There's a lot to cause us to worry nowadays, but the good news is God bestows upon those He loves the strength of perseverance for enduring their tribulations.
When filling up my car this past evening — shelling out more money for gas than I ever have before — I had to utter a prayer for strength. With gas, groceries and utilities all markedly going up, it's easy for a man to just throw up his hands and give up. But the optics of a priest in his collar at the pump cursing at the sky are not good — although the situation merits it!
While watching the dollar signs add up at the pump, I also prayed for perseverance for all those much worse off than me. I prayed specifically for those suffering from being displaced in the current war, the world's economy being in the toilet and for all those in dire hardships.
One way to check yourself when tempted to throw up your hands in despair is to count your blessings. Things could easily be much worse, and the future holds no guarantees of being better!
A large part of perseverance is just a matter of getting down on your knees and praying when the going gets tough. It would be a mistake on our part to think that our forefathers had it easier — they did not!
When my grandmother talked to me as a kid about how six of her children had all fought on the front lines during World War II, I did not really listen. Three of my uncles were in the Battle of the Bulge, and one other uncle and two aunts were in the Allied Invasion of Italy.
As a child, I did not understand the significance of my grandmother's reminiscences. I thought her harping about reciting hundreds of Rosaries during the war was just hyperbole — her way to get her lazy grandson to say a Rosary. I now think differently. The Rosary is my go-to prayer when I feel I don't have it within me to go on.
It's so important for us as disciples of Christ to remember that Our Lord, in the course of His public ministry, promised us just three things in this fallen world.
But, before talking about these important promises, let's take a moment to talk about what He did not promise.
Our Lord did not promise His disciples happiness in this world. To quote from my saintly grandmother, who liked to draw faith lessons from our jaunts out on the lake in our yellow sailboat:
Happiness is like the wind, some days you will have a sailful and some days your sails will have none. But, all the same, you still have to move your little boat along. And by God's blessing, some days you will have so much happiness that your completely filled sails will move your boat along at full tilt.
But days will come, as they surely do, when there's no wind at all, and your boat will come to a complete standstill. And on those days, you will have to put out your oars to move your boat. And moving a boat by oars is hard work.
Paul, a man keeps the Commandments, lives his life, chooses a career and has a family because that's what God wants of him — not because it will make him happy. Those who seek happiness as their ultimate goal will not find it.
Those were wise words from a wise woman. It's too bad it took me until I was 60 to truly understand what she was talking about.
Even though Our Lord didn't promise us happiness, He did promise three things in the gospels. Perhaps the most important was eternal life. In St. John's Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: "Amen, amen I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes in the one Who sent Me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life."
It's a great consolation to know that Our Lord has promised us eternal life. To visualize being reunited with my deceased loved ones and God in Heaven is enough most days to keep me plodding on. Always keeping this goal in the forefront of my mind helps me deal with all the evil vagaries life throws at a man.
The second of Our Lord's promises comes from St. Matthew's Gospel. Right before He ascends to Heaven, Jesus tells his disciples: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
Considering this promise of Our Lord, Protestants entirely miss what He is talking about. What Jesus underscores is how He is present with His disciples in the Blessed Sacrament. As Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkein wrote in a letter to his son, Our Lord's greatest gift to us is His very Flesh and Blood. There is no trial that the Evil One can hurl at us that we cannot conquer because Christ Himself strengthens our ability to fight if we avail ourselves of Him in the Holy Eucharist.
The last thing that Our Lord promised us in this world, surprisingly enough, was persecution! In Mark's Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples they will suffer persecution before gaining eternal life.
The irony of this promise is that, although we don't welcome persecutions, these trials can strengthen our faith. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans: "We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance; and endurance, proven character; and proven character, hope."
Hope is the theological virtue that gives us the backbone to persevere through our trials. In order to develop the virtue of perseverance, therefore, we should pray that God blesses us with a full measure of hope as well. In the midst of things like unprecedented inflation and looming global war, God always offers us spiritual remedies.