Thursday, 1/11/18 – Hope: When God Has Other Plans

A friend of mine had a great crisis of faith when her husband died.  They were very happily married and active in their church.  When he got colon cancer, they and many friends prayed for his healing.  Their prayers and perspective were such that they were sure he would be healed.  My friend told me, “It wasn’t until the day before Pete died that we realized God wasn’t going to heal him.”  The disappointment was devastating to her faith for years.

God continues to miraculously heal today—even serious diseases like cancer.  God solves many problems in ways only the Holy Spirit would be able to do. As Christians, when we face serious sickness or problem, we naturally HOPE God will heal us and help us.  Sometimes our hopes are fulfilled; sometimes we are disappointed because God has other plans.

When God Let Himself be Defeated

In today’s first reading, the Israelites hoped God would give them victory over the Philistines.  They had one battle and were defeated.  They decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant (God’s Presence) to the battlefield, so that God’s Presence would give them victory.  It did not.  They were not only defeated; they lost 30,000 men and the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant into their land.

That is when things got very interesting.  Read 1 Samuel, chapters 4-7 to get the whole story.  Those chapters tell us that when the Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant in their god’s temple, they found their god face down on the floor in front of it.  The Philistines were afflicted with hemorrhoids (Yes, you read that right!) and a plague of mice.  As the Philistines played hot potato with the Ark, it afflicted town after town it entered.  Eventually, the Philistines sent the Ark of the Covenant back.  When it entered Israelite territory, people worshiped with renewed faith in God…and the Israelites lived in peace with all their neighbors “for twenty years.”

God had other plans.

As I read the chapters that followed today’s reading, up until tomorrow’s, it strikes me that God had a Plan B.  Instead of just giving the Israelites the victory in battle, he wanted to introduce Himself to Israel’s neighbors.  He wanted to give them the heads up that he was, indeed, a Mighty God,an Awesome God, a God to be noticed and revered.  And he wanted to foster peace.

God had other plans because he had a wider, longer view and perfect wisdom.

God’s plans often do not match ours.  When they don’t, we are disappointed.  Sometimes we turn away from God.  There was a time in my life when God had other plans for me.  They were tough times.  I never stopped believing, but I did stop hoping.  I didn’t see that as a sin then. I thought it was virtuous to hunker and down and still believe.

But I was sinning against the virtue of hope and the First Commandment (“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”)

What Our Faith Teaches Us About Hope, Despair, and Presumption

In its discussion of that commandment, the catechism says, “When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers.  He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity.  Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also th fear of offending God’s love and of incurring punishment. (CCC 2090)

The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:  By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins.  Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice—for the Lord is faithful to his promises—and to his mercy. (CCC 2091)

There are two kinds of presumption.  Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit). (CCC 2092)

In today’s first reading, the Israelites were guilty of presumption.  My friend whose husband was not healed was perhaps guilty of presumption, perhaps simply guilty of not recognizing that sometimes God’s ways are not ours.  Later she, like me, fell into despair.

In the Fog

When you are faced with serious, serious problems or illness, it seems to me the virtue of Hope is both very important and very hard.  My image for it is that it is like driving through thick fog, only able to see the line in the middle of the road—not quite sure of where you are or even where you are going.  It is trusting the line in the middle of the highway, trusting that hope in the Lord will see you through.

I have been distressed this past week because I have learned through my college alumnae office that four of my classmates have recently died.  Two were good friends.  From  the obituaries, neither of them had active ties to faith communities.  In college we went to church sometimes, sometimes not.  Did we truly hope in God?  In a general way, yes.  With the serious purpose I hope in him now, no.

But through the years and the triumphs and trials of life, it is easy to lose hope in the Lord.  It is easy when we lose hope to lose faith. We fall into presumption or despair.  We presume our faith is enough to handle cancer or devastating events at work.  We believe our plans are God’s plans, then are suddenly taken up short when we realize that God lets the Ark of the Covenant go away from us.  Worship turns flat.  Homilies bore us.  Church seems a chore.

