Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cardinal Newman and the Cross of Hidden Futures

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
Leaving my assignment is a cross that I was fully ready to embrace, albeit with sorrow.  But, I based my readiness on the presumption that when I received the call that I was being transferred, I was going to be told where I was being transferred.  In that way, I could justify things to myself.  I could say, "Well, you are being asked to sacrifice something good in order to go and serve these new people."  But that is not how it occurred.  Instead, the greater share of the cross has been in having one thing taken away but without the consolation of knowing that it was for the specific good of another place.  I cannot, as I rehearsed for months(!) say, "Well, I am leaving here in order to go there."  Instead, all I have is, "I'm leaving here."  It is difficult in this moment to see how God's plan is being manifested. 

And, it would be too easy to make God's plan all neat and easy.  I think we sometimes pass off to the mysterious workings of God things that might be simply the results of living in a fallen world.  The things themselves might be far away from God's active will. It seems difficult to imagine that God wanted Joseph sold into slavery or for a man to be born blind or for a woman to commit adultery.  And yet, he permitted all of these things to occur in order that his glory might be made manifest.  In all of these examples, we see that the fallen world does not defeat God's plan.  The Christian has to distinguish between God's active will and his permissive will.  This means that we do not have to conclude that every suffering is directly and actively given to us from the hand of God.  Instead, faith teaches us that God may permit us to endure particular sufferings so that we place our trust more in Him and less in the people and things of this world.  Blindness, injustice, sin, and even death are not the definitive judgment on our life.  Faith teaches us that these sufferings are not the final word on our existence.

This is the hope that permeates the beatitudes.  The Christian can be poor, hungry and thirsty, sorrowful, merciful, meek, pure, a peacemaker, and persecuted and have total confidence that what he suffers in those things will be as nothing compared to the reward awaiting him.  Every Christian ultimately follows the Way of the Cross.  This Way sometimes involves--like the Stations we pray during Lent--injustices, humiliations, falls, profound acts of simple mercy, darkness, and even a sense of finality.  The Christian walks this Way, however, not as a trailblazer, but as a disciple.  No matter where the Christian disciple goes, he discovers that Christ is already there to meet him, even into the tomb. And while we walk this Way, Christians do so with a beautiful consolation that even the tomb is robbed of its sting. 

There are many people in the world whose future is hidden from them and who have little clarity concerning what is God's plan for them.  They are the unemployed, those awaiting the results of medical tests, the abandoned, and especially those who are suffering persecution and imprisonment for their Christian Faith. Be they in hospitals, home alone, or in prison cells, the temptation to despair must always be lurking about. There is little we can do for such people, but perhaps embracing and offering the cross of our own hidden futures is of some assistance to them.

Two weeks ago, a parishioner sent the following to me and I have found it to be consoling.  It is a helpful reminder that in the final analysis, we can only put our Faith in God alone and Faith is ultimately what it is all about.

"God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.” --Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman


  1. Dear Fr. Barnes,
    I remember both you and Fr. Mark when each of you graced our Parish of St. Joseph in Wakefield. "Mother Judy" took great care of each of you, and my son, Ryan, worked at the Rectory with you. The only thing constant is change itself. No, I take that back. It's God's constant love for matter what! I trust that wherever you go, you will love and be loved by your new flock. Love, Jane Ellis St. Joseph School, Wakefield MA PS. Tell your new"sheep" in June that they'll be gaining a dog as well as a shepherd!

  2. Jane, so nice to hear from you! Hope you are well. Please tell Ryan that I say, "Hello." I don't want to know how old he is!

  3. The answer is...just so you could write this, one of your best yet Father Barnes!