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Chapter Three Confidence in God and Our Temporal Necessities
Seeking First the Kingdom of God and His Justice
“Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
It was thus that the Saviour concluded the discourse on Providence. Aconsoling conclusion, it includes a conditional promise; it depends on us to be benefited by it. The Lord will occupy Himself all the more with our interests when we concern ourselves with His interests.
It behoves us to stop and meditate on the words of the Master.
A question immediately arises: Where is the kingdom of God, which we must seek before all else?
“Within you,” the Gospel answers. “Regnum Dei intra vos est.”5
To seek the kingdom of God is, then, to erect a throne for Him in our souls, to submit ourselves entirely to His sovereign dominion. Let us keep all of our faculties under the merciful sceptre of the Most High. Let our intelligence be mindful of His constant presence; let our will conform itself in everything with His adorable will; let our hearts fly to Him frequently in acts of ardent and sincere charity. Then we shall have practised that “justice” which, in the words of the Scriptures, signifies the perfection of the interior life.
We shall have followed to the letter the counsel of the Master; we shall have sought the kingdom of God.
“And all these things shall be added unto you.”
There is, here, a kind of bilateral contract: On our part we work for the glory of the heavenly Father; on His part, the Father commits Himself to provide for our necessities.
“Cast thy care upon the Lord.” Fulfil the contract that He proposes to you; He will fulfil the given word. He will watch over you, and “He will sustain you.”6
“Think of Me,” said the Saviour to Saint Catherine of Siena, “and I will think of thee.” And, centuries later, in the convent of Paray, He promised Saint Margaret Mary that those particularly devoted to the Sacred Heart would have success in their undertakings.
Happy the Christian who conforms well to this maxim of the Gospel! He seeks God, and God looks after his interests with His omnipotence; what can be lacking to him? “The Lord ruleth me; and I shall want nothing.”7
Practice the solid interior virtues, and thus avoid all disorder: the faults and vices that are the most common causes of failure and ruin.
Praying for Our Temporal Necessities
Confidence, as we have just been describing it, does not take away from us the obligation of prayer. In our temporal necessities, it is not enough for us to await the assistance of God; we must also ask Him for it.
Jesus Christ left us the perfect model of prayer. Therein He makes us ask for our “daily bread”: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
In regard to this obligation of prayer, is there not possibly frequent negligence on our part? What imprudence and what foolishness! We deprive ourselves, out of levity, of the protection of God, the only supremely efficacious one.
The Capuchins, the legend says, never die of hunger because they always piously recite the Our Father. Let us imitate them, and the Most High will not leave us wanting in our necessities. Let us ask, then, for our daily bread. It is an obligation imposed on us by faith and by charity to ourselves.
Can we raise our pretensions, however, and also ask for riches? Nothing is opposed to this, as long as this plea is inspired by supernatural motives and we stay fully submissive to the will of God. The Lord does not prohibit the expression of our desires; on the contrary, He wishes us to be quite open with Him. Let us not expect, however, that He bend to our fantasies; the very Divine Goodness itself is opposed to this. God knows what is good for us. And He will concede to us the goods of the earth only if they can serve for our sanctification.
Let us hand ourselves over completely to the direction of Providence, saying the prayer of the wise man: “Remove far from me vanity, and lying words. Give me neither beggary, nor riches; give me only the necessaries of life. Lest perhaps being filled, I should be tempted to deny, and say: ‘Who is the Lord?’ or being compelled by poverty, I should steal, and forswear the name of my God.”8
Footnotes to Chapter 3
“Ideo dico vobis, ne solliciti sitis animae vestrae quid manducetis, neque corpori vestro quid induamini. Nonne anima plus est quam esca, et corpus plus quam vestimentum? “Respicite volatilia caeli, quoniam non serunt, neque metunt, neque congregant in horrea, et Pater vester caelestis pascit illa. Nonne vos magis pluris estis illis? “Et de vestimento quid solliciti estis? Considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt: non laborant neque nent. Dico autem vobis quoniam nec Salomon in omni gloria sua coopertus est sicut unum ex istis. Si autem foenum agri, quod hodie est et cras in clibanum mittitur,Deus sic vestit: quanto magis vos modicae fidei! “Nolite ergo solliciti esse, dicentes: Quid manducabimus, aut quid bibemus, aut quo operiemur? Haec enim omnia gentes inquirunt. Scit enim Pater vester, quia his omnibus indigetis. “Quaerite ergo primum regnum Dei et justitiam ejus, et haec omnia adjicientur vobis.” Matt. 6:25-26 and 28-33.
Petits Bollandistes, vol. 8, July 18.
“Numquid poterit Deus parare mensam in deserto?… Numquid et panem poterit dare aut parare mensam populo suo? Et ignis accensus est in Jacob, et ira ascendit in Israel, quia non crediderunt in Deo, nec speraverunt in salutari ejus.” Ps. 77:19-22.
“Jacta super Dominum curam tuam, et ipse to enutriet.” Ps. 54:23.
“Dominus regit me, et nihil deerit.” Ps. 22:1.
“Mendicitatem et divitias ne dederis mihi: tribue tantum victui meo necessaria; ne forte satiatus illiciar ad negandum, et dicam: Quis est Dominus? aut egestate compulsus furer, et perjurem nomen Dei mei.” Prov. 30:8-9.
Chapter Three Confidence in God and Our Temporal Necessities
We Must Not Trouble Ourselves about the Future
God provides for our necessities.
“Be not solicitous,” says Our Lord. What is the exact sense of this counsel? In order to obey the directions of the Master, must we completely neglect our temporal affairs?
We do not doubt that, at times, grace asks from certain souls the sacrifice required by strict poverty and total abandonment to Providence.
