God calls all manner of men and women to be his prophets, his seers, his saints. The prophet Amos, whose words are heard in this Sunday’s first reading, was a landscape gardener. He might have been mowing your lawn or trimming your bushes. Even Amos himself was astounded at his call from God: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees.” Yet the Lord chose him and directed him: “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Amos’ prophetic words of denunciation against the hollow prosperity of Israel’s northern kingdom still resound from pulpits today.
Another unlikely candidate for enduring renown among the faithful is Julianna of Norwich (1342-1416), who was never beatified but is celebrated as a mystic who spent the latter part of her life as a recluse or anchorite in a hut outside the parish church at Norwich, England. Healed of a serious illness, she wrote two accounts of visions from Christ and the Virgin Mary. Unique in English religious literature, her writings span the problem of predestination, the foreknowledge of God, and the existence of evil. The depth of her perception and the precision of her theology reveal a mind of exceptional strength. Among Julianna’s memorable phrases is this brief prayer: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be very well. The worst has happened and has been repaired.” Julianna is convinced that, even amid personal unrest and public commotion, “all manner of things shall be very well.” And her resilience is based on the conviction that the worst possible calamity has already happened and has already been repaired, namely, the tragic death but glorious resurrection of Christ. No matter how bleak one’s personal experiences might become, there has been no harsher activity in history then the death of Jesus Christ. “The worst has happened.” But, Julianna insists, this foulest of deeds “has been repaired!” Jesus was raised from the dead and reigns majestically at the Father’s right hand. If God can remedy the death of his Divine Son, then God can certainly remedy the chaos, disorders and confusions that beset the life of the ordinary individual.
Similar hope-filled thoughts come from the pen of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), who as a young man studied law at Padua and was expected to take his father’s place as senator from Savoy in Alpine France. In spite of his father’s opposition, Francis was ordained for the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland, a hotbed of Calvinist zeal, later becoming bishop of Geneva at the age of 35. Besides his most famous book, The Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis wrote many pamphlets and carried on a vast correspondence especially with the nobility of his day. He wanted these well-to-do lay persons to understand that they too are called to be saints. A quote from his The Introduction to the Devout Life, reads: “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who might have preserved it in the world.”
Like Julianna, St. Francis de Sales also nurtured a hopeful aspect when faced with life’s challenges. Consider these words: “Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life; rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations. Trust in the giver of all good gifts.”
The bucolic seer Amos, the eccentric hermit Julianna, and the aristocratic penman Francis were all convinced of the unfailing love of God under all circumstances. The God who strengthened Christ through Good Friday was the God who revivified Christ on Easter Sunday. The worst had happened but now was fixed. God mysteriously does not remove evil from the believer’s life but with equal mystery sustains the faithful disciple through illness and ailments, through adversity and hardship.
In the same vein but with more cheery words, St. Paul in the second reading suggests the uncompromising hope that must be the foundation of all Christian spirituality: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” God happily and mysteriously chooses each believer; he will certainly never neglect or abandon any believer.