Where do you find the Ark of the Covenant in your life now?  In mass?  Adoration? The rosary?  Parish life?  Work at a homeless shelter?  Scripture reading?  Confession?  Daily mass? Prayer?

Are you taking the Ark of the Covenant for granted—that it will always be there?

Are you struggling because it may be that God has other plans for you?

Hope in Today’s Gospel

In today’s Gospel, the leper is straight-forward:  “A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”  The leprosy left him immediately.

No matter how thick the fog or darkness, no matter how filled with disease, doubt, or sin we are, Jesus can heal it and make it clean in an instant.

If we ask with hope and faith…and if it is God’s will.

Yet sometimes, God does not heal, does not miraculously intervene.  We are left disappointed.

That is when it is good to read “the rest of the story” that begins in 1 Samuel, Chapter  4.  Read through 1 Samuel, Chapter 7.  Believe in the goodness of God’s longer view.

Or read carefully all of today’s Gospel.  It ends, “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.  He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.”

When God heals or does not, solves a problem for you or does not, it is not because he doesn’t care or doesn’t give of Himself.  Jesus healed the leper—and ended up besieged.  God’s plan that time was to heal.  It cost Jesus—but he did will it.

So we pray…and hope…and live by God’s standards…and hope…and pray…trusting that God is God, and His Will is good in the long run.

Prayer:

Lord, I thank you for the gift of hope, for your readiness to give me and others the capacity  to trust you when we ask for it.  Sometimes I hope, but without the courage to be fully faithful when the fog is thick and the night is dark. Lord, today I have three friends who are facing serious illness or serious problems.  Fill them with the virtue of hope.  Guard them from presumption or despair.  Help them trust you.  And help me, Lord, to give the comfort of friendship, the willingness to journey in the fog and darkness, and my own faith that is not so sorely tried just now.  Be with us all, Lord, and let us know your Presence.

About the Author

Mary Ortwein lives in Frankfort, Kentucky in the US. At different times in her life she has been an elementary and college teacher, a full-time wife and mother, founder of pro-life service agencies, a marriage and family therapist, a non-profit agency administrator, and a writer of relationship and mental health curriculum. A convert to Catholicism in 1969, Mary had a deeper conversion in 2010. She earned a theology degree from St. Meinrad School of Theology in 2015. Recently retired, Mary takes as her model Anna, who met the Holy Family in the temple at the time of the Presentation. She is a widow who finds joy in prayer, in being a part of parish life, and in offering hospitality to those who are journeying toward God--especially those who have previously wandered away from God, those who are journeying home to Eternal Life, and those who are seeking a deep relationship with God and other Christians.

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26 Comments

  1. Mary thank you so much for this reflection. I see myself as well in the words that you said and also some of my friends. And like a lightning, it is indeed a shaking wake up call for us all to see the “hand of God” in everything, whether they are in our favor or not. I will share also with relative and friends in the hope that this will provide an insight for them as well. Again, many thanks and a Happy new year!

  2. Scientific evidence has established that every form of life on earth is based upon the cycles of Light and Darkness. God’s greatest gift to humanity is to use the spiritual cycles of Light and Darkness in our lives, as reflected in the Life of Christ and the Holy Spirit, to create a more developed Faith in God so that we can more fully reflect the light of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our life.

  3. Thank you very much for this reflection,Mary.It is quite scary when I think that my carefully thought plans may not be God’s will for my life.He sees the larger picture,I am myopic at best. I pray that God will always steer me according to His Will for me,Amen

  4. Thanks Mary for this very wonderful and insightful reflection. Like Uchenna Uju I also find it very disappointing to realise that what I am praying for and even fasting for may not be God’s will and that there might be a plan B in His intensions to the problem before hand. May the will of God be acceptable to us no matter how challenging it is
    God bless you Mary and your family and have a happy New Year

  5. I have been blessed by this reflection. It has made me realize where I have kept the Ark of the covenant in my life. Time to pick myself up and trust God’s will in my life.

