Playing Our Part in God’s Plan

Playing Our Part in God’s Plan

Many years ago I read a novel—I don’t remember the name—which related Satan’s greatest and most dangerous and intense plot ever to conduct spiritual warfare against God’s people. Set in the present day, the story described how a series of apparently unrelated but evil and frightening events around the world culminated in the Devil’s supreme effort to overcome the Catholic Church once and for all: by conquering and destroying the pope. Through clever and diabolical manipulation, the evil one somehow contrived to trap the Holy Father alone in a room in a haunted building where terribly wicked things had occurred, cut off from his advisors and assistants and without holy water or any other religious articles or items needed for conducting an exorcism. Recognizing what was happening, the pope was tempted to respond with indignation and strength, relying upon his religious authority and the full prestige of the 2000-year-old papacy. However, this was exactly what the Devil wanted: if the Holy Father gave into anger and religious pride, even for a good cause, he would fall into Satan’s trap, and would place himself, and the Church, in grave peril. At the decisive moment, however, the pope received an inspiration from the Holy Spirit: a memory of himself as a small boy, learning to pray at his mother’s knees. The image of his mother, a simple, holy woman of faith, prompted the pope to repent, gave him peace, and, to the Devil’s horror, caused him to humble himself, kneeling and praying to Jesus with the simple faith of a child—thereby smashing the Devil’s diabolical scheme and forcing him to flee in shame and confusion.

As I say, this is a fictional story—but it conveys a timely and important lesson. The Church’s true power is demonstrated not when she scatters the legions of evil, forces earthly rulers and kings to submit to her authority, or makes worldly powers tremble, but when she inspires and assists sinners to seek her Master’s mercy, helping them turn to Jesus in genuine sorrow and with childlike faith. In the same way, we will be victorious in our own showdown with evil not through performing amazing miracles or historic great deeds, but by being obedient to Our Lord in a spirit of humility and trust.

So much of our Catholic Faith is rooted in mystery—not because God wants to make our lives difficult or confusing, but so we’ll be more likely to hold onto and cherish the truth after having to make some effort to discover it. As St. Paul says, God’s ways and judgments are beyond human knowledge and understanding—and yet, the Lord grants some measure of wisdom to those who sincerely search for Him. The apostles, with Simon Peter as their spokesman, had begun to understand the mystery of their Master’s identity as the Christ, or Savior, and Son of the living God. That’s why Jesus knew Peter was now ready to be named leader of the Church, just as God’s faithful servant Eliakim had been appointed master of the royal palace some 700 years earlier. We don’t need to understand divine mysteries, but simply be humble, so as to play our part in God’s plan. 

A stubborn little boy was involved in a contest of wills with his mother, who told him to sit down even though he didn’t want to. He defiantly continued to stand until his mother listed the dreadful consequences for disobedience she was ready to impose. However, after reluctantly taking his seat, the boy had to get in the last word, so he said, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside” (Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, p. 26).

Sometimes we may be tempted to obey God and His Church in a similar manner:  doing what we feel compelled to do—perhaps out of fear—but in a grudging or half-hearted or resentful manner, possibly while complaining the Church is too rigid and demanding and hopelessly behind the times. That attitude isn’t true obedience, nor does it result in any real spiritual benefits or blessings. When we in effect decide for ourselves that God’s commandments don’t really apply to us, or that we’re in a position to pass judgment on or choose from the teachings and moral requirements of the Church, accepting some and rejecting others, we’re claiming and exercising an authority that really isn’t ours—and going down this path will put us in real spiritual danger. There’s a reason Jesus didn’t establish the Church as a loose fellowship or community of believers, with each member free to choose what to believe and do by exercising religious authority for him or herself:  that leads to pride, anarchy, and chaos—all of which can easily be exploited by the devil. No, Our Lord established His Church with a hierarchy, or chain of command, so that through this teaching authority, and the power to bind and loose, all her members might be certain of the truth and confidently follow the path of salvation. 

Giving into pride is like waving a red flag to get the devil’s attention—and he is always quick to respond, seizing every opportunity to cause us serious and lasting spiritual harm. Jesus promised the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church—but that guarantee only applies to us personally if we humbly submit to the Church’s divinely-given authority. For instance, when the Church teaches that we must not live in sin or cohabitate, or use contraception, or vote for or support pro-abortion politicians, or miss Sunday Mass, or receive Holy Communion unworthily, she speaks for Jesus Himself, and we must take these words seriously; when the Church tells us we must put Our Lord at the very center of our lives, make spiritual growth a priority, and share our faith with others, we must truly listen and take these words to heart.

God looks into our hearts, and so He can see if we’re stubbornly standing up on the inside even as we appear to be sitting down on the outside. Pride will not bring us closer to God, and as the devil discovered first-hand, it will end up taking us away from Him for all eternity. Loving obedience to Jesus and His Church, lived out in a spirit of humility and trust, is the secret to true peace in this world and everlasting happiness in the next. This has been the teaching of the Church, and the example of her saints, for almost 2000 years. May it also be the story of our lives until that day when we finally leave this world and stand before the throne of God.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper