Abiding in Peace
There are different ways of saying good-by. When a Roman wished to say good-by, he said, "Be well, be strong"; a Greek would say, "Be happy"; a Frenchman, a German and an Italian say, "Until I see you again." Actually what the word good-by means is "God be with you." St. Paul always said good-by through the word rejoice, or "be happy in the Lord." It was more than a wish; it was an exhortation. Our modern way of saying it would be, "Be cheerful in the Lord."
Cheerfulness is that quality which enables one to make others happy. It takes its origin half in personal goodness, and half in the belief of the personal goodness of others. It is the opposite of the morbid, the morose, the fretful, the grumbling, the somber.
But on the other hand, cheerfulness is not necessarily mirth. Mirth is short and transient, while cheerfulness is fixed and permanent. Mirth is like a flash of lightning; cheerfulness, like daylight. A merry person laughs, a cheerful person smiles. Mirth always requires the companionship of others to feed upon— social excitement, noise, jests, wisecracks, stories; but cheerfulness exists even when one is alone. That is why cheerful people very often sing to themselves.
The cheerful person always sees in any present evil some prospective good; in pain he sees a Cross from which will issue a Resurrection; in trial, he finds correction and discipline and an opportunity to grow in wisdom; in sorrow, he gathers patience and resignation to the Will of God. In all things, there is thankfulness.
Cheer may be natural, in which case it springs from an inborn vitality and zest of living. Even those who lack it can cultivate it to some extent, as marching music lessens fatigue. But there is another kind of cheerfulness which is Divine in origin. St. Paul bade others to have it as believing in God. This counsel he spoke to others in the midst of a storm at sea, promising them relief and rescue without loss of life. This kind of cheerfulness is found in Francis of Assisi, who expressed the joy of grace in his soul by song. St. Teresa of Avila, who lived a life of great penance, was wont to pour out her joy in that inner world of spirituality by clapping her hands and dancing in the Spanish style. In the history of the world there never has been a sad saint, because sanctity and sadness are opposites.
Helping others is not only the cause of cheerfulness, but also the fuel which keeps it burning. As Helen Keller, seeing through blindness, wrote, "Join the great company of those who make the barren places of life fruitful with kindness. The great enduring realities are love and service. Joy is the only fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy shall form an invincible host against difficulty."
Paul and Silas sang in prison at midnight. And the only recorded time in the life of Our Blessed Lord that He ever sang was the night that He went out to His Death, which He called His Glory. I have met hundreds of missionaries who have survived death marches, who were tortured, brain-washed, starved and beaten by Communists, but I have never met one who said an evil word against those who did them wrong. They had no pleasure in what was done to them, but they had joy, for that was the gift of God.
Returning now to St. Paul's way of saying good-by, namely, rejoice, he gives it a theological root. Having yielded the heart completely to Christ, he is at one with himself, and this harmony begets a joy that cannot be taken away.
A little girl who was not yet a Christian began to notice many pictures of Our Blessed Lord around the house when both her father and mother were converted. Her reflection was, "He always takes such a nice picture," Man of Sorrows though He was, "He rejoiced in spirit," and promised His followers that they would be partakers of His joy. We are made for His gladness and His cheerfulness, and we shall not be able to fulfill our destiny until we know how to be glad. Joy in the soul is nothing but the rising of the temperature on the thermometer of Divine Love.
Joy is not the same as pleasure or happiness. A wicked and evil man may have pleasure, while any ordinary mortal is capable of being happy. Pleasure generally comes from things, and always through the senses; happiness comes from humans through fellowship. Joy comes from loving God and neighbor.
Pleasure is quick and violent, like a flash of lightning. Joy is steady and abiding, like a fixed star. Pleasure depends on external circumstances, such as money, food, travel, etc. Joy is independent of them, for it comes from a good conscience and love of God. At the Last Supper, Our Lord told His Apostles to keep His commandments, that "my joy may remain in you." This joy is related to mobility of character. Many enjoy themselves, but few have joy in themselves.
The saint can be joyful in pain and persecution, as Paul and Silas sang in prison amidst their torture, and as did the three youths in the fiery furnace. Pleasure can come from one organ of the body, such as the pleasure of eating; great joys are not produced by a single key, but where all instruments and keys vibrate together in their exuberant and inspiring symphony of virtue. Pleasure satiates and eventually turns to revulsion. Joy, however, never satiates. It is not a smile on the lips, but in the eyes and in the heart.
I once had dinner with twenty-two bishops who had come out from behind the Iron Curtain to attend the Council. All of them had suffered various kinds of persecution. One had been subject to brain-washing, followed by four years of torture in a prison; then he was put on a train which was deliberately wrecked, both his hips being broken. Another man had gasoline poured over him and was set afire; another told me he lived with his eighty-six-year-old mother on a few vegetables that he could grow in the garden and can for future use. Never once did any one of them speak of his persecution unless I asked; never was there any bitterness; I never found twenty-two more joyful men. They made one think of the words Paul applied to Our Lord: "Having joy set before Him, He endured the Cross."
Happiness is that which happens, like digging an oil well and getting rich. The word fortune is closely related to this kind of happiness, for it comes from being fortunate. Joy, however, is not the bliss of a condition, e.g., being rich or eating well, but of character. It is in the soul itself and literally implies a leap or a spring. The soul has such springs of life awakened within it that it exults from joy from within. In the ultimate analysis, only saints are joyful.
The joy born of love of God enables us to see the world from an entirely different point of view. Before, when shackled to the ego, we were cooped up within the narrow walls of space and time. But once the chains are broken, one falls heir to immensities beyond all telling. Then we find our greatest joys not in the things we cling to, but in what we surrender; not in the asking for anything, but the giving of something; not in what others can do for us, but in what we can do for others. Joy comes from using well the talents the Lord gave us, from a sense of bliss at being redeemed by Our Lord, and being permitted to minister more entirely to His Glory.
Many people, having seen my "angel" clean my blackboard on television, will ask on meeting me, "How is your angel?" So, let us talk about angels and their role in our lives. But here we use the word angel in a very restricted sense—not as a spiritual invisible messenger, not a special illumination or a winged creature bearing a summons, not even as a vision or anything preternatural. By an angel we mean here any person or event that has changed the whole course of our life, influenced our behavior, made us turn right when we were about to turn left, and in general made us better. What lifts such a concept out of the natural order is that sooner or later it is seen as being an act of God.
Take, for instance, the story of young Tobias, who was sent by his father Tobit to the land of Media on a kind of economic mission. His mother was worried about sending the son on such a long journey, so she went out and found a guide, whose name was Raphael. Raphael not only protected Tobias from dangers and helped him to collect a debt, but even found a good wife for him. The Book of Tobias says, "Raphael was an angel, but he knew it not."
God sets many angels in our paths, but often we know them not; in fact, we may go through life never knowing that they were agents or messengers of God to lead us on to virtue, or to deter us from vice. But they symbolize that constant and benign intervention of God in the history of men, which stops us on the path to destruction or leads us to success or happiness and virtue.
God is generally operating behind secondary causes, like an anonymous benefactor. His direction of our lives is so hidden that most of us are unaware of how we were made an angel to help a neighbor, or how a neighbor was made an angel for us. When I finished college, I took an examination for a national scholarship worth several thousand dollars. I was anxious to complete my education by working to a Ph.D., but at the same time, ever since my earliest recollection, I had wanted to be a priest. Accepting the university scholarship would have meant postponing my call to the priesthood and maybe endangering it. During the summer vacation after college graduation, I visited our professor of philosophy and told him with great glee that I had won the university scholarship. He grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "Do you believe in God?" I told him the question was silly. But he challenged me, "But do you believe in God practically?" When I answered in the affirmative he said, "You know your duty. Go to the seminary now and begin studies for the priesthood. Tear up the scholarship."
But I protested, "Why cannot I work now for my Ph.D. and then go later to the seminary?"
He retorted, "If you make that sacrifice, I promise you that after your ordination to the priesthood you will receive a far better university education than before." I tore up the scholarship, followed my duty, and after ordination as a priest, I spent almost five years in graduate studies—most of them in some of the great universities of Europe. The professor was my angel. I saw it then, but I see it more clearly now.
Dr. Paul Tournier, who is one of the greatest of modern psychiatrists, says that for years his life was banal and confused, and never entrusted clearly to the guidance of God. Both he and his wife made such a commitment to Divine Guidance and found great happiness. As he put it in one of his books, "God led us step by step, from event to event. Only afterwards, as we look back over the way we have come and reconsider certain important moments in our lives in the light of what followed them, or when we survey the whole progress of our lives, do we experience the feeling of having been led without knowing it, the feeling that God has mysteriously guided us. We did not perhaps know it at the time. Time had to elapse to enable us to see it. But He opened the unexpected horizon to us."
Francis Thompson, speaking of the universality of this kind of angel, said, "Stir but a stone and start a wing." They are everywhere—good angels—only we do not recognize them as such. But the tragedy is that there are sometimes bad angels—they are evil persons who pull us down to vice. The world is a battlefield of angels.
The Eyes Of God
In pre-Christian times the word which the Greeks applied to God was theos. This word, it seems, was derived from the root theisthai, to see, because they regarded God as the all-seeing One. The eye which took in the whole universe at a glance was a knowledge beyond that of mortals. Still in the field of mythology, Nomus, one of the heathen gods, was said to have complained of Vulcan that he had not set a covering in every man's breast, but rather that he had placed a glazed window on the darkest houses of clay to see what is done in them when no one else can see.
Linnaeus, the famous naturalist, was so much impressed by the fact of God's seeing and knowing all that he wrote over the door of his laboratory the Latin words, "Innocui vivite; Numen adest"—"Live innocently; God is here." Phidias, the great Greek sculptor, when he had completed the reclining statue of Theseus, was told that the statue was to occupy an elevated position in the temple. Observing that the back of the masterpiece was as highly polished as the front, he was asked why such a waste of time and energy when no one would see whether it was well finished or not. The sculptor reverently replied, "Men may not see it, but the gods will."
