Friday, December 31, 2010

God's Special Blessings This Year

As you may remember from a prior post, I accompanied a friend to an appointment a few weeks ago at Fox Chase Cancer Center because she'd been given a dire prognosis for survival from her cancer. The doctors at Fox Chase offered her several options, all of which involved trials for chemotherapy that is still in experimental stages. She asked me what I thought she should do, and I suggested she sign up for the study drug but review the side effects, etc. with her primary doctor before starting treatment. Apparently, her primary was very alarmed by what he read and he urged her not to participate. Instead, she went to another university hospital and yesterday, she was informed that she is much healthier than she has been lead to believe and that there are many non-experimental options for her cancer. I give thanks to God for this good news.

From a post much earlier this year, you may recall that I gave thanks to St. Therese for her glorious intercession in helping a couple conceive a child. They're not Catholic and to my knowledge, they were not even religious, but I prayed that if God chose to bless them with a child, they would come to know and love Him. Last week, I learned that the family has started going to church every week. The Sunday school teacher asked them if she could borrow their daughter because she needed a baby Jesus for the live nativity. When they agreed, she said "good, and you can be Joseph, since you'll be here anyway." The dad is a bit rough around the edges, but nonetheless, he and the baby took part in the nativity. Who'd have thunk it?

In our household, our autistic son has begun training as an altar server and the oldest is going to Mass and confession again.

There are many less dramatic ways that God bestows His blessings on us each day. We have only to look at the human misery and suffering in places like Haiti and the Sudan to realize that simply living in this very wealthy country is a blessing of sorts. We have a roof over our heads, indoor plumbing and enough food to eat. We are free to worship God in a country where gunmen do not burst in the door and murder the congregation in cold blood.

I, for one, need to resolve to be more grateful for what I have and not sweat the small stuff. For the life of me, I do not understand why I can react more calmly to bad medical news and financial worries than I do to trash trucks blocking the streets or the dishes being done sloppily. As a very wise old priest told me a few weeks before Christmas, God gives us these trials not to trip us up but to enable us to perfect ourselves, which is a life-long process. "Think of yourself as a piece of unfinished wood, and every fault and failing is a piece of sandpaper". But, we're full of pride, and we like to think that we can achieve a point in life where we will never sin again. When you're tempted to fall into that trap, look out. Chances are, there were more saints like the cantankerous Jerome and once-wayward Augustine than a Teresa or Therese, and like them, God sees the potential for holiness in every one of us, even when we can't.

The other thing we can't lose sight of is the people God places in our midst. As important as it is to bless God and praise Him for the wonderful people He places in our lives, it's perhaps more important to praise Him for those who agitate us, insult us and go out of their way to make life difficult. Perhaps we have an unpleasant encounter with a co-worker or even a stranger. Maybe it's because it's an opportunity for us to pray for that person, and if we did not have an unpleasant exchange with them, it's possible no one at all would have prayed for them on a day when they desperately needed it.

In my own life, I am grateful for the graces God gave me to deal with two very difficult co-workers. I literally had a visceral reaction to one person to the point where I couldn't stand to be in the same room with her. How could a person who goes to Mass nearly every day and prays as much as I do possibly react to another human being in such a way? With God's help, I overcame my difficulties with this person to the extent that I could be civil and charitable toward her. And as a result, I'd like to think that God used me as an instrument to help her take a look inward and change her ways as well.

When we pray and beg God to answer us, let's remember the unexpected way in which our Lord and Savior entered the world. God does things as He sees fit, including the manner in which His Son was born. The answer to our prayers may not be accompanied by thunder bolts and flashes of lightning. Most of the time, His response will come in a way not wholly apparent to us at first. Let us always remember to give Him thanks and praise, even when the gifts He sends us are not as apparently beautiful as those He sends to others. Trust that He knows best.

Happy and Holy New Year and may God bless you and your families.

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