September 2014 Print

Trust in Divine Grace


by Michael J. Rayes

The small mob moved closer to the bishop.

Led by the blacksmith and the town administrator, the crowd hustled into the bishop’s office, blocking the entrance. They were offended on this hot day in Italy in 1867. The town of Salzano is important and deserves a pastor with some sophistication. Someone with experience! Yet their bishop assigned a relative nobody to them: a priest barely 32 years old and who previously was merely an associate pastor.

The people explained their indignation, ignoring the young priest standing next to the bishop. In response, the bishop simply pointed to the priest and declared that he is their new pastor. Father Giuseppe Sarto stood with his head lowered, wearing a worn cassock and a humble expression.

The people left quietly, not knowing yet that Fr. Sarto would become a great blessing to their community. He is today known to the world as St. Pius X.

This past summer I had the singular privilege of speaking with two young priests ordained for the SSPX. They are both the same age as my oldest son, which is simultaneously edifying and mortifying because I became aware of my own age. I remembered the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas that grace perfects nature.

This teaching requires us to trust that God will use His grace. Sometimes it requires a lot of trust. Nature, after all, can only do so much. If we only relied on nature, the Church would probably fall apart within a generation and our marriages most likely would fail. How can we rely more on grace than nature when seeking the advice of a priest, regardless of his age? The short answer is that we can deliberately develop a habit of looking beyond nature and trusting more in God’s grace. We will explore this first in the priesthood, and then as it pertains to marriage and family life.

Nature Alone Is Insufficient

God does not want us to use our mere human eyes to regard life on earth (cf. Luke 18:41-42). When sight was restored to a blind man who requested Domine, ut videam, the Lord declared that it was the man’s faith which made him whole again. Trust is a daughter of faith. Without trust in divine grace, it would seem that our natural reason, coupled with the passions, could reach some bad conclusions about the roles of priests and the laity. Such is fallen nature.

God wants you to trust in His grace for two reasons which immediately come to mind: first, for His glory to shine through; second, to understand that you truly are His child. When we look back on events in the Church and in our own family, it becomes obvious that God’s hand is at work. Mere human effort would have at least disturbed the course of events, but probably completely destroyed the entire institutions of Church and family.

God’s Instruments

There is a certain peace that comes with the docility of letting go and trusting that God will work things out. Lay participation in the Traditional Latin Mass is a wonderful example of this. The lay faithful participate with the “internal worship of the heart” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei, §93). The priest and his altar servers are busy at Mass; the faithful are not. God’s grace works through the person of the priest and the servers as they perform their duties.

When the laity trust in God and offer their love with the sacrifice of Mass, the fruit of this is serious and focused participation. The participation is internal and shows itself when the faithful follow the parts of the liturgy. With this internal worship, the age, personality, or looks of the priest no longer matter. With the eyes of faith, the person of the priest is less important than the fact that he works alter Christus, as “another Christ.” Parents especially should remember this point when their children mention particular traits of a priest who said Mass. Mom and Dad, consider that complaint a teaching moment!

With a trustful, docile heart, the laity may rest in the knowledge that God is using priests to perform His work. Like any man, a priest has his own character traits and natural wisdom born of experience and academic study. These worldly attributes alone make a traditional priest an asset to any parish, no matter his age.

This again is an opportunity to teach children. One of the recently ordained priests whom I interviewed said that his parents frequently invited priests to their house for dinner. This helped the budding seminarian see the reality of priesthood in a concrete way.

Divine Grace in Your Marriage

The same peace will come when married couples put their trust in God. As God works through the priest to effect a propitiatory Mass, so will God work through your spouse to meet duties of state. This is easy to understand when your spouse fulfills your expectations, whether you have communicated them or not. Yet, does God really want a mere creature to be all things to another? As Bishop Fulton Sheen said in an address given April 7, 1939, “The tragedy of our modern life is that so many put their pleasures in desires rather than in discovery. Having lost the one purpose of human living, namely God, they seek substitutes in the petty things of earth.”

Real Catholics marry each other, with all their strengths and weaknesses, but are used by God to spread His love and show His glory. This typically happens in spite of the people involved, not because of it. I know this is certainly the case in my own life.

What does God want from your marriage? He wants you to do your duty. It is remarkably simple. There may be challenges, but the duties of marriage and family life are simple because God is simple. Do your duty and God will supply the grace. As St. Claude de la Colombière wrote in the 17th century, “One day of adversity can be of more profit to us for our eternal salvation than years of untroubled living, whatever good use we make of the time.”

The Roots of a Lack of Trust

A lack of trust could be a sign of the capital sin of covetousness. Trust is a place of surrender, of giving up our expectations and accepting with gratitude what we will eventually be given. It certainly could be painful, but it is necessary for spiritual growth. Bishop Sheen, in the same talk cited above, discussed one of the reasons our Lord came to this earth: “His teaching from the beginning was not only a warning against covetousness, but a plea for a greater trust in Providence.”

Nowhere in sacred Scripture is it written that “God helps those who help themselves.” This is rather antithetical to the Gospel message of trust in a loving, benevolent God. The closest approximation to doing things oneself, rather than waiting for others, is St. James’s exhortation to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). Even then, the context (verses 23-27) is to get out of one’s own self and to think of others first, for the sake of God.

Along with trust in God is trust in your spouse. This is an aspect of the sacramentality of marriage. Married life involves proper roles so the spouses may help each other get to heaven. The complementary feminine and masculine roles will be hindered if the spouses do not trust that the roles will be fulfilled. When I begin to feel that my family is not doing things my way, I pause and consider the bigger picture. Clearly, their formation is strong. God doesn’t really need us to perform His work; He chooses to use our feeble efforts to make things happen. The glory is His.

Having trust in divine grace, and trust in your spouse, requires acceptance of who they really are. It is easy to trust a powerful God who grants us what we ask, just the way we want it. It is much harder to follow Him to Calvary.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned a humble priest from Italy who became a saintly pope. His priesthood did not remain the same, but was changed over the years by God’s grace. Your life will not always be as it is now; even marriage is dynamic and changes over the years. The important thing is to build on a foundation of trust that God will give you the grace of state to perform your duties.

Complete trust in divine providence, and trust in your spouse, engenders a quiet confidence that things are in proper order and God is ultimately in control. The peace of soul from such confidence will certainly be noticed by your family, who will thus thrive in a happy, confident, and peaceful Catholic household.