The Catholic Thing
God Always Has the Last Laugh Print E-mail
By Kristina Johannes   
Thursday, 26 December 2013

I grew up reading a small handmade holy card that was tucked in the mirror of the entryway closet of my childhood home.  It contained a quotation credited to St. Francis de Sales: “Confide in God, Lean on His Providence, and fear nothing.” A good recommendation to remember in this season when we remember that God Himself came into the world to save us.

The last thing I usually did leaving home was to check my appearance in that mirror and my eyes usually fell on that card. When we moved from that home, the card moved as well and in our new home it was stuck in the top of the light switch cover in the entryway, right next to the door.  So it was still the last thing one saw before leaving home.

The card is now yellowed with age.  When we divided up my mother’s personal possessions after her death last summer it was the one thing I really wanted.  I had previously requested it from her but she demurred, wanting me to wait until she no longer needed it. 

When I took the card I was surprised and delighted to find on the back an inscription that appears to be from my grandmother to my mother:  “Say this prayer often it will help you –Mom.”  It was a special bonus, this advice from my grandmother.  It was like a tender hug of encouragement, reaching out from eternity.

One of the advantages of living longer is gaining an appreciation of the Providence of God.  Because when you look back you can more easily see how God worked things out for the good. If you are looking for it, that is.

Because at the same time it is a common temptation to look back and lament the lost opportunities or the mistakes you have made and be overwhelmed by them.  I think this is more common to women than men – or at least women are more likely to talk about it. 

I once heard a great story about Divine Providence. It might be just an urban Catholic legend, but it sounds just like God: 

A man’s wife died in childbirth. His child survived but the man, a Catholic, refused to allow the baby to be baptized because he was angry with God.  As time went on, the infant became ill and died.  Some years later, when the man returned to the faith, he was inconsolable over the fact that he had denied his child the grace of baptism.  In his anguish he consulted a priest who counseled him to place his trust in Divine Providence and simply pray for his child. 

Then he happened to come across the nanny who had taken care of his child.  He thanked her and shared his sorrow at never having had the baby baptized.  He told her of how he had prayed all these many years for God’s mercy for him and his child.  The nanny paused and then admitted to him that she had secretly baptized the child just before death.  The man realized that his prayers had been answered before he had even said them!


The priest telling us the story reminded us that God is outside of time so we should never despair of anything in the past – even the past can be committed to prayer!

I have always loved this insight.  It is so hopeful and it changes everything.  God is Lord even of time.

The Catechism defines Divine Providence as the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward the ultimate perfection to which He has destined it, and then includes this quotation from the Vatican Council I document Dei Filius:

By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, “reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.” For “all are open and laid bare to his eyes,” even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.
It’s an amazing thing to contemplate.  Sometimes I picture God as a super juggler, keeping a huge number of balls in the air.  It is one of the many divine mysteries that boggles the mind.

Some cultures have a sense of humor about this. The Book of Proverb’s “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established” (which is often paraphrased as “man proposes, God disposes”). In Latin America, they sometimes add: “and a woman does what she wants!” 

One of the more mysterious aspects of Divine Providence is our part in it. 

And what of Satan and the wrenches he tries to throw in the works?   The Catechism assures us:

He cannot prevent the building up of Gods reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries - of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature- to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”
Or to put it in more mundane terms, God always has the last laugh.

Kristina Johannes is a registered nurse and a certified teacher of natural family planning. She has served as a spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition, which successfully worked for passage of the marriage amendment to the Alaska Constitution.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (7)Add Comment
written by Jack,CT, December 26, 2013
Dear Kristinna,
I am not suprised you are a nurse
with such a nurturing family.I as a nurse have
leaned so much on prayer and the sentiment of
a parent who has passed.
I love the words of St frances Desales and will
treasure it from Your home to mine.....Merry
Christmas to a kindred spirit!
written by Dennis Larkin, December 26, 2013
I have a caveat to offer. Yes, it is true that God makes the best out of what we choose, but we should not confuse our choices with God's will. I think you're not doing that.

But I have a sister-in-law who is a bully, and she usually gets her way. By some people's reading, she is following God's will because things happen as she likes them and God lets events unfold for a reason; and those who dared oppose her were not attuned to God's will. I think that she is a bully, and God works around her choices, not through them.