There is a legend about a Jewish rabbi and the Emperoi Trajan, who presented the difficulty that God should he everywhere and yet not be seen by mortal eyes. "I should like to see Him," said Trajan.
The Rabbi answered, "God's Presence is indeed everywhere, but He cannot be seen. No mortal eye can behold His glory."
The Emperor insisted. Joshua then suggested that they go and look at one of God's ambassadors. The Emperor assented. The Rabbi took him into the open air at noonday, and bade him look at the sun blazing in noonday splendor.
"I cannot see," said Trajan, "the light dazzles me."
The Rabbi answered, "Thou art unable to bear the light of one of these creatures; how then couldst thou look upon the Creator? Would not such a light annihilate thee?"
Hagar, the Egyptian maid, was fleeing with her son Ishmael from the wrath of Sara. She called the name of the Lord Who spoke to her: "Thou, God, seest me." This eye of God is not to be thought of as an eye searching out our evil deeds. It is also a source of consolation, for it means that the Father's eye is filled with compassion, knowing all the trouble of our spirit, our hopes and our aspirations—even our failures.
What is it, however, in human nature which makes us feel that God always sees the bad things we do and rarely the good things? This makes God a kind of policeman, a moral certified accountant who writes only with red ink and never with black; not the God Who so loved man that He would send His Son as the Good Samaritan to take poor, weak, fallen human nature to the inn of refreshment and recovery. It is rather the evil which men do which makes them attribute this kind of detective eye to God. It is the deliberate wrong which makes us see God as Revengeful Justice.
From another point of view, God sees not the superficial self, but the real self; not the mask which we are wearing, but the heart behind it. The mask is that presentation we make to others in which we are careful to ignore or excuse all that is evil or faulty in us, and to magnify all that is good. How many would be willing to hide behind a hedge and hear their faults and failings described with accuracy by a neighbor? We would complain that it was not a real description of our mask. God's eye is fixed not on the phantom, but on him who creates it; not on the ideal, but on the actual.
The amazing thing is that God Who sees the series of our years gone by, as well as the marks that we have left upon our character, still loves us. This is really the truth of God's eye. He sees us with a Father's eye and loves us, wanderers though we may be, with a Father's heart.
The Tenderness And Power
Pascal said there were two things that frightened him. One was his own heart; the other, the silence of the eternal spheres, Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, held that the two things which awed him were the moral law within his breast and the starry firmament above. There has always been a tendency in literature to put these two together, and with a certain justice, for only a Power great enough to control the heavens could ever solace the individual heart.
The Hebrew psalmist was the forerunner of those who set in contrast the Providence of God, which was powerful enough to control the collective planets of the universe, and yet careful enough not to neglect the burden that weighed on a single heart. "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He tells the number of the stars; He gives them all their names."
There is hardly any physician or psychiatrist or friend who, in the face of a broken heart, would immediately think of countless stars or, contemplating the starry encampment of night, would ever think of the loneliness of the human breast. These are the two extremes which only great minds ever fit into one thought, namely, the bleeding heart and the fiery stars.
We lose the sense of the hour in studying history, and we forget the rolling scroll of history in the problem of an hour. It is the nature, however, of Divine Love to assure man that He Who takes care of the great universe is the only One to Whom man can trust his life. The sovereign balm for every wounded heart comes only from Him from Whose fingertips there tumbled planets and worlds. Many a man has felt his helplessness and loneliness beneath the stars, and yet Scripture says that star counting and heart healing go together.
There is a tendency today to believe that because the universe is far greater than we suspected, God perhaps is less perfect than we believed. This is part of the bad logic of Americans who Judge the value of everything by its size. The truer point of view is that the greater the universe, the more certain man is to have his fretful mind lifted up to the thought of God's eternal Presence and Power. Then too, the fact that we unite the planets and the heart is proof that the sorrows of this life are not nearly as akin to earth as they are to heaven. Sadness of human hearts cannot be explained by any philosopher on this earth, but only by Him Who is powerful enough to make the stars and Who holds the secret of healing in His Own Divine Heart.
One finds the concretion and personalization of this relationship between hearts and stars in the contemplation of the Infinite God Who took upon Himself a human nature, and yet could be solicitous of one lost sheep, a woman taken in sin, a blind man, a thief and a broken-hearted widow following the body of her only son. It is not just sympathy that we need, but the consciousness that we are in the strong hands of the Lord of all. God is not remote from the little life down here on earth. We may ask how He could miss us from the fold when He is shepherding all the heavenly hosts. The answer is that God can find no room for His pity and no response to His love, nothing to bend over and heal and bless, except in our hearts. He Who holds all the nations in the palm of His hand is, nevertheless, the God of "Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob." How often we say that it is very often the busiest person who is willing to help an individual. This is nothing but a confirmation that He Who made the Heavens and lived for mankind spoke His tenderest Love when His audience was one listener. Everyone else is too weak to heal a broken heart. He alone can do it Who counts the stars.
This item 1429 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org