  6. Thanks Mary for this very wonderful and insightful reflection. Like Uchenna Uju I also find it very disappointing to realise that what I am praying for and even fasting for may not be God’s will and that there might be a plan B in His intensions to the problem before hand. May the will of God be acceptable to us no matter how challenging it is
    God bless you Mary and your family and have a happy New Year

  7. Reading comments, let me add that it seems very human and natural for us to be disappointed when God does not come to our aid in the way we want or expect. HOPE, though, is staying the course WITH GOD, in spite of our disappointment or doubt, trusting that if what is happening that disappoints us is not of God, that God will find a way to be with us and make things different, that if what is happening IS of God, that in time we will see God’s wisdom and thank him that he did not give us what we asked for. To do this requires real spiritual maturity. Blessings to all for reading these reflections, thinking, praying, and responding. Mary Ortwein

  8. Thank you for this beautiful reflection. It truly was the Holy Spirit speaking directly to me in a time of adversity.

  9. My, Mary, thank you for opening your soul and revealing the wounds of the loss of your friends. You touched my heart this morning as I read this beautiful reflection. I am getting ready to go and sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament before Daily Mass starts. In my list of Thanksgiving today, I will thank the Lord for the beautiful reflection-and then I will go and just love people!

  10. Thank you,
    The importance of this reflection is beyond my words. I’m so moved and touched by it, Thank you Thank you. I’m forwarding this to my three grown / married kids and all my also close friends. Thank YOU.

  11. “God wanted to foster peace”, so he let 30,000 Israelites die. Just how are we to blend this?

    Why pray, and ask with hope and faith, for a specific action?
    Why not just wait for the outcome that God deigns? Then our petitions would always simply be for understanding. If God always has a specific plan, then all the prayers in the world will have no use or effect.

  12. There have been times in my life when I have thought that my prayers were not being answered, only to realise later that they were indeed answered, just in a way that I had not expected. I firmly believe God hears all prayers but sometimes answers them in His way in His time. So often when I ‘replay the video’ in my mind of things that have happened or events that have unfolded, I can see God’s hand at work, even though I couldn’t at the time. There have been a number of incidents/events in my life which have not been good, but would I change anything? No. I am who I am today because of them but I am not a victim of any of them. I might be a survivor, but victim, never! I have learnt to look for the lesson to be learnt in each and every event or incident and to be grateful for such. I believe that things happen for a reason, that nothing happens without a purpose, and it is up to us to learn the lesson as presented or not, but the lesson will be repeated over and over again until it is learnt. God is a God of love, and I believe that He wants us to live happy, fulfilled, purpose driven lives, so he gives us the lessons to help us mature and grow. Sometimes the lessons are very painful, sometimes difficult but without wounding there very often can’t be healing, maturity, growth, forgiveness, salvation. It is only after a fierce fire that the South African Fynbos is at its very best, the sperm has to pierce the egg for the creation of new life, Jesus had to die on the cross for our salvation. Wounding is universal because we are human, but by looking at our wounds as ‘sacred wounds’ we can reframe our stories, our mental pictures, our attitudes, we can change despair into hope, we can open ourselves to forgiveness, we can travel lighter, and then we can move forward with gratitude. And…. gratitude is the one thing that changes everything. So when God appears to not be answering your prayers, look in another direction, change your focus, search for the lesson/s – sometimes the lesson is for us and sometimes we are being asked to be the teacher for someone else – but don’t give up on God because He does hear your prayers and He won’t give up on you.

