With Father’s Day approaching, the commercial below seems very appropriate. God the Father is surely the origin of all fatherhood here on Earth.
And yet most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen. Why does he not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various sorts and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?
While the answer is mysterious, the clearest response is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so in my life. Some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut or that I endure some suffering. Had my college sweetheart not dumped me, it is not likely that I would be priest today. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments during my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those assignments helped draw me out and grow me far more than the cozy, familiar places I had wanted. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my 30s, I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do, and I would have missed learning important lessons about myself and about life.
So despite that fact that we (understandably) fear suffering, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best), God does allow some degree of it in our lives.
Yet I wonder if we really consider the countless times God did step in to prevent disasters in our life. We tend to focus on the negative things, overlooking an enormous number of often-hidden blessings: every beat of our heart, every proper function of every cell in our body, and all the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.
Just consider the simple act of walking and all the missteps we might make each time but do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our life, especially when we were young, that did not end in catastrophe but surely could have. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible consequences.
Yes, we sometimes wonder why we and others suffer and why God allows it. But do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped the consequences of some foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings and magnify and resent our sufferings.
One of the expressions I have picked up over the years, and that I use in response to people who ask me how I am doing, is this: “I’m pretty well blessed for a sinner.” I have heard others say, “I am more blessed than I deserve to be.” Yes, pretty well blessed indeed!
I thought of all these things as I watched the commercial below (it aired during the Super Bowl). And while it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it also makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely protected me from many disasters.
As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many hidden rescues He has executed for you through your guardian angel. Thank Him, too, for the hidden blessings—blessings you know nothing of—that He bestowed upon you anyway. And finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.
One of the main threads that ran through Sunday’s Gospel about the raising of Lazarus was faith, the need for faith and the Lord’s desire to draw others to a deeper faith. Jesus permits the illness and subsequent death of Lazarus, and even delays coming in order to increase their faith. He persistently questions both Martha and Mary about their faith and prays aloud that the crowd will come to come to greater faith. Yes, Jesus wants to grow everyone’s faith. This is something about which he is passionate – but why?
Simply put, faith is the door that must be opened by us in order for the Lord to go to work. And while faith itself is a grace – a gift – it is a grace that interacts with our freedom. Faith is the supernaturally granted, assisted, and transformed human element that opens the door for every other work of God.
Over and over again, the Lord Jesus links faith to his saving work. Either it is something he inquires about before a miracle, or he announces it after a miracle. Sometimes, due to the lack of faith, he “cannot” work a miracle. Consider some of the following texts that link faith to the work of Jesus:
• When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” (Mt 9:28-29)
• But Jesus turning and seeing [the woman who touched his garment] said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well. (Matt 9:22)
• Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. (Matt 8:13)
• Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matt 9:2)
• Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matt 15:28)
• “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mk 10:52)
• Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Lk 17:19)
• Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)
• Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief. (Mk 6:4-6)
So in these and many other places, the Lord is absolutely insistent upon and needful of our faith in order to go to work. Faith is our “Yes.” Faith is our opening of the door to the Lord, who stands outside and knocks (cf Rev 3:20).
But why is this so? Perhaps an image or analogy will work. It is a humble one to be sure, but it may help to illustrate why the Lord “needs” our faith.
I have lived in the city for most of my twenty-five years as a priest. Now cities have streets, streets have alleys, and alleys have alley cats. And I have discovered that it is a very good thing to take care of the alley cats. It is because of them that there are very few if any rats in our alley. And this is a very great blessing. In gratitude, I take care of the alley cats – or at least I try to.
I say “try” because I have learned that there are three different categories of alley cat (get it? “CATegories…?). And depending upon which category they fall into, I am more or less able to help them.
The first category contains those alley cats that greatly trust me. They are the ones who come up onto the back porch when I return home and greet me. They rub up against my leg and arch their backs. They let me rub their necks. Among these alley cats have been Ellen Bayne, Jenny June, Katie Bell, Gracie Allen, and Oscar Wilde. (Yes, I name them all.) So trusting are these cats that I’m able not only to feed them, but often to get them necessary medical help. Because of their trust, I am able to help them greatly. Their trust, you might say their “faith,” opens the door and allows me to be a great help to them.
The second category contains those alley cats that stand at a distance and will not come close to me. They will allow me to put food out on the back porch, but they wait until I close the door to come up and partake of it. However, they usually only get the leftovers after Ellen Bayne and the others have already had their fill. This second type will not allow me to touch them, so they never get their necks rubbed, nor am I able to help them when they are injured or need medicine. Because they trust me less, I am able to do less for them.
The third category contains those that will have nothing to do with me simply because I am a human being. The very scent of a human being means that they will have nothing to do with anything carrying that scent. These cats will never come up the steps of my back porch, and any food that I would put out would go uneaten because it carries that human scent. Because they do not trust me at all, there’s nothing I can do for them, absolutely nothing.
And in all of this, there is a lesson. Trust opens the door, and then I can help the cats. A lot of trust yields a lot of help; a little trust yields a little help; no trust yields no help. And it is this way with us and God. Jesus needs our trust and our faith in order to be able to go to work, in order to “be able” to help us. What CATegory are you in?
While it is true that God could simply overrule us and force his help upon us, he does not generally do this. He needs our faith, our opening of the door, our trust to be able to go to work.
And this is why Jesus is so insistent in yesterday’s Gospel, on drawing out faith from those who lament Lazarus. This is why, all throughout the Gospels, the Lord connects his greatest works with faith and trust. He looks for faith, demands faith, needs faith in order to work miracles. And when he works them, he commends the faith of those who receive them. It is faith that opens the door.
Yes, what CATegory are you in? See how important faith is and how it opens the door? Lord increase our faith! I do believe Lord; help my unbelief!