Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Blessings of Uncertainty

Foreclosures and unemployment are becoming the norm. People are concerned about the future of the country. Obamacare is here to stay; so it seems. And I suspect that if the U.S. economy suffers from the so-called “financial cliff” we keep hearing about, many more Americans will be riddled uncertainty.

Many late twentieth and early twenty-first century Americans enjoyed the security of a predictable tomorrow. Chances are they had a job they could count on, food in the fridge, a near-by school for their children and a house to take refuge in. In an emergency, medical assistance came to be more accessible. In fact, during these years life got so good that hunger and death were not an everyday phenomenon as it once was. With such favorable conditions, people were more apt to rest secure. Their vulnerability and even mortality was less felt.

As for most of our American ancestors, however, such as the pilgrims and pioneers, no such security and certainty existed. Even as late as the 1930’s my grandparents lived through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression in Kansas. Where the next meal was coming from, they didn’t always know. Indeed, those who laid the foundation for America, and help build it up, lived in an environment of great uncertainty. With that uncertainty, however, a reliance on Divine Providence was fostered. Faith in God was not so much a luxury as it was a necessity in order to process the possibility of real loss.

From our American ancestors we turn to two of the greatest ancestors of the Catholic Faith: The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. If the Holy Family is prototype of what every family should be like under God’s guidance, then the trials and the arduous circumstances in which they worked out their salvation ought to be content for our mediation. And what we find with the events surrounding the birth of Christ- before and after –is a series of gut wrenching trials that rendered the next day- and even the next moment -ever so uncertain for that young holy couple.

Due to Roman census, St. Joseph not only had to leave his home in Nazareth but his employment and income as well. He had to register the Holy Family in Bethlehem; about a two day journey from his residence. Upon arriving in the town of Bethlehem on Christmas night, the Lord did not lay out the red carpet of special treatment; as many think He would. Instead, St. Joseph was met with even more uncertainty as he desperately tried to find room and board for Mary and the soon-to-be born Christ child. Eventually, the Holy Family made their way in the outer skirts of Bethlehem at an abandoned grotto. It was there that the Savior would be welcomed into the world.

As tough as this was, the hardest trial was yet to come. Soon after the birth of Our Lord, St. Joseph was instructed by an angel flee to Egypt for safety. After all, King Herod had dispatched his soldiers to kill the new born Messiah. And off the Holy Family went during the night. The interesting thing is, the angel did not say how long they would have to stay there. All he said was that they were to “stay there until I tell you.” Now, if you can imagine the practical concerns and anxieties this would cause St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. There were to go and live in a foreign country. Early Christians have them staying in Egypt anywhere from two and half years to seven years.

In any event, St. Joseph and Blessed Mary had to totally rely on God for their safety, food, employment and housing. During their sojourn in Egypt, these things were by no means guaranteed. And yet these are the very things that a struggling economy renders uncertain for thousands, if not millions, of families in 2012. Yet, there is something even stronger than the guarantee of safety, food, employment and housing; and that is the inner freedom and joy of the soul that is inspired by faith. A man who knew suffering and what it meant to be on the brink of death a number of times was St. Paul. Yet, he managed to transcend the usual worries about what tomorrow would bring and even the natural fear of death. He wrote to the Philippians,

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God…I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

It is a child-like trust in an all-loving but all-powerful Father that enables a person to enjoy peace even in the midst of adversity and uncertainty. This habitual dependence on Divine Providence and the security it brings can only be had through spiritual childhood. In our grown up years, we tend to have a lot of nostalgia about our childhood years. It was when life was simple and carefree. Perhaps, there was a certain happiness in that life because we knew that we needed mom and dad’s help; and we didn’t seem to care.

That kind of dependence is what our Lord encouraged when he said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Regarding this childlike disposition, Fr. Edward Leen writes this:

“Confidingness is the permanent quality of the child spirit. The little one does not fret against, or resent, its dependence…It depends on them [the parents] as naturally as it breathes. There is in the child a complete absence of self-consciousness or reflecting back on itself…Its life is grappled to a life outside its own…This transition of the center of gravity of its existence outside of itself is the source of utter confidence and fearlessness…It is in striking contrast to the subjectivity and self-preoccupation that marks the adult. That life is not calculating.”

This childlike disposition towards our heavenly Father not only is a condition upon which we enter into the kingdom of heaven, it is a virtue that can get us through the greatest uncertainties of life. In fact, it is in times of uncertainty that faith and trust can truly reach perfection. This is why we can even count loss as a blessing.