I saw a YouTube video today by a fellow Catholic who was quite concerned and animated over what he describes as the desperate condition of the Church. It is true that there is much to be sober about in these troubled times, and we have discussed them quite thoroughly here. There are current and necessary struggles in which we are engaged, especially in seeking to re-evangelize our increasingly disordered culture.
But in all this we cannot afford to lose our serenity. Unsettled warriors are ultimately ineffectual for we cannot bring peace to others unless we first have it ourselves.
I was meditating recently, just before Christmas, on a text from Isaiah and I found it most encouraging, and a kind of source text for serenity. I would like to present the reading and then consider in four parts how a proper understanding of God can help give us greater serenity.
Hear me, O house of Jacob, all who remain of the house of Israel, My burden since your birth, whom I have carried from your infancy. Even to your old age I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you; It is I who have done this, I who will continue, and I who will carry you. Remember the former things, those long ago: I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every purpose. I call from the east a bird of prey, from a distant land, one to carry out my plan. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it, and I will do it. Listen to me, you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give to Israel my glory. (Isaiah 46:3-4; 9-13)
I. God is Tender. The Text says, Hear me, O house of Jacob, all who remain of the house of Israel, My burden since your birth, whom I have carried from your infancy. Even to your old age I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you; It is I who have done this, I who will continue, and I who will carry you.
One of the great misconceptions of the Old Testament portrait of God is that God is described there only in cruel and punishing terms. It is true that God was dealing with a hardened people in very tough and cruel times, a people who lived in ancient times largely unschooled in law and what we would even call today “civilization.” Tough times, and tough people sometimes called for very tough measures.
And yet despite this, some of the most beautiful and tender passages describing God’s love and rich mercy are in the Old Testament. These opening lines from our passage is one of them, speaking of God lovingly carrying us as a kind a blessed burden from our earliest youth, all the way through old age. Yes, he carries us. As a loving father and he feeds and provides for us. Hosea has a similar passage:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheek; and bent down to feed them…. My heart is moved within me; all my compassion is aroused. (Hosea 11:1-4; 8-9)
How true it is, as Hosea describes that we often run from God, when he merely stoops to feed us. We forget that he is the one who taught us to walk. We forget how in tender mercy he has held as close to his cheek. Instead, we run from him in rebellion and fear. God speaks through Hosea in terms that are almost heartbroken, quite sad at how we run from him.
Yes, God is a father who loves us, who cherishes us, and who, in a mysterious way, grieves that we run from him. In all of this he continues to carry us, he does not forsake us.
And here is an important source of serenity for us: that we recall that God is a tender Father who loves us and wants to save us, who is grieved at our running and joyous at our return. If we can know and experience this love, we are more serene and confident.
II. God is Tried and True – The text says, Remember the former things, those long ago: I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done.
The Lord invites us to ponder the memory of his providence deep in our hearts. To treasure and meditate on his providence of the past, is to grow and hope for today, and trust for tomorrow. How critical is for our own mental health and sense of well-being that we should dedicate ourselves to thankfulness, and meditate frequently on how God has delivered us in the past. He has provided for our most fundamental needs and, whatever our struggles, they have not overcome us. Even our burdens often mysteriously bless us, and are gifts in strange packages. All things work together for good for those who love and trust the Lord of the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
And whatever our concerns for tomorrow whatever our fears, God is not fearful. God has already provided. Tomorrow is just as present to God as our yesterday and this very day. (Providentia Providebit)”Providence will provide.” God knows and foretells every outcome. There is no panic in heaven, just plans. Such a deep conviction, that God is tried and true, a conviction of providence rooted in gratitude is key to our serenity.
III. God is Triumphant – The text says, I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every purpose. I call from the east a bird of prey, from a distant land, one to carry out my plan. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it, and I will do it.
In God the victory is already won. For us life unfolds in stages, but for God all is accomplished. From the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.” Yes, the victory is won: in dying he destroys our death, in humility he conquers pride. The battle is the Lord’s, and the victories is His, it is already won, only the new has not yet leaked out.
If we could but learn to live as though the victory were already ours. Yet so easily we are conquered by negativity troubled by thoughts of doom. The world is lost, the cause is failed, or so we think. But we are deceived, even deluded. And in this delusion, our peace and serenity depart from us, and so often fear and depression take their place.
If we could but understand ponder the God has already won the victory, if we could but recall how many nations and empires have risen and fallen in the age of the Church. Yes, and how many of them have menacingly threatened God and his Church. They have come, had their night, and always been replaced by the day. Light always conquers the darkness. The Church has buried everyone of her undertakers. Where is Cesar now? Where is Napoleon? Where are the Soviets? Whoever will contend with God soon enough are history and the Church will remain.
Philosophies too come and go, but the truth of the Gospel remains. Currently many atheists stand proud, announcing the age of faith is over. They too will have their night, and the light returns again. God’s plan will stand.
We may be puzzled over temporary defeats and setbacks that God mysteriously permits. But here too, he is working his purposes out, he’s pruning and strengthening his Church, purifying his people, and distinguishing those who accept him, and those who reject him.
Recalling that the victory is already won, that the triumph has already been announced, that the winning team is already announced and assured, this too is a source of great serenity for many of us who would fret over momentary setbacks.
IV. God is Trustworthy – The text says, Listen to me, you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give to Israel my glory.
To all those who are anxious and fearful God gives the simple remedy, “Listen to me!” Yes, if we will but listen to God and his Word, we will see how. again and again, he has delivered his people. Is this not what we do it every Mass? We gather and listen to God’s Word. We tell our story that does describe the difficulties of living in a fallen world, but always, in the end, these same texts describe victory and vindication for those who trust God. Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? Didn’t he deliver the Hebrew children? Didn’t he vindicate Joseph, and uphold the dignity of Leah? Didn’t the Lord free Paul and Silas, as well as Peter, from prison? And why not me too?
Not only does God tell us to listen, but also to look again. He speaks to those who seem far from the victory of justice. But to seem is not to be. To say that something “seems” is to indicate that what it appears to be, in fact it is not. And thus, to the fainthearted, the doubtful, the doomsayers and all the negative minded, God says that help and salvation are on the way, they shall not tarry. God may not bring all solutions and salvation on our own terms, but he will establish justice in a very little while.
An old hymn says:
Harder yet may be the fight;
right may often yield to might;
wickedness a while may reign;
Satan’s cause may seem to gain.
But there’s a God that rules above
with hand of power and heart of love;
and if I’m right, he’ll fight my battle,
I shall have peace someday.
So here to serenity is rooted in surety. A Surety that knows the victory is already won, and though the news has not yet leaked out, it will soon be clear for all to see.
Here then is a kind of source-text for greater serenity. If we can remember that God is tender, tried and true, triumphant and trustworthy, we can be well assured that greater serenity will be ours. This serenity is crucial for us who would fight the battles necessary today. Serenity will preserve us from wild flaying actions, and imprudent and hasty actions. Serenity helps us to be well rested, even in the storm, as was Jesus in the boat on the storm-tossed sea. Having rebuked the storm he turns to his disciples as asks, “Why were you afraid?”