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Trusting in the Goodness of God in Difficult Moments We Cannot Understand

Saint Rita had aspirations or important wishes dashed a few times in her life. For example, her parents denied her the wish she had to enter religious life. when she accepted their will and grew to love her husband, he was killed some years later. She bore these painful events with faith and never doubted God’s love. Saint Paul tells us that “All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), so God can use anything that happens to us, both good and bad, for a greater good we may not see yet. This attitude gave her the hope that allowed her to bear with the hardships of life and to persevere despite challenges she lived through. As Saint Augustine teaches, hope tells us that in the end we will be given the peace that our restless hearts long for, and “all our desires will give way to the fullness of joy. We will see the Father and that will be enough for us.” (De Trinitate 1.17)

Being a disciple of Christ does not spare us from suffering or responding with difficult emotions, as Jesus himself more than once spoke of taking up one’s cross and following Him. The saints were not happy all the time. As Saint Augustine writes, “the citizens of the holy city of God, who live according to God in the pilgrimage of this life, both fear and desire, and grieve and rejoice. Because their love is rightly placed, all these affections of theirs are right.” (City of God XIV.9)

Sometimes the most difficult thing is not the pain itself that comes from dashed dreams or loved ones who died unexpectedly, but rather our inability to make sense of the difficult experience of suffering. Perhaps it might be helpful to remind ourselves that life is mysterious sometimes, but that God has a plan: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so much are my ways above yours, and my thoughts above yours.” (Is. 55,8) 

As much as we may want to know an explanation, or make sense of difficult events, Saint Augustine teaches that not every desire for knowledge is pure. There may be a desire to understand, which arises out of a desire to dominate the situation. The desire for domination is, for Saint Augustine, the main motivation of fallen humanity, which itself is the fruit of “the inflated ambition of a proud spirit.” (Preface to City of God). 

Another way in which pride may be expressed is preferring one’s own abilities, rather than patiently waiting upon God in hope (City of God XII.6, 1-14). In trying circumstances, often our need to understand what is happening is simply the expression of our inability to cast ourselves to God in complete trust. When we refuse to let go of our desire to understand, and especially when this desire could drive us to even doubt the goodness of God, there may be operating in us, probably unconsciously, what Augustine calls, the desire for domination, and under it, some measure of pride. In this video N.T. Wright speaks of how wisdom, rather than knowledge, leads us to resting in the fact that God knows, when we do not. 

Saint Rita could not do anything in the face of the reality that her parents denied her entry to the convent and she accepted their will, probably without fully understanding God’s plans; then she married and loved her husband, and was a holy wife and mother to their two children. Some years later her husband was murdered.  She offered all these trying events trusting always in God and the fruits of her suffering were manifested later, in God’s time, who allowed her to be a beacon of peace and reconciliation for the warring factions. As a nun, she contemplated on the passion of Christ, not as a sentimental exercise, but because she herself had suffered much. 

Following the example of Saint Rita, we can enter into the trials of life by remembering that God’s love is everlasting, and nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:31-39), even when we may not understand or make sense of the situations. 

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