The fact that things happened in a certain way should not be confused with God's preferring them that way.
written by nady, December 26, 2013
It is simply beautiful.Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
written by debby, December 26, 2013
Dear Kristina- i grew up Protestant with that Warner Sallman Head of Christ over my bed. So funny that artist was linked with the great Catholic Saint's quote. (even before Vat 2) i am copying that prayer out for my mirror....
Dennis -
funny you should post your comment today. i missed 7 AM Mass and ran off to 9 AM, only to arrive and discover it is Thursday, not Wednesday, so there is no 9 AM! my mistake caused me to spend the hour in the Adoration Chapel instead. while there, the NOISE of the First Christmas kept coming into my mind.....all those people on their way to register for the Big Government census, the judgmental dirty looks St. Joseph and our Lady must have received at "her coming along in THAT condition - are you crazy?! you ARE Stupid, for sure!", maybe the exhausted irritation of the inn keepers who had no room. i was thinking (and this is where your comment comes in) about the wise-men and all the effort and planning and sacrifice that journey took. years of study and a Star prompted them. a dream re-directs them. only in the way I would have written the Story, the dream would have occurred on The Way TO Bethlehem - certainly Not on the Way Out of Bethlehem.
GOD KNEW what that Horrible Bully Herod would do.
Shocking, really, if you think about it.
God Knew.
and yet, He did not send another message to those astute seekers until after Herod was given the Chance to Receive the Grace of a Savior Being Born.
"God chooses to bring out of evil rather than not allow evil to exist." (St. Augustine - loosely remembered)
How Much GOOD did the Holy Innocents' blood bring?
Was it their blood that gave the grace of perseverance to St. John the Baptist, His "next" martyr?
Was it their mothers' tears and (hopefully) acceptance of grief that gave the grace of repentance to the Woman at the Well? - and in turn, her whole village?
Was it their fathers' lonely horror at the loss of "my boy, my baby son, my heir, killed...." that gave the grace forgiveness to those who would die for Jesus by slow torture while the Church was yet new, a fledgling?
Aren't graces eternal, and therefore, the graces won still at work "for the good" for each of us?
it came to me today at Adoration that this God,
Who Holds Back Nothing to Prove His Love,
can Do Anything With Everything.
Every Situation. Every Wrong Turn. Every Circumstance. Every Personality. Every Sin. Every Sinner.

The bullies in this world do not "get their way" - not really. They miss so much in the "getting". They miss love. She does not know what she is doing. But God "working around her choices" may have more to do with what He has to offer YOU and those around her than all she is getting and missing in the mean time....In the end, Herod lost and no one celebrates his birthday!
Merry Christmas! He has so much for each of us!
written by Frank, December 26, 2013
Along the line of the other, there were two times in my life where my deepest yearnings were realized. These two specific times I can recall when I said yes to God and sought his forgiveness and a better relationship through prayer, worship and daily living. In return, came two gifts totally out of the blue and both were two things that looking back, were things I had wished to do for many years but the doors just didn't open.

Sometimes, God gives us those wonderful gifts that are of such a personal nature, it makes us realize we are special. The other side of that coin is just as miraculous for in giving those two gifts, God was also saying that He knew me much better than I knew myself.

Merry Christmas
written by kristinajohannes, December 26, 2013
Dennis, I admit that I am not very far along in understanding it all... I agree that God does not will sin but permits it. I've often wondered if there are things that He does not allow to happen and if so, how. I guess miracles are one example.

Debby, I did not research the quote before writing this, so I'm not 100% sure it is correctly attributed to St. Frances as per the card but as my father used to say, "if he didn't say it he should have!" If anyone knows, please share. (perhaps in Introduction to the Devout Life?"

Jack, most of the time my father played the role of nurse within my family. He loved to care for us when we were sick...he was very old school so most of his cures involved a bit of whiskey and honey! Your comment caused me to remember a number of happy and funny incidents.

Frank, you are so right...God is so tender and thoughtful. He really cares about the details! It is such a grace to recognize those times. A friend once told me that cultivating a grateful heart is one of the most important things you can do--even trying to do so causes you to see life so much differently.

nady et al, Merry Christmas!
written by Jack,CT, December 27, 2013
God Bless and Merry christmas to you as well!

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