Life’s joys and sorrows fit into God’s plan

Father John A. Kiley

A novel that has been popular for decades and that was made into a movie in the 1950s is The Diary of a Country Priest, by the pious French author, George Bernanos. The novel’s grim mood is re-enforced by the movie’s black-and-white filming of a young priest’s first years in a humble, provincial village where the farmworkers are distrustful and the gentry are distant. The rectory is bare. The meals are thin. The neighboring clergy, older gentlemen, are wise but aloof. The young pastor’s health is not good from the start and alcoholism has played a part in his family history. As the novel evolves, it becomes evident that the young priest has been dealing with stomach cancer which is probably, certainly, beyond resolve. The saga ends when the young priest dies in the flat of friend having made a last visit to his doctor. The final words of the novel are almost incredible when the reader considers the thankless task that this young clergyman’s ministry has been. The pastor breathes his final breath uttering, “Tout est grace! – Everything is a grace!” 

Drafty rooms, meagre meals, snobby landowners, aloof farmers, supercilious clergy, ailing health, parish intrigues, even foul weather have plagued this young pastor since the beginning of his assignment. And yet at the end of a dismal life, he has arrived at the deeply penetrating conclusion that everything – poverty, snobbery, illness, misunderstanding, even muddy village roads – has been a grace from God, a chance to accept his Will and grow in his Spirit, an opportunity to embrace his plan and conform one’s heart and soul to Him. St. Paul famously instructs his Roman audience on this same mysterious Providence of God. The Apostle writes, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Yes, “…all things work for good…” Read it again: “…all things work for good…” The novelist’s insight that everything is a grace rests securely on St. Paul’s insight that all things work for good for those who love God and have faith enough to discern and accept His Providence.

The state of Rhode Island, the United States, in fact, the whole world recently endured the rare occurrence of a worldwide epidemic – a pandemic. Thousands of deaths, especially among the elderly, innumerable patients stricken with alarming illness, medical personnel and hospital facilities, laid off workers, threatened businesses, harried officials, disappointed graduates, and, notably, quarantined worshippers were the stuff of daily life for almost half a year. A pandemic is very difficult to reconcile with the abiding love of God for his creatures everywhere. As the pandemic ebbed, America’s perennial challenge of race relations again occasioned death, violence, destruction, alienation, and mistrust. How does this sad chapter in American history fulfill God’s plan?

And let’s face it. On a personal, individual level, every reader of The Quiet Corner can narrate a personal tragedy that was very hard to reconcile with the omnipresent and omniscient love of God for his creatures. The death of a loved one, a diagnosis of severe illness, a family estrangement, the loss of a job, the ineptitude of civic leaders, moral crises like abortion, addiction, and abuse – how indeed does the believer reconcile these misfortunes with the belief that God is love and that indeed “…all things work for good for those who love God?” 

In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, St. Paul and Georges Bernanos are certainly correct: Tout est grace! Everything is a grace! All things do work out for good!  Each believer must certainly approach God and the Christian life convinced that not a sparrow falls to ground without God’s knowledge, that every hair on the believer’s head is numbered. God is not aloof, distant, or remote. God has lovingly laid out a path, a personal providence, for each believer. As St. Paul instructs the Ephesians: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” The mystic Julianna of Norwich, who incidentally lived during the Black Plague, relates the same truth about God’s loving plan for each man and woman when she insists: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

A sustainable faith, a faith against all odds, is a difficult challenge even to discern, let alone accept. Yet the Christian will face life’s joys and life’s sorrows keenly aware that every step in life fits into the plan of God, the loving plan of God. Indeed, everything is a grace!