Father Michael F.X. Hinkley
Often some of the most wonderful graces abound when we least expect God’s providence. Our faith tells us that the Lord’s love is never exhausted, and yet it is hard to believe at times that he really is in our corner. In other words, there are times when we fail to see God at work in our lives even though he has promised to labor always on our behalf. It is only when we finally relinquish our fears and misperceptions and allow his will to guide us that we know ourselves as being graced by God’s providence. With faith, the Christian disciple willingly follows the Lord regardless of the direction, for the Lord desires only goodness for the disciple.
This abandonment of our dreams and personal ambitions for the will of God is nowhere more pronounced than in the story of Abraham. Abraham is well- known as the “father of believers” because he listened to God’s command to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees and settle in Palestine. God made a covenant with him and promised him great posterity; however, it was only in his old age that his wife Sarah bore him a son named Isaac (Gen 21: 1-8).
Isaac was Abraham’s greatest treasure. Abraham dearly loved his only son, and God chose to test Abraham as a man of faith and as a father. God called to Abraham and asked him to sacrifice Isaac’s life as an act of faith to God’s glory. Abraham was to take Isaac to the land of Moriah for the sacrifice (Gen 22:1-18). Many who reflect upon the story of the sacrifice of Isaac have trouble with this image of God. How can a loving God ask a father to willfully make a holocaust of his only son?
If God truly longs for us to know his love, then there must be a different way to read the story of Isaac and Abraham. The first thing to note is that when God first calls to Abraham, Abraham responds, “Ready!” Even before he hears the divine command, Abraham is ready to do whatever the good God asks of him! How many of us can claim to have such faith?
As Abraham approaches the place for the sacrifice, Isaac, who is unaware of God’s strange command for his life, questions his father about where he is going to find a sheep for the sacrifice (Gen 22:7-8). Here is the real test of Abraham’s faith in the providence of God. Abraham tells his son that God will provide the sheep; thus Abraham follows God’s difficult command and still maintains his faith that God will care for them. Filled with a resolved faith, Abraham raises the knife to take Isaac’s life and God calls out, “Abraham, Abraham! Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” Isaac was spared and Abraham named that place “The Lord Provides.”
This story holds a great deal of wisdom that is applicable to many moral queries. What if Abraham had refused to take Isaac to Moriah? It was only in clinging to God’s will that Abraham was able to live his faith beyond his own understanding. He was a better man because he followed God even where he would not want to go as a loving father.
Although God was leading Abraham in a way that was painful and beyond his reason, he continued to believe that God would provide. This trust in God is also evident in many areas of contemporary Christian life.
Over the last 16 years, I have journeyed with many adult Catholic singles as they have raised questions about their faith and vocations through the ministry of Credo Catholic Singles here in the Archdiocese of Hartford. This group of 2,500 adult Catholic singles spans many parishes of the Archdiocese and offers a very basic service to its members: an opportunity to come together and learn of God’s love through the varied spiritual, service and social activities it plans throughout the year. Few dioceses in the United States have a program as developed and successful as Credo.
While many singles first contact the ministry with the hope of meeting the “right” person to date or marry, the fundamental charism of this community is to grow in an awareness of how each individual Catholic single is an important member of the Church. While there may be personal and societal pulls that make a person feel that he or she “should” get married, Credo encourages the person to slow down a little and learn of God’s plan for him or her as a special and gifted disciple of Christ. Thus, just as in the case of Abraham, the adult single is encouraged to follow Christ even if it seems that God is leading in a direction he or she would rather not go. The adult single must resist the pressures to find the “right” mate and, instead, answer the basic question: “What is God asking of me in my life’s situation?”
Another example would be a married couple who experience difficulty conceiving a child.
They may go to great lengths and even be tempted to consider in vitro fertilization, which is understood as morally inappropriate. Such a couple will grow in faith if they follow the example of Abraham and answer a basic question: “Given our experience as a couple, what is God asking of us as disciples?” Could God’s will be that this couple not have children but give of themselves in charity to the needs of others in their community, or as foster parents, or as adoptive parents? God’s plan for each of us is unique and loving, but it isn’t always along the lines we would choose to paint.
Remaining open to God’s providence brings each disciple to a new way of life, as St. Paul proclaimed: “It is no longer I that live but Christ Jesus living in me!”
Father Hinkley is the pastor of the parish church and school of the Blessed Sacrament and the Shrine of St. Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.