As August fades into September during this week, we face the beginning of the return to a more routine schedule of life before us. The pandemic has taught us that routine may no longer be as familiar to us due to the unforeseen situations before us and to the changing nature of life. We realize more that there needs to be a balance in our lives of the familiar and the unfamiliar in a manner that puts the ultimate purpose of our lives in context. Saint Pope John XXIII has some good advice for us in this regard.
While on a retreat in the summer of 1961, he made some daily notes as was his customary practice. One day, he penned the following words, “A basic rule for the Pope’s conduct is this one of always resting content with his present state, and not getting all tangled up with the future, but instead leaving it in the Lord’s hands without making too many plans or merely human provisions, and being careful not to speak of it with ease and assurance to anyone whatsoever.”
Just two days later, he wrote the following reflection, “Direct everything, thoughts and actions, toward the growth, the service, the glory of the Holy Church,” and “Always plan my day with clear vision and perfect order.”
The reflections of the two days almost indicate divergent attitudes, one of not over planning for the future and the other of precise planning for every moment of each day. However, the attitudes are joined by the Saint’s spirit of service and his complete trust in Divine Providence.
Spiritual wisdom has always emphasized the importance of the present moment where the grace of God can only be found. The Lord Himself continually stressed this basic Gospel attitude, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow; tomorrow will look after itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own” (Mt.6:34).
At the same time, the Lord emphasized the necessity of careful planning, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers would laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but he did not have the resources to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30).
The immediate call to live the Gospel amid our concrete circumstances is what motivates our daily lives and, indeed, each moment of our lives. Such a call relies on a trust in God’s providence as the one who controls all plans. At the same time, living the Gospel is a way of life and includes a concrete method of living. Without such vision, the Gospel cannot be truly lived.
The basic virtues of faith, hope and love offer us the best means for relying on God’s providence as well as for planning for the future. The core of the life of Saint Pope John XXIII was living these virtues, which is why he could rest secure in the present moment and also plan for the future securely. It is well for us to reflect on these virtues as we face the beginning of September, especially in the context of the uncertainty which the pandemic has caused us to experience.
Faith tells us that God is at the center of everything. He made us because He loves us and wants to share His life and happiness with us. He so loves us that He sent His own Son to redeem us when we sinned and wandered from Him. Christ teaches us the way to God and to eternal life. Faith tells us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It also assures us that whoever believes in Christ has eternal life. Our faith is one in a family which Christ left to us. This family, His Church, supports us in life by handing the faith on to us and also by making Christ present to us through the sacraments. We need our faith to deal with the present and the future.
Hope gives us reason to live in joy and expectation. It promises us that tomorrow will always be better than today. It holds out to us the promise of eternal life, where there will only be better tomorrows and no more sorrow and tears. We know how much we need hope in our own lives as we see others who need something for which to hope. Amid difficulties and trials, hope does not leave us disappointed but keeps us moving by focusing us on the steadfast promise of God Himself. Without hope, we despair, but with hope, we rejoice even in tribulation. Hope is the virtue not only for the future but for today.
Love is truly the foundation of our lives and of our faith and hope. It is the most important virtue for, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). “There are three things that last forever, faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). We find love in God and we find God in the Church. Through the support of one another in the Church, we are assured of God’s love for us, even in our sinfulness. We need love above all and for all times.
As we begin a new schedule of daily activity, may we use the present moment realizing, in faith, hope and love, that God is there and that is all that matters. As we plan for the future in faith, hope and love, may we realize that He will be there tomorrow as well. For us, as believers in Jesus Christ, it is our faith, hope and love in Him that motivates us. Many times that motivation goes against what political correctness dictates from the left and from the right. May we put things in perspective as we face certainty and uncertainty and live the days of our lives as God has called us in His presence.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 27, 2021