  13. Hmmm! Dear Jack Findlay, yes, it is very possible for God to let 30,000 of His own Israelite men die in order for Him to be noticed and revered …and to foster peace, etc. If God let Himself (through His Son-Jesus) die and not only die but die shamefully on the Cross (in complete submission to man’s evil power, the mortal man He created), then what is 30,000 Israelite men?? Of course, this is not easy to comprehend especially when looked at from the human understanding. What, then does this require of us? We pray earnestly in hope and faith for what we desire but also keep in mind the fact that we are mere humans who may not know, let alone appreciate what truly is perfect for us (and especially, in relation to His Kingdom from which our very creation derives its purpose). Because of the latter, therefore, we ought to pray for not only for our desires but also the grace to accept happily (in Him at least) His choice for us – even if it is the painful very opposite of our own prayer!
    Otherwise, thank you Mary, for the wonderful reflection. Yes, it is extremely difficult to accept God’s will for us but (in Him) not impossible!
    Patrick.

  14. Mary, God bless you for your message today. I am sitting at my desk and feeling down. I was wondering why my prayers don’t seemed to be answered regarding an ongoing problem. I prayed that the Catholic moment for today would give my some hope and inspiration. Feeling better already. Wow. GOD is good! a Sending you a hug. Thanks you and have a blessed day.

  15. I am blessed by this reflection and the comments afterward. There is a country song about Thanking God for Unanswered Prayers that came to my mind.

  16. Hey Mary,

    I love Jack. He brings up a very good point. If God has a specific plan for you, then what’s the point in prayer. In fact, free will goes out the window, everything is Fait Accompli.

    Thoughts anyone?

    Mark

  17. This morning when I was searching for a reflection specifically addressing the first reading of today’s Mass, yours was the first I stumbled upon…and how quickly I knew it was exactly both what I needed to read (dealing with my dad’s recent neck fusion surgery and hospitalized rehab compounded by my mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s), and what I had hoped to find to share with my son…to try to explain what I was certain he would question as a “so God really wasn’t present” moment. Rarely do I share links, but today I did yours, with a simple statement that if it made a difference in the life of just one person, it was worth it. God bless you for your ministry!

  18. Jack and Mark,

    The best model of prayer of hope for what we want, and simultaneous trust in God’s will is Jesus Himself.

    Jesus prayed to His Father, while in the garden of Gethsemane, that He would not have to undergo the torture and death that He knew were in store for Him. He prayed with hope.

    In His prayer, He also said “not My will, but Yours be done.” He trusted His Father in all things, including the worst part of His life. He went through with His Father’s will for Him. He died on the Cross and was resurrected from the dead. God’s will was for life to triumph over death, and for good to triumph over evil and sin. Jesus’ trust “paid off,” even though His hopeful prayer that He wouldn’t have to go through torture and death was answered with a “no.”

    So when we pray, we can pray with hope and trust, like Jesus did.

    I pray for all of us to constantly be able to pray like that.

  19. Mary, you are a treasure trove. Your writing has moved me. Please continue to be a LIGHT in this world. The world needs you. And I hope I can also pass your light on to others.

    Thank you!

  20. Thank you for your reflection! It helped me understand today’s readings, which had me perplexed. Your writing was very thorough and clear. God bless you for sharing your understanding with me.

  21. When we pray it can be difficult to say, not my will, but your will be done. But I have had prayer
    answered for a friend who fought cancer for seven years, because friends prayed that she would see her children have children before she passed on. Our prayers were answered and she lived to see her 2 grandchildren . And she was able to play with them ,and love them. She died a several years later, but our prayers were answered and God will was to take her home and end her suffering.

  22. A,

    I like when readers comment on what other readers think, an open dialogue. I particularly like it when a reader disagrees with what is written by the author. I learn more from reading different points of view, especially a view that I have never thought about.

    So, God’s specific plan and prayer, can they coexist? Sure. Think of a sailboat crossing a large lake. God’s plan is to get to the other side, prayer is the swirling wind. Sometimes it’s a straight shot across, sometimes a lot of tacking is required.

    There are many examples in the Bible about God influencing man and man influencing God, but God’s plan has always been fulfilled and free will has never been taken away by God (you can make a case that Satan takes away free will).

    So, do I agree with Jack? No. I pray. Why? As far as I know, that is the only way I can directly communicate with my Creator. Will I influence Him? I don’t know, but I hope so.
    Besides, for some reason or another, I think He likes it when I pray.

    Mark

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