Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula
One of the pillars of America's Protestant work ethic is summed up in the adage: “God helps those who help themselves.” Very ambiguous. Does God actually help those who help themselves? Or is this just another way of saying, “Stop asking God for help and help yourself”? We don't have to figure out which interpretation is really true b/c it's easy enough to see that there is no contradiction between the two. When we ask God for help and then go on to help ourselves, God is helping us. We can nothing good w/o God's help. This is called “cooperating with grace.” Or to put it another way: using God's gifts to do good works. When good results from our work, we have God to thank b/c He is the source of all goodness. Jesus says to his disciples, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.” There's no guarantee here that we will be given exactly what we ask for or that we will find exactly what we are seeking. The only guarantee is that we will be given and will find whatever gifts we need to start and finish God's good work in us. The help we need is not always the help we want.
Jesus elaborates on his point, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish?” We might take this to mean that God is going to give us exactly what we ask for. But that's not what Jesus is saying. All he's saying here is that God is not going to give us anything harmful, anything that would make our situation worse. Ask for a loaf of bread and you might be given an opportunity to take a free baking class. Ask for a fish and you might be invited by a friend to go fishing. I've learned the hard way that asking for patience usually results in being given several opportunities to practice patience! You might think of God's help as the spark you need to start a bonfire. No spark, no fire. But the spark by itself quickly dies if it isn't carefully tended to and given something to burn. The trick for us is to learn to watch out for God's sparks and learn to tend to them properly.
How do we learn this trick? Jesus ends his lesson with the disciples by quoting a piece of universal wisdom: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” The Golden Rule. If diligently practiced with sincerity and fervor, the Golden Rule perfects our ability to discern the presence of God's help whenever we need it. Assuming that we love God, our neighbors, and ourselves, we would seek to do the good whenever given the chance. Since we can't accomplish any good deed without God's help, anytime we help our neighbors or ourselves, we are actually cooperating with God's grace. Repeat the process of helping self and neighbor often enough, with seriousness and zeal, and eventually you've formed the excellent habit of charity! Before long, seeing the sparks of God's graces will be child's play. When you ask for help, sparks will fly. When you seek for answers, sparks will fly.
Just remember: the help you need is not always the help you want. Similarly, the help you give is not always the help you are asked for. But if you give the help that you yourself would need to receive, God's spark will be properly tended and the bonfire lit. We can offer no help, do no good deed, or even approach God in prayer w/o His help. Humility requires us to give Him the glory for any goodness we achieve. So, even in the midst of disaster and despair, help yourself by giving God thanks. He is never closer than when we need Him most.
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