November 11, 2019

Rejoicing in the Lord

Some years ago a married couple in Illinois, Tim and Sally, tried starting their own business, but it failed after 18 months; having no money, they were forced to sell their home.  Because they had nowhere to go, some friends in California generously invited them and their two children to move out to San Diego and live with them until they managed to get reestablished.  Tim and Sally accepted this offer, and had all their furniture and other belongings shipped out to California and put into storage until they could find a home to rent.  Eventually Tim found a job, and then an opportunity arose for his family to house sit for some people who were going to be out of the country for four months, and who didn’t want their home unoccupied.  When the four months were almost up, they looked for a rental unit, and found one that seemed very nice and affordable—until they discovered it needed major plumbing repairs, and couldn’t possibly be ready in time.  What were they to do?  Rental housing was scarce, and their budget was limited.  The next morning Tim and Sally checked the newspaper listings once again, and found a new listing; when they and the children went to see the house, it seemed perfect for them, and they immediately fell in love with it.  There was just one problem:  the rent was more than they could afford, but if they didn’t take it soon, someone else would surely grab it.

Tim and Sally were very religious, and believed in the power of prayer.  Their favorite Scripture passage was Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6-7.  It says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  As a family, they prayed over the situation, and decided they would take this Scriptural promise seriously, and so they signed the lease—with considerable misgivings, but also a sense of trust.  They even wrote the abbreviation in chalk on the doorpost:  PHL. 4:6-7.  As it turned out, Tim received an unexpected raise at work—just the right amount needed to help them make the monthly rental payments.   A few days later, their new California license plates arrived in the mail.  Tim laughed, and Sally giggled and cried with joy, for it seemed God was sending them a reminder of His care.  The license plates were numbered PHL467 (Allison Gappa Bottke, More God Allows U-Turns, p. 175).  Advent is a wonderful time for us to reflect on God’s fatherly care; His willingness to send His own Son for our salvation proves His personal love and concern for each one of His children.

God created the world to be perfect, but because of original sin, human history has often been marked by suffering, struggle, poverty, misery, and hopelessness.  Until the last century or so, life was a drudgery and burden for most people, and until the coming of Christ, even holy, faith-filled people seemingly had little to look forward to.  That’s why the coming of Jesus changed everything; that’s why the final words of the Gospel of Luke (3:10-18) state that John the Baptist “preached the good news to the people.”  It was good news for poor, common, sinful men and women to hear a prophet of God tell them that the Lord was not condemning them, that their sinfulness could be forgiven, and that a Savior was coming into the world.  Some 600 years earlier, the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-18)—writing in a time of national crisis and despair—called upon the people of Jerusalem to rejoice instead of giving into gloom and fear, for the Lord promised to rescue them from their enemies and fill their hearts with peace.  This promise is fulfilled in Jesus, for He offers redemption and eternal life for those willing to accept it.  That’s why St. Paul calls upon us to rejoice in the Lord always.  Jesus is the living sign and presence of a God Who loves us tenderly and who invites us to turn to Him with all our worries and needs.

Saint Faustina Kowalska was the Polish nun to whom Our Lord appeared many times in the 1930s; His numerous messages to her form the basis of the Divine Mercy devotions.  Even though she lived a somewhat sheltered life, Sister Faustina had her share of worries and concerns—but as she wrote in her Diary, “When I see that the burden is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze or probe it, but I run like a child to the Heart of Jesus and say only one [thing] to Him:  ‘You can do all things.’  And then I keep silent” (#1033).  At Our Lord’s request, Sister Faustina arranged for the famous image of Divine Mercy (which hangs on our church wall) to be painted.  Many years later, Pope John Paul II said of this painting, “Anyone can . . . look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what Faustina heard:  ‘Fear nothing, I am with you always.’  And if this person responds with a sincere heart, ‘Jesus, I trust in You,’ he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears.”

Is it easy to trust and to rejoice always?  Not at all!  There are a few lucky persons whose temperaments are naturally inclined to be optimistic and cheerful even in the most trying circumstances, but for most of us—myself included—it’s a struggle.  We have worries, fears, and disappointments—and no one expects us to deny this truth.  What we have to do, however, is remember that these challenges are also opportunities:  opportunities for us to exercise our faith, opportunities for us practice trust, and opportunities for us to be amazed and blessed by our heavenly Father’s care for us.  Nothing happens without His knowledge, and nothing can happen to us without His permission.  Moreover, as the saying goes, God writes straight with crooked lines; He is able to bring good out of every evil that befalls us, and His love for us is infinitely greater than the problems, challenges, and anxieties that beset us.

Does Jesus deserve our trust?  I think His willingness to humble Himself to become a human being, to share our sufferings and sorrows, and to die on the Cross for our salvation, gives a resounding “Yes!” to that question.  The unanswered question is whether we’re willing to turn to Him in all our fears and needs.  The more we learn to do this, the more we become capable of being blessed by Him.  St. Paul’s words from Phil. 4:6-7 are the key to a happy life; we should have no anxiety at all, for we have a God Who invites us to open our hearts to Him and pray, “Jesus, I trust in You!”

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper

REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.

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Written by Fr Joseph Esper
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