and 321). It says 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" (303).

Divine providence literally "fore-sees" every circumstance and concern of our existence. Saint Claude de la Columbière says that "it is one of the most firmly established and most consoling of the truths that have been revealed to us that (apart from sin) nothing happens to us in life unless God wills it so." For "whatever happens to us through God's will," observes Dominican Father Bede Jarrett, "is always the best possible thing for us. God is not only good, very good, supremely good, but the only good. Therefore his will is and must be always the best for us." Divine providence is God's inscrutable strategy to bring about our happiness. As Jesuit Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes in one of the greatest spiritual masterpieces of all time, Abandonment to Divine Providence, "Everything has a supernatural quality, something divine about it that can lead us onward to holiness. Everything is part of that completeness which is Jesus Christ."In the opening lines of the Liturgy of the Hours—known as the invitatory psalm—the Church professes of God, "He holds in his hands the depths of the earth." Which means God holds in his hands the depths of my life: all my worries, my troubles, my nagging concerns big and small, my challenges, my struggles, my phobias. Nothing is beyond the reach of his tender, infallible protectorship. God's loving providence shepherds the minutest details of our daily life. The high eternal Father says to Saint Catherine of Siena in theDialogue, "I am constantly providing for what you need at any given time. I am that supreme providence who never betrays my servants' hope in me in soul or body."

If we believe this, the only logical response is to surrender ourselves to it. The Father says through Saint Catherine of Siena, "Whatever I do to provide for the body is done for the good of the soul, to make her grow in the light of faith, to make her trust in me and give up trusting in herself, and to make her see and know that I am who I am and that I can and will and know how to assist her in her need and save her." De Caussade comments in his wisdom, "You are seeking for secret ways of belonging to God, but there is only one: making use of whatever he offers you. Everything leads you to this union with him. For those who have surrendered themselves completely to God, all they are and do has power."

The Grace of the Present Moment

De Caussade speaks famously of "the sacrament of the present moment:"

What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us. . . . Every moment we live through is like an ambassador who declares the will of God, and our hearts always utter their acceptance. We can find all that is necessary in the present moment. . . . At every moment God's will produces what is needful for the task at hand, and the simple soul, instructed by faith, finds everything as it should be and wants neither more nor less than what it has.

The Father implores us through Saint Catherine, "Fall in love with my providence!" Let us do so with the confidence and certainty expressed in the prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila: "Lord, you know all things, can do all things, and you love me."

By Peter John Cameron, O.P.