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.
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 God’s 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.”