Friday, September 24, 2010

Providence, God's Tender Kindness, and Training a Mule

You've probably heard this one before:

There's a story about two fellows who were talking about how to train a mule. One of them said that he'd found that the best approach involved treating the mule with kindness, patience and tenderness. To demonstrate his method he picked up a stout plank, walked up to a mule, hauled off and staggered the mule with a blow to its head.

The other, shocked, asked: "what are you doing?! I thought you used kindness, patience, and tenderness to train mules?" "I do," the mule trainer said. "But first, I have to get their attention."

Kindness, Patience, Tenderness, and Getting Our Attention

Providence, God's involvement in the unfolding of this world, can seem like good news or bad news.

For example, after someone had a narrow escape from danger, the neighbors might have said something like 'it was Providence that saved Silas from that fire.' These days, it'd probably be 'Silas was sure lucky.' Or someone might have said that his guardian angel saved him. There's been some renewed interest in angels lately - and that's another topic.

Then there are the stories involving 19th-century folks whose self-righteousness was matched only by their lack of sympathy, who opined that it was Providence that burned down the tavern. They may have been right, at that.

Then there are the stories about lightning rods and churches - and I'm getting off-topic again.

'Providence' is an old-fashioned sounding word, expressing an even older idea:
"Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created 'in a state of journeying' (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call 'divine providence' the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection:
"By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, 'reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.' For 'all are open and laid bare to his eyes,' even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.161
"The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events: 'Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.'162 And so it is with Christ, 'who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.'163 As the book of Proverbs states: 'Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.'164"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 302, 303)
The way I've put the idea sometimes is that "God is large and in charge."

One thing that Providence is not is a sort of divine bodyguard, keeping unpleasant things from happening to good church-going folks. Think about the Book of Job.

Which reminds me:

Satan's Real, But Only a Creature

I've heard "creature" used as a synonym for 'critter' - some sort of animal. Animals are a sort of creature, true enough, but the term isn't necessarily that specific:
  1. A created thing, whether animate or inanimate.
  2. Anything created or not self-existent.
  3. A living being that moves of its own volition.
  4. An animal or human.
  5. A being subservient to or dependent upon another.
Since I'm a Catholic, for me a "creature" is anything that isn't God. Which covers quite a lot of ground. One of the mistakes folks can make is to assume that any creature that's more powerful than themselves is equivalent to God. That's a big mistake.
"The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God's reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries—of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature—to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but 'we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.'275"
(Catechism, 395)

God, Satan, and a Busted Pipe in Central Minnesota

A week ago, sometime after midnight, a pipe burst in my laundry room. I was up at the time, but it was maybe an hour before I realized that I wasn't hearing the washing machine go through its cycles.

We've got the house and contents of the basement wrung out now, for the most part, and the damage could have been a whole lot worse. Still, there's a quite human tendency to want to blame someone. I've got a few choices:
  1. Me
    • I could have
      • Noticed the leak sooner
      • Had preventive maintenance done, and replaced the pipe
  2. Satan
    • 'The Devil done me wrong?'
  3. God
    • God flooded my house?!
I'm none too happy about the damage that's been done, but my best guess is that #3 is closest to the mark.

That's not just pious philosophizing. If that water hadn't made a mess, this house might have caught fire in the foreseeable future. While the laundry room and part of the basement was being taken apart and dried out, we've found - so far - a part of the drier vent that had entirely too much lint in it, and a wire near the breaker panel downstairs with defective insulation.

Maybe we'd have noticed those maintenance issues anyway. Or maybe not. God knows, I don't - and I don't expect to know what might have been.

Still, there are some fairly concrete, 'practical' benefits that came from that flooding. Which was relatively minor, since I was up at a ridiculously late hour, and (finally) noticed what was happening.

God, Stuff, and Trust

Aside from some home-safety issues, I've wondered if this minor flooding may have been a sort of reminder about what's reliable, and what's not. Nothing new in the following ideas, but some old ideas are still quite valid.

Look at it this way: thousands of years ago, folks thought that hitting a stone with your foot wasn't a good idea. (Psalms 91:11-12) I suspect that a few folks still think it's not a good thing - or at least that it'd hurt.

Quite a lot of stuff that I like was in the basement. Including a large number of record albums that my father had owned. There's a good chance that I can salvage them, but I've also had an opportunity to think about what's permanent, and what's not - what I can rely on for the long haul, and what I can't.
"The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods.341 'Let the proud seek and love earthly kingdoms, but blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.'342 Abandonment to the providence of the Father in heaven frees us from anxiety about tomorrow.343 Trust in God is a preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God."
(Catechism, 2547)
I'm not rich - but I do have possessions, and maybe it was time for me to get reminded that they're part of an impermanent world.

Or maybe I was being given a chance to practice patience and calmness.

I really don't know: and that's okay.

Related posts:

An article on the ZENIT website got me started on the line of thought that produced this post. It's about a milestone in the Catholic Church's history, about a century and a half back now. Here's an excerpt:
"Was it the best of times or the worst of times? As Rome celebrated Monday its 140th anniversary as the capital of Italy, the Church and the city came together to forget old wounds and look to an ever brighter future.

"On Sept. 20, 1870, the forces of the Risorgimento, the movement to unify the Italian states, were bombarding the northeastern gate of Rome, the Porta Pia. Inside the walls, the papal forces defended what had been the realm of the pontiff for over 1,000 years. As king of Rome, the pope had beautified the city, given it aqueducts, trains, museums, and hospitals, and had made the Eternal City one of the great sites of the world.

"But the papal kingdom was only a small part of the mosaic of the Italian peninsula. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the republic of Venice and many other unstable pieces formed the political landscape of Italy. France and Austria claimed large pieces of Northern Italy while the southern region was under control of the Spain Bourbon kings. In the middle of these superpowers stood the Papal States.

"Italians, weary of foreign rule, began to reclaim their peninsula. Region by region, Italians reconquered their own land and history, until 1866 when the only territory remaining outside the Italian fold was Rome...."

"...The Italian army arrived at the gates of Rome, on Sept. 19, 1870, and began the siege. On Sept. 20, three hours of cannon fire tore open the Porta Pia, the elegant gate designed by Michelangelo for Pope Pius IV in 1565, and the Italian army entered the city. Pope Pius IX's orders were to lay down arms as soon as the city was breached, so as to protect the population of Rome. He escaped, smuggled out of the Quirinal palace into the Vatican walls where he died eight years later.

"But this sad day opened another new era of the Church, always aware that her 'kingdom was not of this world.' All the Church needed was, in the words of St. Francis, 'enough body to keep the soul together.' Seventy-nine years later, papal sovereignty over the Vatican area was recognized and Italy and the Holy See made peace.

"No longer responsible for upkeep, administration and protection of the city, the papacy could turn more completely to its role as universal pastor...."

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.