Gratitude for God’s goodness in trying times

| Bishop Andrew Cozzens | July 2, 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This past week we celebrated the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the patronal feast of our archdiocese. It provided for me an opportunity to be grateful for the gift of our archdiocese. I thought of the many incredible priests who serve so faithfully and I am privileged to count as my brothers. I thought of the dedicated lay people and religious who inspire me by their holiness as they try to pursue a life of discipleship with Jesus.

We are all well aware of the profound challenges of these past two years, which have certainly intensified in the past month. Dealing with this crisis has been a high priority of the archdiocese and it will continue to be so going forward. Yet, in the midst of all this pain, I have found in my heart that there are reasons for gratitude.

Gratitude is perhaps the highest movement of the human heart. It is a sentiment that is right at the heart of Christianity. The first Christian prayer in the New Testament, Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), is a prayer of gratitude to God for his deliverance of his people through Jesus the messiah. The heart of our prayer as Catholics is the Eucharist, a Greek word that means “thanksgiving” because, in the Eucharist, we give thanks to God the Father for the gift of new life we have received in Jesus, a gift that is given and renewed every time we celebrate holy Mass.

Gratitude is the recognition that what I have received comes to me from the overflowing goodness and love of God. It is also a recognition that I do not deserve to receive this love. It is an unmerited gift. To be a Christian is to live in profound gratitude for the unmerited overwhelming love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. As
St. Paul says: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Within this passage of St. Paul is also a profound challenge for us as Christians. How can we give thanks “in all circumstances?” Is it possible to give thanks for difficulties or even for things that are evil? Here we come to the very heart of our Christian faith and see the true power of what we believe, for the cross of Jesus Christ proclaims to us a great paradox.

The paradox is this: God is capable of bringing good out of evil. Of course, God never wills sin or evil to come into our world. But he has allowed us free will, even knowing that evil will come. Why would a good God allow evil? It can only be because he is able to bring good out of evil. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 311.)

In another very profound Scripture passage, St. Paul explains this foundational truth: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

When I read this passage, sometimes I want to say to St. Paul, “Really, St. Paul? All things? Even my own sin? Even the sins of priests or bishops in the Church?” And St. Paul, with his profound understanding of the cross of Christ, would answer me: “All things!” This is the power of the love of Jesus Christ: that he is capable of bringing good out of evil. Of course, this is not easy, nor is it automatic. We must surrender our lives to God if he is going to bring good out of evil. We must cooperate with him. But if we will cooperate with him, if we will repent of our own sinfulness and return to him, then God is capable of bringing good out of even the worst evils.

This is the truth of the cross of Christ. God took a profoundly evil thing, the death of his Son, and turned it into the source of life for all of us through the Resurrection. Thus we can even give thanks for the death of Jesus Christ and call the day on which he died Good Friday, for this evil has become a profound good.

The challenge for us as Christians is to learn to see every situation as God sees it. For in everything, God desires to bring good. If we can learn to surrender to him and to cooperate with his love, then even great difficulties in our life can become reasons for gratitude.

This does not happen automatically, and especially for deep wounds, it can take years of surrendering to God in prayer for us to see how God brought good through them. But this is the kind of God we have, one who always wants to bring good out of evil.

In faith we know that this is also true for our archdiocese. That this current crisis is not the end of our Church. Rather, even in this struggle there are reasons for great gratitude. God is bringing good. He is purifying and strengthening. He will use this struggle to make our Church stronger, safer and holier for years to come. So let us give thanks to God that in the midst of great evil he is bringing about great good.

Let us turn to our patron St. Paul, himself a man who had to learn that “power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Let us ask him to help us to repent from our sins and surrender to God so that, like him, we might say: “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Let us be grateful that even in the midst of difficulty and struggle, God is bringing goodness.

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Category: Only Jesus

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