Nevertheless, the rarity of these vocations is notable. The others, be they religious communities or individuals, have goods; they must manage them prudently.
The Holy Ghost praises the strong woman who knows how to govern her house well. In the Book of Proverbs, He shows her to us rising very early to distribute to her servants their daily tasks and working with her own hands as well. Nothing escapes her watchfulness. The members of her household have nothing to fear. Thanks to her foresight, they shall have what is necessary, agreeable, and even, to a certain extent, moderately luxurious. Her children proclaim her blessed, and her husband exalts her virtues.2
The Truth would not have praised that woman so warmly if she had not fulfilled her obligations.
It behoves us, then, not to afflict ourselves. We must occupy ourselves reasonably with our obligations, not allowing ourselves to be dominated by anguish over the sombre prospects of the future, and counting without hesitation on the aid of Divine Providence.
Have no illusions! Such confidence demands great strength of soul. We have to avoid a double shoal: an excess and a deficiency. On the one hand, he who, from negligence, takes no interest in his obligations and affairs cannot hope for extraordinary help from God without tempting Him. On the other hand, he who gives his material concerns the first place in his thoughts, who counts more upon himself than upon God, deceives himself even more crassly; he robs the Most High of the place in his life that belongs to Him.
“In medio stat virtus”: Between these two extremes duty is found.
If we have taken prudent care of our interests, to be afflicted about the future would amount to ignoring and despising the power and the goodness of God.
During the long years Saint Paul the Hermit lived in the desert, a crow brought him a half loaf of bread every day. One day Saint Anthony came to visit the illustrious solitary. The two saints conversed for a long time, forgetting during their pious meditations the necessity for food. But Providence thought of them: The crow came, this time carrying a whole loaf.
The heavenly Father created the whole universe with one single word; can it be difficult for Him to assist His sons in their hour of need? Saint Camillus of Lellis went into debt in order to help the sick poor. Seeing this, his fellow religious became alarmed. “Why doubt Providence?” the Saint quieted them. “Can it be difficult for Our Lord to give us a little of those goods that He heaps upon the Jews and the Turks, enemies one and the other of our Faith?”3 The confidence of Camillus was not disappointed; one month later, one of his protectors, upon dying, left him a considerable sum.
To be afflicted about the future constitutes a lack of confidence that offends God and provokes His anger.
When the Hebrews became lost in the sands of the desert after their flight from Egypt, they forgot the miracles that the Lord had worked in their favour. They were afraid and murmured: “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?… Can He also give bread, or provide a table for His people?” These words angered the Lord. He hurled down fire from heaven upon them; His wrath fell over Israel, “because they believed not in God: and trusted not in His salvation.”4
There is no need to be afflicted; the Father watches over us.
Chapter Three Confidence in God and Our Temporal Necessities
God Provides According to the Situation of Each One
Should we take these words literally and understand them in their most restricted sense?Will God give us only that which is strictly necessary: a piece of dry bread, a glass of water, a bit of cloth that our misery urgently requires? No, the heavenly Father does not treat His sons with avaricious frugality. To think thus would be to blaspheme against the Divine Goodness, and, if I may say so, to be ignorant of His ways. In the exercise of His providence, as well as in His created works, God indeed employs great prodigality.
When He spread the world out through space, He drew thousands of stars out of nothing. In the Milky Way, that immense region of luminous nights, is not every grain of sand a world?
When He feeds the birds, He invites them to the most opulent table of nature. He offers them the ear-filled corn, the grains of all kinds that mature on the plants, the fruits from the autumn woods, the seeds that the farmers scatter in the furrows. What a varied list going on to infinity for the nourishment of these humble little creatures!
When He created vegetation, with what grace did He decorate its flowers! He made a crown for them inlaid with precious jewels; He put fragrant perfumes in their chalices; He spun their petals of silk, so brilliant and delicate that the artifices of industry will never equal their beauty.
And, then, when it is a question of man, His masterpiece, the adoptive brother of the Word Incarnate, would not God show Himself to be even more generous?
Let us consider, then, as an indisputable truth, that Providence does provide abundantly for the temporal necessities of man.
Unquestionably, there will always be rich and poor on the earth. While some live in abundance, others must work and practice a wholesome economy. The heavenly Father, however, furnishes all with the means to live with a certain well-being according to the conditions in which He has placed them.
Let us return to the comparison that Jesus employs. God vested the lily splendidly with that white and perfumed garment required by its nature.
The violet was dressed more modestly; God gave it, however, that which fits its particular nature. And these two flowers blossom sweetly in the sun, lacking nothing that is necessary to them.
And so God acts with men. He puts some of them in the higher classes of society; and others He puts in less brilliant conditions; but to the one and to the other He nevertheless gives what is necessary for maintaining their positions in a dignified way.
An objection arises here in respect to the instability of social conditions. In the present crisis, is it not easier to fall than to rise or even to maintain oneself at the same social level?
Without a doubt. But Divine Providence distributes exactly the aid necessary for each one. For great evils He sends great remedies. That which economic catastrophes take from us, we can reacquire through our industry and our work. In those very rare cases in which our activity is rendered impossible, we have the right to hope for exceptional intervention from God.
Generally (at least this is the way I think), God does not bring about falls. He desires, on the contrary, that we develop ourselves, that we rise, that we grow with prudence. If, at times, He permits a decline in our social level, He does not wish this except as a manifestation of a posterior will, a will posterior to the action of our free will. More often than not, such a decline results from our own fault, either personal or hereditary. It is commonly a natural consequence of laziness, prodigality, or of various passions.
And even though a man has fallen, he can raise himself back up and, with the help of Providence, regain by his efforts the situation that he has lost.