Few fictional characters are more woeful than the rural French pastor in Georges Bernanos’ “The Diary of a Country Priest.” Distant from his flock, scorned by the local nobility, bullied by older clergy, mocked by the area children, impoverished financially, weak physically and finally diagnosed with cancer, the Gallic clergyman passes to eternity in the garret home of a defrocked friend. The priest’s final words, whispered from a disheveled corner cot, are “Everything is a grace.”
Bernanos was one of the great Catholic writers of the last century and in the pastor’s final words he has certainly captured an essential if often ignored element of the Christian spiritual life. Indeed, everything is a grace. The personal providence of God for each of his creatures reflects assuredly and inevitably the Fatherly care with which God always and everywhere embraces his sons and daughters. Bernanos’ unfortunate country pastor could ironically look back over his desperate life and still see the hand of God in every defeat, in every setback. There was a lesson, an opportunity, a grace in every challenge, even in every failure. All is grace.
Julianna of Norwich in the fourteenth century was favored with a vision from Christ who uttered to her these profound words, “It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’ Again, all shall be well. Everything is a grace. In the end, every event that occurs in life, every circumstance that one encounters, every happening that a person experiences, can prove to be beneficial and conducive to leading one closer to God. It is never easy to work violence, poverty, disease, hatred and death into this framework but somehow the authentic Christian will see, even in the midst of sin, the Fatherly hand of God leading the believer toward eternal fulfillment.
St. Therese of Lisieux was divinely privileged to appreciate this same essential Christian insight went she wrote, “Everything is grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love. Everything is grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events, to the heart that loves, all is well.”
Rare is the Christian believer that today can see the Providence of God in the abortion industry, in street corner shootings, in international terrorism, in sexual perversities, in financial inequalities. Yet even sin, our own sins as well as the sins of others, may be understood as a grace inviting society to acknowledge its weaknesses, infirmities and wickedness, and bidding humanity to turn to God for healing, repairing and wellness. Even sin is a grace when it leads a person to remorse, repentance, and renewal.
This coming Sunday the Scriptural passages for the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity recall first of all Moses’ plea that God would enter the hearts of the unruly Hebrew hoard he was leading through the wilderness: “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.” Moses’ prayer was that the wayward tribes would first acknowledge their ingratitude and then turn to God in their desperation. St. Paul similarly reminds the Corinthians that God can be found in turning from evil ways as well as persevering in kindly ways: “Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
And finally some often-cited words from St. John remind all believers that the Fatherly love of God permeates all history and all geography. No aspect of the universe, either physically or spiritually, is exempt from God’s providential concern: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity it is beneficial to recall that God has revealed his Trinitarian life through especially personal words: father, son, spirit. These three terms indicate close relationships, intimate bondings, personal communion. These are not the designations of a God who abandons mankind at desolate moments. These are the names of a God who is ever at a man or woman’s side, reminding the believer that “all is well,” that “everything is a grace,” that no situation is beyond God’s personal concern and care.