Some days, the words don’t want to come. Some days I sit, fingers poised above the keyboard, staring with a growing sense of panicked futility, willing myself to fill the empty page.
There’s so much going on, but I have moments when I just don’t want to face it. To read the news is to submit to a form of scourging, each story seemingly more disheartening than the last. As Catholics, we have reached a moment in history when we’re losing almost every battle. The problems we face now have been in development for longer than any of us have been alive. They’re big. They’re widespread. They’re humanly insurmountable.
We can fight — and we should fight — but on our own, we don’t stand a chance. Who are we before the forces now battling for our world? Most of us — at least those of us who have faith — already know this. On some level, we are aware of the smallness of our efforts; of our dependency on our Creator.
But sometimes, we need to be reminded.
Two nights ago, I witnessed a thunderstorm of indescribable power. I’ve lived through hurricanes and tropical storms and derechos. I’ve seen trees come down and watched winds tear across the land faster than I’ve ever driven a car.
But this….this was different.
There was rain and there was wind, but they were not so unusual. It was the lightning. The thunder. These came non-stop, so frequent and so insistently that it was like witnessing some celestial strobe. At least one flash per second, each with its corresponding resonant BOOM. Once it began, it seemed as though it might never end. Flash lightning soon changed to the striking kind, hammer blows landing amongst the trees with disconcerting ferocity, each lash like a whip-crack that split the midnight air. It woke my wife and some of the usually sound-sleeping children. The dog, uncharacteristically, cried out, and fearfully leapt up into our bed. I love thunderstorms, but this one…unnerved me. As I sat by the window and watched the heavens unleash their fury, I was struck with a thought:
God is very angry.
I’ve seen storms that were beautiful manifestations of nature. I’ve seen others that gave me the distinct impression they were the work of a more sinister power (and in those cases, I’ve found a certain prayer to be particularly effective in calming them.) But this was not like either. This was raw, unfettered potency. I found myself praying for protection during the storm, preoccupied with lightning strikes that might fell the towering oaks that ring our home. In the midst of my prayer, I realized that I was not asking God to shield us from some outside force, but from His own. I was not pleading for protection, but rather seeking mercy. Mercy, because I had no right to oppose Him, His righteous anger, or His will. As we belong to Him, so He can do with us as He pleases.
After a half hour or so, the storm passed over us, to my relief. But our passage through the storm unharmed reminded me of those times when the world has not fared so well. Wasn’t this what it was like this when a people faces Divine Retribution? I thought of the deluge. The smiting of Babel. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The plagues of Egypt. In each case, I could imagine, it started out almost innocently. A change in the color of the sky. The distant rumble of thunder. Some seemingly natural occurrence that quickly showed itself to be anything but. As each event intensified, there would have been a tipping point. A moment of realization when people knew that what they were witnessing was entirely out of the ordinary.
And by then, there would be nothing they could do.
As man’s knowledge and technology has grown, we have come to feel as though we possess an exaggerated power over nature. The dominion we have over the earth, however, is something delegated to us, and it can be taken away. How easily and unexpectedly we can be swept up in the infinite tide of God’s inexorable power. In every earthquake, in every tsunami or volcanic eruption, we see the impotence of man’s attempts to resist forces beyond his control.
We catch glimpses of this, quiet reminders of our infinitessimilitude, as we sit on a coastline, staring out across the crashing waves into the unfathomable depths, or at the crest of a mountain, where we perch like some insect atop the teeth of the world before the setting of our distant sun. Who has not experienced these things? Who among us has not felt infinitely small and insignificant as we have stood in the cool, crisp air of a dark night and gazed in wonder at a galaxy painted bright with countless dazzling stars?
Who, also, has not felt dwarfed by God’s unseen magnificence, kneeling in rapt silence amidst the stillness of an early morning Mass? Who has not marveled as the veil of time and space is pierced, and there, held aloft, miraculously behold the sacrifice of Calvary, the very fabric of the universe transcended by the love of a God who stares back at his adoring children through the veil of a consecrated host?
We face great challenges in these times. Challenges that we are not equipped to overcome. Many of us wonder how much longer God will tolerate our wretchedness. Some even long for His justice to be visited upon the corruption of our race. We look upon the hardened hearts of men and see impossibility, but we must not discount the opportunity for miracles.
Yesterday, I spoke words of condolence to a friend who had just lost his grandfather. And he told me of a miracle, a story of deathbed conversion from a man who had stubbornly resisted God’s grace for the better part of a century. My friend’s utter surprise was only outmatched by his sense of profound gratitude and joy.
“I’m teling you, it was Our Lady’s intercession.” He told me, as my eyes filled with tears. We talked of how amidst the great darkness now covering the Earth, Our Lord and His Blessed Mother are still snatching souls from the jaws of Hell.
It is natural for us to wish to see an end to the scandals of our age, but it is not for us to choose the moment. It is not for us to understand the mind of God.
His power is made manifest in countless ways, not just through force, but love. He holds the very universe in existence, every atom of the physical realm counted, and positively willed. He will do with us what He wants, when He wants, and when the time comes, and just as when we find ourselves overtaken by the awesome power of a summer storm, there will be nothing for us to do but surrender to it, to Him, in worship and in supplication.
No matter how difficult, we must embrace the uncertainty of trusting in His plan when we know not where it leads or what we will endure along the way. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) But we will see that He does not delay His intervention in vain; every moment of existence is accounted for. If we let go and embrace His desire, we will discover something essential: the profound peace that comes in powerlessness before a loving God.