Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Audio File (Wow. . .my southern accent really shines in this one!)
Let's talk about divine providence. That's what our readings this morning/evening prompt us to reflect upon. Here's a definition that pretty much says it all: “Providence is God Himself considered in that act by which in His wisdom He so orders all events within the universe that the end for which it was created may be realized. That end is that all creatures should manifest the glory of God, and in particular that man should glorify Him, recognizing in nature the work of His hand, serving Him in obedience and love, and thereby attaining to the full development of his nature and to eternal happiness in God.”* Did you get all that? I hope so. There's going to be a quiz at the end of this homily. Should I repeat it for you? No? OK then. That's a complex definition for a fairly simple idea: God takes care of us so that we might come to Him in love and live with Him eternally. When it comes to providing for His people our God is never stingy, never thrifty. By nature, He is always generous, abundantly gracious, even extravagant. But here's the thing. . .He provides in copious amounts all that we need to come to Him in love. What God knows we need to thrive is not always what we think we need to survive. Our daily challenge is ask for and receive all that we truly need and not worry about the stuff that cannot bring us closer to God.
How do we begin to tackle this daunting challenge? How do we effectively separate what we truly need from what we desperately want? One way to do this is to think about The Basics for Survival. Ask yourself: what can I not live without? Literally, not live without. Meaning, if I didn't have this, I would die. Food and water come to mind. Some sort of shelter from the elements. Clothing would be good. For some of us, we could add this or that medication. With access to these things we could keep body and soul together. That's a good start but our goal here is not mere survival. Yes, we need to be alive in order to get closer to God in this life but just getting by isn't the same as thriving under His care. We need more than the material necessities to fulfill our goal, our end. Remember the purpose of creation is “that all creatures should manifest the glory of God” and for us in particular it is to attain “the full development of [our human] nature and to eternal happiness in God.” What do we need on a daily basis to assist us in fully developing our human nature so that we might attain eternal happiness in God? The one thing we need more than anything else is God Himself. We cannot become the men and women we were made to be w/o Him. And we certainly cannot attain eternal happiness w/o the source of that happiness working in our lives.
If you knew this already, then you know that merely surviving as an intelligent animal is not your reason for being. If you didn't know this, then hear it again: we need God not only to exist, to survive as we are, we also need Him to thrive, to grow, and to become perfectly human, perfectly happy as Christ himself was perfectly human and perfectly happy. God's providence, His loving-care for us, comes to us as graces, gifts, freely given. The long definition I quoted to you earlier makes it clear that “Providence is God Himself,” God gives Himself to us for our spiritual provision. He gives Himself to us in our existence—that we exist at all is His gift. He gives Himself to us in our ability to love one another—that we are capable of loving is His gift. He gives Himself to us in our desire to return to Him—that we long for happiness, peace, consolation is His gift. He gives Himself to us in His sacraments, His Church, His Word—that we are one Body in Christ is His gift. He gives Himself to us in faith, hope, charity—that we are able to trust Him and His promises is a gift. All we need to flourish and grow toward happiness is provided; freely, abundantly, extravagantly given. Why then do we find ourselves so often wallowing in unhappiness? It's not for lack for divine provision. It's b/c we have yet to find a workable way of separating what we truly need from we desperately want. When we are unhappy, we are dwelling on what we do not have. We have locked ourselves in the prison of scarcity, a self-made spiritual illusion.
Paul is in prison—a real prison—for preaching the Good News. He writes a letter to the Church in Ephesus, urging them “to live in a manner worthy of the call [they] have received. . .” What call have they received? They were called to Christ by Paul to live lives of repentance and sacrificial love. This sort of life must be lived with “all humility and gentleness, with patience. . .” There's no mention here of a new car, a better paying job, a better-looking spouse, smarter kids, the latest electronic gadget, or an off-shore tax shelter. Humility, gentleness, and patience. All divinely provided free of charge. Have you received these gifts so that you might be happy? If you have received them, do you use them? How should we live together? Paul writes that living lives worthy of our call means “bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” No mention of liking one another; agreeing with one another politically; being thrilled to bump into one another at Wal-Mart; or going to the movies together. Bear with one another in love; strive to be one in the spirit b/c we all want peace. Also, all divinely provided. Have you received these gifts and do you use them if you have? From the prison-cell of scarcity, all we will ever see is what we do not have. Wanting is not needing. If we need it to grow in holiness, it has already been given to you.
Look at the 5,000 who gather around Jesus to hear him preach and watch him heal. When Jesus sees the crowd, he wants to feed them. He turns to his disciples and asks a perfectly reasonable question: can we afford to feed this many with what we have? Philip, avoiding the question, anxiously notes that even if they spent the wages earned over 200 days, they wouldn’t have enough food. Andrew pushes forward a boy who has some food, but gloomily notes that the little he has won’t be enough for the crowd. Can’t you hear and see Jesus sigh and roll of the eyes!? At this late date, these two still don’t get it! Philip and Andrew see only scarcity; they see only what they don't have or how little they have. Jesus doesn’t berate them. He teaches them: “Have the people recline.” Have the people prepare to feast. And they do. And afterward Jesus tells his disciples to pay attention to the excesses of the feast, what’s leftover, the abundant remainder of what they could only see at first as scarcity. Is this a lesson about how to stretch a meal on a budget? No. Jesus feeds us with the bread of eternal life—all that we need to attain perfect happiness. Philip and Andrew do not see the possibilities packed into the bread Christ offers the crowd. Not only is there enough for everyone, there's an abundance of leftovers. In other words, there is mercy and love and trust enough for everyone to attain their happiness and leftovers besides. God provides in copious amounts all that we need to come to Him in love. What He knows we need to thrive is not always what we think we need to survive. Our daily challenge is ask for and receive all that we truly need and not worry about the stuff that cannot bring us closer to God. We are free from the prison of sin; do not lock yourself up in the prison-cell of scarcity. Receive what God has given you—all that you truly need—and thrive onto eternal happiness in Him!
*Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.___________________
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