“We pray for blessings, we pray for peace; comfort for family, protection while we sleep. We pray for healing, for prosperity. We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering. And all the while, You hear each spoken need, yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.
“Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops? What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”
These powerful lines from Laura Story’s beautiful song “Blessings” tell the story of her own journey of faith. She wrote and recorded this song, which made it to No. 1 in the Billboard Christian Songs list, when she returned to work after taking care of her husband, Martin, who had been diagnosed with brain tumor.
At the start her stance was, “Why didn’t you just fix it, God? You’re all-powerful and all-loving … just fix it.”
Then, in one conversation, her sister told her, “You know, I think the detour is actually the road.”
Laura Story realized that it was the time she spent with her husband, taking care of him, that brought her happiness and made her a better person. As she put it, “That’s the blessing of it.”
Today’s Gospel frames trials and challenges in the image of a storm. As the boats that carried Christ and his disciples were being tossed by a violent squall, his disciples in panic turned to Christ and said, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
Faced with storms in our life, panic is not a surprising reaction. Like Laura Story, we often miss the point, we fail to see God’s presence, his grace and blessings.
This Sunday’s readings invite us to trust in God’s love and providence, especially during times of trials. Easier said than done.
I was interviewed recently for a case study development of what might prove to be one of the classic cases of crisis management in recent history. I became privy to the details because three months before the crisis, I gave a four-day corporate retreat to the company’s executive committee.
At the outset, the company’s leaders took responsibility for the crisis, did not give any excuses and helped those affected by it.
As one of them put it, “Kung hindi tayo naihanda, sisihan na ito at sasabog tayo.” (If we were not prepared for this, this would have been a blame game, and we would disintegrate.)
One is never really ready for a crisis. The real grace is not to avoid crisis but to respond with grace. There is a story about Ignatius of Loyola, about how in the early stages of the Society of Jesus, they were hit by a crisis. With the death of Pope Paul III, who approved the founding of the Society, Cardinal Carafa, an archenemy of the Jesuits, was elected pope, Pope Paul IV.
Grace to discern
The story goes that when news of Carafa’s election reached Ignatius, he turned pale as he felt it could be the end of the infant society.
He went to the chapel and, several minutes later, he emerged at peace and with a glow on his face. He told his Jesuit brothers that he was certain that the society would survive the challenge.
Ignatius was gifted with the tremendous grace to discern God’s spirit.
God will give us the graces we will need at any given point in our journey to follow his will and live out our mission. But there are two “generic” graces that become personal as we deepen our relationship with God.
In his book “The Enduring Melody,” Anglican priest Michael Mayne talks about the two strands of the cantus firmus, the enduring melody laid down by Christ himself: prayer and the Eucharist. These are the “generic” graces of our faith. Our devotion to both is personalized by the quality of our relationship with Christ and his Father.
As Scripture tells us, Christ was a man of prayer, and we see him in his deepest moment of prayer in the Agony in the Garden. “Thy will be done.”
This is the fruit of prayer—seeing God’s will and personal response in love to follow His will.
Then for the Eucharist, one of the most moving narratives in Scripture is the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Journeying back to the “old life,” dejected, depressed, defeated by the greatest of human crises—death and the suffering on the Cross—the Risen Lord enters the journey and with the two remembers the entire story about the Messiah, the Christ.
The moment of recognition was their coming “to know him at the breaking of bread.” They run back to Jerusalem to proclaim that Christ has indeed risen.
With this we see the basic proclamation and mission of the church, the two become part of the early missionary church.
Recognizing God’s “mercies in disguise” and knowing he is near are the blessings that come in the storms of our life. The blessing is knowing and feeling that we have a God who is lovingly, providentially present because he loves “us way too much to give us lesser things.”