During breakfast, I learn from the morning paper:
• that there are about 118,000 vacancies for registered nurses in the United States;
• that the baby of a pregnant woman has died after his mother was kidnapped and set on fire;
• that soldiers in the army of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, had been known to eat the hearts of enemies they had killed;
• that the world food supply is dwindling.
Then I remember that on Christmas we are going to hear that the angels proclaimed, some 2000 years ago: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” We might well wonder what happened.
Standing boldly against the daily news reports is the testimony of some of our wise Christian thinkers and mystics, for example:
Josef Pieper (a 20th century follower of Saint Thomas Aquinas), writes in Happiness and Contemplation.
How splendid is water, a rose, a tree, an apple, a human face—such exclamations can scarcely be spoken without also giving tongue to an assent and affirmation which extends beyond the object praised and touches upon the origin of the universe. Who among us has not suddenly looked into his child’s face, in the midst of the toils and troubles of everyday life, and at that moment “seen” that everything which is good, is loved and lovable, loved by God! Such certainties all mean, at bottom, one and the same thing: that the world is plumb and sound; that everything comes to its appointed goal; that in spite of all appearances, underlying all things is—peace, salvation, gloria; that nothing and no one is lost; that “God holds in his hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is.” [Plato, Laws, 715e.]
In the 14th century, Julian of Norwich hears the consoling and mysterious words:
Sin is behovely [fitting, useful], but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
And surpassing all other testimony is that of our own beloved Scriptures:
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. (Psalm 138:8)
Which is true?
Is the world an irredeemable mess where sin and sorrow are the ultimate truth?
Or is the promise of peace and goodwill on earth true? Can I believe that God will fulfill the divine purpose for me and that everything comes to its appointed goal?
We read in the gospel that the kingdom of God is among us. But we are also told to pray for the coming of the kingdom of God. We know that Jesus is here with us — and yet we still call out, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
The problem is that we live in the mystery of the already and the not yet; and this is so both in our own personal lives and in the world around us.
Nevertheless, I believe that at times God gives us the grace to glimpse the already through the not yet. We may glimpse it in terms of goodness, like the Cenacle co-founder Saint Therese Couderc — or as love, for example, or beauty, or the perfection of all things.
At the heart of things, all is in God’s hand. Christ has not only come but has died and is risen. God is sovereign; goodness triumphs.
Does this mean that we can ignore the evils we see around us? That we can say, for example, that since God is sovereign and goodness is triumphant, we don’t have to do anything about the state of our planet and our society? That we can concern ourselves with satisfying the ego, and let all else go?
Paul also struggled with this question: “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”
He answers his own question: “By no means!” (Romans 6:1)
God’s plan does triumph, but just as we are called to be participants in the divine life, we also have a role in the divine mission. We pray for our own sinful and divided hearts to be purified. We work to end violence, injustice, poverty, homelessness, and pain. But we do not despair, either because of our own weakness and sinfulness or because of the state of the world, for once again, Jesus has come among us, has died and is risen. God has triumphed — in us as well as in creation as a whole.
We claim as our own the vision of Isaiah, who saw that:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid…
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.