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In the end, the things we have amount to nothing; that which we’re left with when all our things are gone constitute everything. And our burdens are our greatest blessings.
Regular readers and friends might know that we’ve been struggling mightily for the past three years against the forces of financial destruction. In order to keep a roof over our heads and wheels in our driveway, I took advantage of every protection the law allows. Concurrently, I, my family, turned to prayer. I personally experienced a powerful and humbling reversion to the Catholic Church.
Perhaps my conversion had something to do with the trouble I was in. There are no atheists in foxholes, you know. But that really doesn’t matter. Good parents don’t resent their children for coming to them when the little ones fall and get hurt. Indeed, the parents relish the opportunity to comfort the child, even if the injury came about because the child picked up something she’s been told innumerable times to not touch.
I’m sure God doesn’t mind my turn to Him when the chips were down. But He accepted my return on His own terms.
C. S. Lewis says God is more than willing to let us walk away from Him, but He will not take us partially back. If we turn to Him, He will perfect us into saints.
It begins with the humble, despairing cries of the fallen away child who begs God to save him, not from damnation, but from bankruptcy and foreclosure. The pleas seem in vain, but the beggar goes on begging every day on his drive to work, every noon in his car in the parking lot, every day at 3:00 with the Divine Mercy chaplet, every evening at 6:00 with Evening Prayer, every night at home with the family rosary, every night at bedtime on his knees, three or four times a week before the exposed Christ in a Perpetual Adoration chapel, and every time he opens the mailbox.
Still, the problems mount. Still, the day of reckoning draws nearer. Unexpected expenses fly in: a sick child, a damaged garage, a lost $120 cash, a ridiculous electric bill, a motion a lawyer left unfiled until after the deadline. Soon, the second car is taken away. We walk to church, to the grocery store, to the chapel. We do without, and still we pray. I read the Book of Job again and again, at first thanking God I have it so much better than Job, then wondering how soon before my face breaks out in boils and blisters.
In the meantime, those around me see my tortures and follow my path to God when all reason says, “Run away—this God will ruin you!” Instead of cursing God, my God, my wife wants to become Catholic. My home, just last year devoid of any trace of religiosity, takes on the appearance of Catholic supply store. The bookshelves, once packed with smug, intellectual texts of literature, philosophy, and politics, fill with Bibles, lives of saints, the Catechism, Franciscan prayer guides, and the Magnificat. The more God seems to torture us, the more we want. We all learn Latin.
Sometime in this process, we find ourselves emphasizing less our daily bread and emphasizing more Thy will be done. Instead of begging God to keep us from financial ruin, we ask Him to forgive us for resisting it so mightily. Instead of cursing Him for visiting these plagues upon us, we praise Him for loving us enough to give us a taste of what we truly deserve–but only a taste. As our prayers go unanswered, our prayers conform to the answers we’re given. We pray less for the miracle of a lotto ticket and more for the sublime miracle of increased faith and mercy. Where once asked, “God, when will You help me?” we ask, “Father, what can I do for You?”
Finally, I’m sitting at work and glance at the clock. It’s 11:30 AM. A few miles away, I think, some stranger whose name I do not know, whose face I have not seen, whose voice I do not recall, has entered the winning bid on the house, the home, my boys grew up in. The forty-thousand or so in equity that I fought so valiantly, but pridefully, to protect transferred to a wealthy stranger in the blink of an eye.
I walked outside, just then, and smoked a cigarette. The day was bright and joyful. I walked to a pond and pulled out my rosary and said a chaplet of Divine Mercy. “I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity”– on another track of my mind, I added “and my house and my car and my savings and my credit rating and my credibility and my heart and soul and life and memory and ambitions”–“of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”
The midday sun played with the tips of water in the pond, stirred by the swimming geese just in from Canada. To my left stood a rocky wall of ferns and pines and maples, green and gold and red with fall color. I felt lighter than I had in months–years, perhaps. A great weight left my heart. Looking up, I saw the angels flying off with the boulder suspended effortlessly from their powerful hands.