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On Divine Providence
“What manner of man is this that the sea and the winds obey Him?”
Today's Gospel is a very comforting one. The See of Genesreth (or Tiberias) is a good sized body of water, and when the conditions were rough, it is much like being out in the ocean. Jesus had just been preaching in the area around Capharnaum—we read about this last week—he healed a leper, and the servant of the centurion. He also cured Saint Peter’s mother-in-law of a dangerous fever. And now they were going to head south, across the Sea, and move to the area of Naim.
Our Lord was tired, and so He found a place in the back of the boat and went to sleep, while his disciples—who were supposed to be accomplished fishermen—took care of the navigation. But, a storm came up quickly, not allowing them to seek safe harbor, and they thought that they were going to go down with the boat.
Our Lord was, of course, able to calm the wind and the sea—because He is the author of Divine Providence.
That's an important term for us: “Divine Providence.” Essentially, what it means is that since God created all the things in the universe and keeps them in existence, He is the one who plans how they will all work together to fulfill His purposes. And we know that His purposes include our glorifying Him, and being happy with Him in eternity. Therefore, we have it on Faith in God that He will provide the things necessary for us to achieve these goals. God puts the fruit on the trees and the crops in the field; God gives us the grace to be holy through His Sacraments.
But let's be clear about what Divine Providence is not. It is a very serious mistake to think that our reliance on Providence should cause us to do nothing for ourselves. God only gives us the essentials, and expects us to make what we can of them. It would be foolish to think that we can expect Providence to put food in the refrigerator, or to pay the rent, or to put clothing in our closets, without any effort on our part. It would be similarly foolish for us to expect our salvation without making the effort that is required to stay out of trouble, to keep the Commandments, or without making the effort to pray and receive the Sacraments frequently. Today's epistle is pretty clear about that.
Now, we know from Sacred Scripture that God does occasionally work major miracles—but we should also know that we have no right to expect them. The minor miracles He works all the time are all that we can assume will be granted to us—minor miracles like the seeds sprouting, and the food that we eat turning into our flesh and blood—for those are truly miracles in themselves.
Unless they fit into His larger plan, God is not going to work major miracles for us. He probably won't alter the universe just because we ask Him to. He expects us to care for our own needs, to the best of our abilities. We can expect that our life will contain some disappointments. And when it is our time, God will probably let us die.
There is nothing wrong with praying, and asking God's help—even asking for major miracles—but we must make our own efforts too -- and we must be resigned to the idea that God's judgment must prevail. Our prayers should always include the idea that “Thy will be done”—not just our own will.
This is also true in connection with the salvation of our souls. We can expect God's graces because He has promised them to us. But we can't expect to be able to do much with those graces if we don't respond to them by loving God, and by loving our neighbor, and by keeping the Commandments.
And, our efforts have to be sincere. Don't expect to earn eternal salvation just by wearing the scapular, or the miraculous medal, or carrying a rosary around in your pocket. Those things only work if by reminding us of God they cause us to draw closer to Him. Indeed, it would be seriously sinful to treat them as a sort of magic charm that will work without human effort.
Even the Sacraments, which do cause the graces which they signify, depend to some degree on the intentions of those receiving them. For example, there is clearly a difference between one person receiving Holy Communion without any consideration of what It is, and another person receiving It full of love for Jesus Christ which It contains. Likewise, the difference between an indifferent Confession, and one filled with sorrow for sin.
It is the sin of presumption to assume that God will provide for those unwilling to do for themselves.
But, none of these things should be understood in a negative light. God never gives us more than we can bare. He never takes our eternal well-being out of our grasp. Indeed, there is a Divine Providence—and although His major miracles are relatively rare, He does work His minor miracles in a virtually continuous fashion, giving us the building blocks out of which we can build our life here on earth, for His greater glory—and out of which we can build our salvation, for our eternal happiness.
 Gospel: Matthew viii: 23-27 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=47&ch=8&l=23-#x