What is God Doing Now?

Some people seem to believe they can see the “arc of history” and know where history is headed. Personally, I am no good at trying to read the “tea leaves” of history. I believe in Divine Providence, but I am not the one to figure out what God is doing or what His intentions are at any particular moment.

If a fortunate series of events occurs, I have learned to be wary of concluding, “Ah, God must be pleased and wanted me to do X,” whether X is “marry that girl,” “take that job,” or “buy that car.”

And the saints have taught me (not that I am a good student) that when bad things happen, I should not conclude (as I often do), “God clearly hates me and wants me to fail.”

I know I am supposed to trust that God is doing His “God thing,” even when I don’t understand what He could possibly have in mind, and I should just stick with what I know: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, do unto others, love as God has loved me, pray, love even my enemies. God has made those things very clear.

But even I am becoming suspicious that we’re being “told” something when the “cancel culture” has come for: Junipero Serra, patron saint of vocations, at a time when we desperately need more priests; Fr. Damien of Molokai, the man who united himself with a quarantined island of lepers, at a time when we desperately need priests who will push pass the iron curtain of quarantine and minister to the sick; and Flannery O’Connor, a woman who wrote so brilliantly about the emptiness of an American Christianity without Christ and the Cross, at a time when American Catholicism desperately needs the lessons she had to teach about how grace operates in a fallen world.

Would it be too contrarian to ask whether we are being taught at this moment of history by a kind of “reverse psychology”? That’s the technique whereby one attempts to persuade another person by asserting a belief or behavior opposite of the one desired, hoping it will cause the person to realize how foolish, ridiculous, or offensive it is.

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What?  You’re knocking down statues of Serra?  But we need priests!  What? You want to get rid of Fr. Damien?  But we need priests who will visit the sick!  What? You’ve “canceled” Flannery O’Connor?  But her works speak to our spiritual challenges in this cultural moment more deeply than any other!

Or is that the point?  You, crafty God, you!

But I am not the one to say. I have no idea what God has in mind these days.

So, for example, God, why would a supposedly Catholic university in Maryland take Flannery O’Connor’s name off of its dorm?

And why would an editor at a supposedly Catholic National Catholic Reporter describe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the woman who called Fr. Damien’s statue in the capital an example of “white supremacist culture,” as the “future of the Catholic Church” and laud her for her “passion for justice and human dignity,” even though Ocasio-Cortez supports abortion on demand, tax-payer funding of abortion, and laws forcing Catholic hospitals to provide elective procedures that violate their faith?

Why would it be the Catholic Joe Biden who has become rabidly pro-abortion, promising that he would make the Little Sisters of the Poor pay for them; indeed, why are so many of the pro-abortion politicians, like Nancy Pelosi and Andrew Cuomo, “Catholic”?

And how strange that a man like Donald Trump has become the most consistently anti-abortion president in decades?

Dear God, what are you doing?  How do these things fit together?

The saints illuminate every age, so it’s probably no mystery I find them especially enlightening now in an age of great darkness or that the powers of darkness would be eager to extinguish their light. When I open the great Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas to almost any page, I come across something that speaks wisdom to our age.  So I suppose it’s no mystery why people who hate the Catholic faith want no one to read it.

But why do I come upon more interest in Aquinas among certain Protestants and agnostics than I do in many ostensibly “Catholic” institutions?  And why did those Catholic institutions sweep Aquinas, the Church Fathers, and logic out of the curriculum just at the historical moment when they were most needed?

Why are so many Catholic educational institutions in such a pitiful state, lacking any sense of Catholic mission, basic administrative competence, or respect for the dignity of their workers?  It was one thing for Pope Leo XIII to propose that Catholics should work as a leaven within society to help the emerging nation-states embody Catholic principles when the Catholic Church had the most impressive educational establishment in the world, from primary school to advanced universities.  But how are we supposed to respond to that call now that generations of Catholic leaders have sold that educational birthright for a mess of pottage?  I mean, I just don’t get it.

But I don’t suppose Athanasius understood what God had in mind when the world went mad with Arianism after the Council of Nicea, as the world has tended to go mad after most ecumenical councils ever since. Nor do I suppose John Paul II understood what God intended when his mother and father died when he was young and his country was dominated first by Nazi and then by Soviet tyranny.

As T. S. Eliot wrote,

to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—

And that’s not me.

So if you ask, “What is God’s will now?” I’m afraid I’ve got nothing better than, “Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, love your neighbor, pray, love even your enemies.” I guess I simply have to trust God to take care of the rest.

 

*Image: Christ the Geometer by an unknown artist c. 1252-70 [Cathedral Museum, Toledo, Spain]. The illustration appears in an illuminated Bible.

Randall Smith

Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas. His book Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Guidebook for Beginners is available from Emmaus Press. his latest book, Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture of Medieval Paris: Preaching, Prologues, and Biblical Commentary was published in 2019 by Cambridge University Press.



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