I wonder all the time about the lack of good news, and so do many of our readers. A great many news stories focus on bad news. If Fr. John Smith says we should pray daily, that is a good thing but it would rarely qualify as “News”. But if Fr. Smith said, “Don’t waste time on prayer—spend your time feeding the hungry” it is a bad thing that is likely to be picked up and reported, even by those who do not know it is bad. We face this dilemma all the time. We are so used to reporting and commenting on the jarring stories, that it can create an incomplete impression of our lives within the Church.
Some are discouraged by this, and may even tune it out for their own good.
We are all navigating through a time of widespread secularization and even apostasy right within the Church. Sometimes the strain of swimming against this powerful current can make us forget that there are still plenty of other currents within the Church that we can swim with. There are a great many things wrong, and we ought to know what is wrong. But if we do not also immerse ourselves in what is good, we risk becoming cranks or slipping into disillusion and despair. The old expression is still true: If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
That is why I was delighted to see a story on the front page of our diocesan newspaper (Arlington) about a growing association of women around the world who, in groups of seven, offer holy hours for particular priests each and every day of the week. This apostolate is called Seven Sisters. A related group of men has also sprung up to support both Seven Sisters and the priests. Called the Fasting Brothers, these men operate in groups of six, with each one fasting one day a week, excluding Sundays.
The article I read also referred to groups called Elijah’s Helpers (praying for unnamed struggling priests) and LampBearers (praying for the overall success of Catholic ministry), but I could not find contact information for these groups. By contrast, Seven Sisters is very well-established, having been founded ten years ago by Janette Howe of St. Paul, Minnesota, and now involving more than 3,000 groups comprising over 22,000 women in 28 countries on six continents.
It is astonishing. It is good news.
The Economy of Salvation
Of course this brings us to another challenge. It is not just news coverage that is depressing. The cultures within which we live really are generally deteriorating in our time. For those who care, this is a cross, and it can be quite a discouraging cross: “No matter what I do, things continue to slide downhill.” And the hill grows ever steeper with the descent, until many go over the edge of a cliff. Sometimes we can feel as if we are grasping and crawling and dragging ourselves (and, yes, the whole world) upward, but merely at a pace that slows the inexorable slide and delays the inevitable plummet.
Our whole world is affected, including our friends, relatives and even our own children. We pray, we sacrifice, we strain, we may even cry, but does anything change?
This is a distinct challenge. As the inspired author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Moreover, after he says this, he provides a litany of trials and even disasters experienced by the great figures in ancient Jewish history through their faith, concluding: “And all these, though well-attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40).
What was promised is Jesus Christ, who has now come, but who in a different way remains still a promise to each of us. We only rarely get to see the results of our prayers and sacrifices in this life, and that has always been true, as much for our ancestors as for ourselves. But what we know by faith is simply this: In the economy of salvation, no prayer or sacrifice goes unused; each and every prayer and sacrifice wins special grace that Our Lord will apply when and where it will do the most good. This may be sooner or later; it may help one person or another; it may come only in the process of dying. Indeed, the prayers we offer and the good we do may bear fruit in God’s Providence only in times, places and manners well beyond our understanding.
But the prayers we say and the sacrifices we offer will certainly bear fruit, despite our not usually knowing when or how. We all waste many opportunities for spiritual growth, and of course some more than others, though we can serve as neither judge nor jury on that question. It is almost impossible for us to understand that no prayer or sacrifice is ever wasted. That is what makes it a matter of faith. In all things we must do what we can but, having done that, as the saying goes, we must let go and let God. The delivery of the goods, so to speak, is His responsibility, not ours.
The point is that we should never want it to be any other way—though of course I know that we do. We have our own intentions, even our own passionate intentions. When it comes to a parent, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a child, a dear friend, or even a favorite cause, we want to be assured of the outcome. But the only way we could be assured of the outcome we desire is to live in a universe that we control. I hope that everyone who reads these words is aware of what a disaster that would be. Each of us already deserves to be separated from God for all eternity because of our sins, yet we are not separated. If mercy is shown to us (who so often need it far more than we think), we must trust also that it will be shown to all others (even if they think they do not need it at all). Nonetheless, salvation itself must still be accepted.
Sorry, but this is the nature of faith and of grace. I mean that it can neither exist nor do its work in a universe without free will. It is true that the author of Hebrews is referring in one important sense to the Old Covenant situation, in which those who lived by faith may never have had the opportunity to know of Christ’s coming into the world. But it is also true that we are in a similar case with respect to faith: It remains “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
Seven Sisters, Fasting Brothers, our own prayers, our own sacrifices: May we multiply them all in absolute confidence, trusting God the only way we can: In Faith.
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