Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (4th Epiphany)—2 November AD 2008
On Divine Providence
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“What manner of man is this that the sea
and the winds obey Him?”
Today's Gospel is a very comforting one.
The See of Genesreth (or Tiberias, or Galilee, depending upon who is referring
to it) is a good sized body of water, and when the conditions are rough, it is
much like being out in the ocean. Jesus had just been preaching in the
area around Capharnaum – we would have read about this last week had it
not been the feast of Christ the King—he healed a leper, and the servant of
the centurion. He also cured St. Peter's mother-in-law of a dangerous
fever. And now they were going to head south, across the Sea, and move to
the area of Naim.
Our Lord was tired, and so He found a
place in the back of the boat and went to sleep, while his disciples—who were
supposed to be accomplished fishermen—took care of the navigation. But,
a storm came up quickly, not allowing them to seek safe harbor, and they thought
that they were going to go down with the boat.
Our Lord was, of course, able to calm
the wind and the sea—because He is the author of Divine Providence.
That's an important term for us:
“Divine Providence.” Essentially, what it means is that since God
created all the things in the universe and keeps them in existence, He is the
one who plans how they will all work together to fulfill His purposes. And
we know that His purposes include our glorifying Him, and being happy with Him
in eternity. Therefore, we have it on Faith in God that He will provide
the things necessary for us to achieve these goals. God puts the fruit on
the trees and the crops in the field; God gives us the grace to be holy through
But let's be clear about what Divine
Providence is not. It is a very serious mistake to think that our reliance
on Providence should cause us to do nothing for ourselves. God only gives
us the essentials, and expects us to make what we can of them. It would be
foolish to think that we can expect Providence to put food in the refrigerator,
or to pay the rent, or to put clothing in our closets, without any effort on our
part. It would be similarly foolish for us to expect our salvation without
making the effort that is required to stay out of trouble, to keep the
Commandments, or without making the effort to pray and receive the Sacraments
frequently. Today's epistle is pretty clear about that.
Now, we know from Sacred Scripture that
God does occasionally work major miracles—but we should also know that we have
no right to expect them. The minor miracles He works all the time are all
that we can assume will be granted to us—minor miracles like the seeds
sprouting, and the food that we eat turning into our flesh and blood—for those
are truly miracles in themselves.
Unless they fit into His larger plan,
God is not going to work major miracles for us. He probably won't alter
the universe just because we ask Him to. He expects us to care for our own
needs, to the best of our abilities. We can expect that our life will
contain some disappointments. And when it is our time, God will probably
let us die.
There is nothing wrong with praying, and
asking God's help—even asking for major miracles—but we must make our own
efforts too—and we must be resigned to the idea that God's judgment must
prevail. Our prayers should always include the idea that “Thy will be
done”—not just our own will.
This is also true in connection with the
salvation of our souls. We can expect God's graces because He has promised
them to us. But we can't expect to be able to do much with those graces if
we don't respond to them by loving God, and by loving our neighbor, and by
keeping the Commandments.
And, our efforts have to be sincere.
Don't expect to earn eternal salvation just by wearing the scapular, or the
miraculous medal, or carrying a rosary around in your pocket. Those things
only work if by reminding us of God; they cause us to draw closer to Him.
For them to work we must make use of them with the intention of becoming holy.
Indeed, it would be seriously sinful to treat them as a sort of magic charm that
will work without human effort.
Even the Sacraments, which do cause the
graces which they signify, depend to some degree on the intentions of those
receiving them. For example, there is clearly a difference between one
person receiving Holy Communion without any consideration of what It is, and
another person receiving It full of love for Jesus Christ which It contains.
Likewise, the difference between an indifferent Confession, and one filled with
sorrow for sin.
It is the sin of presumption to assume
that God will provide for those unwilling to do for themselves.
But, none of these things should be
understood in a negative light. God never gives us more than we can bare.
He never takes our eternal well-being out of our grasp. Indeed, there is a
Divine Providence—and although His major miracles are relatively rare, He does
work His minor miracles in a virtually continuous fashion, giving us the
building blocks out of which we can build our life here on earth, for His
greater glory—and out of which we can build our salvation, for our eternal