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The new year is underway, and the skyrocketing cost of just about everything leaves many fretting by day or kept awake at night struggling with doubts and worries.
What can we do to allay such fearful questions like "What will be the next shoe to drop? My furnace is ancient; will it last another winter? My savings are now nonexistent; what will happen if I get sick and can't work?"
When there's a night when these sorts of questions assail me, I find it's best just to get out of bed and say a Rosary. At least the time spent offering up prayers is productive — compared to just tossing and turning through the night!
If you read closely the lives of the saints, you come to realize that most of these men and women went through rough patches like we are now going through. They experienced years of famine or war in which their faith was severely tested — times when it became extremely difficult to remain faithful to their vows and to their relationship with Christ.
In the biography The Life of Saint John Vianney, The Curé of Ars, the author recalls a severe trial: The orphanage St. Vianney opened in Ars had no food to feed the orphans. The author writes:
Among other incidents observed by many witnesses it is related that one day there was no flour for the day's supply of bread and no money with which to purchase any. Everyone whom Father Vianney approached upon this subject seemed either to be unable or unwilling to relieve him, so that the curé imagined himself almost forsaken.
Never before had he felt so miserable. Then he remembered St. Francis Regis and deciding to seek heavenly intercession, he took the relics of the saint and carried them to the store-room, concealing them under the remnant of grain that lay there. Next day the caretakers of the home came and again reminded the pastor that there was nothing left to eat in the house. Father Vianney, weeping, exclaimed: "Then we must send our poor children away!" Nevertheless he betook himself with one of the care-takers to the store-room and, with great anxiety, opened the door, when, behold the store-room which had been empty was found to be filled with grain.
It was on such an occasion as this that Father Vianney's sanctity manifested itself. Instead of welcoming this public miracle with joyful satisfaction he felt on the contrary, deeply humiliated, because of his having previously given way to discouragement. He hastened to the children of the home and exclaimed in self-accusation "Behold, dear children, I mistrusted the good God. I was about to send you all away, and for this He has well punished me!"
God generously condescended to hear St. John Vianney's prayers for the orphans of Ars. St. Vianney, for his part, remonstrated himself for his own lack of faith in God's providence.
If we are honest with ourselves, then we must understand that our faith, far from being strong and robust, is just often weak. Many of us, when a small trial comes our way, find ourselves throwing up our hands and giving up in despair and we succumb to hopelessness.
How many times have I heard stories of men and women being put through some trial, and, instead of slogging through it gracefully, they just compound their problems by committing additional sins?
In their trial, they act more like demons than saints.
Over the last 23 years as a priest, I have heard many stories in this vein — men and women who show how little faith they have when they are beset by trials. I've heard things like:
"Father, if I had gotten my bonus this year, I would have had the money in the bank to take care of the hospital fees for my daughter's illness, and I would not have had to steal from my firm."
"When I was fired last week, instead of peacefully leaving the office after being dismissed by my boss, I trashed it. I don't know what came over me. Now I have to offer restitution to the firm for the things I destroyed."
"When I found out that my wife was cheating on me, I thought, 'What the hell? If she can't respect our vows, why should I?' So, I had a fling with one of my coworkers."
"Since my work situation has been so uncertain lately, I have neglected to send anything to help my parents for some time. I feel bad about their situation, but what can I do? I am just one man."
But despite their rationalizations and excuses, if a priest hears the confession of such penitents, he has it made! They know deep down what they have done is wrong, prompting them to seek God's forgiveness in the confessional.
For such confessions, I keep some of my favorite passages from Scripture handy, photocopied and ready to slip through the slot for the penitent. One I often share is a passage from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians where he recalls the travails he suffered to bring God's word to them:
Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.
I often ask the penitent to read the passage aloud. And it usually results in the penitent saying, "Here I am moaning about this and that, and St. Paul ended up getting shipwrecked and beaten. I will ask God for a stronger faith. May God give me the grace not to succumb to despair again."
It may sound cliché, but to persevere well during trials is just a matter of getting down on our knees and praying. Our Lord Himself, during the course of His active ministry, oftentimes stole away to a secluded place to pray.
If Jesus, Who is fully God, found strength and comfort in prayer, shouldn't we as well?
When severe crosses come our way in the course of our daily lives, most times the only choice we have is to suck it up and slog through as best we can with God's grace.
When I find myself overwhelmed and out of my mind with worry, I find great comfort in reflecting upon our Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
He who was both fully human and fully divine understood what searing pain and physical torture were like. As St. Luke wrote in his gospel, "He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground."
Jesus, during those last hours before his Passion and death, suffered horribly, knowing that a cruel execution awaited Him.
So if you are like me and easily succumb to anxiety from time to time, take a cue from Jesus. When you're beside yourself with worry, just bring all your anxieties to Him in prayer. There is no shame in being anxious; the only shame to be found is if you fail to bring it to God.
Trials really are what make or break a man. The disciple who slogs through a trial, prayerfully accepting the crosses God permits, is one on the way to sainthood.
Realize you don't have to shoulder every trial that comes your way on your own. If you need help carrying a heavy burden, don't hesitate in asking a friend to support you in your trial, even if the support is only to offer up a Rosary for your needs.
I believe prayers offered freely and graciously for the cares and burdens of another fly directly to God's throne in Heaven. At times, just the thought that you're not in the fight alone makes all the difference.
Also, make it a habit in the new year to take your worries to the Blessed Mother, who is there for us in every time of need.
At the end of the day, perseverance is not rocket science. You don't need any advanced degree to succeed at it. Rather, what is needed is a prayerful, docile disposition, one not afraid to ask God for the graces needed to plod on, and the humility to ask fellow disciples for their prayers and support.
Perseverance is not easy, but it can be done! In this new year, make it your business to persevere in prayer. Just take it one day at a time; with God's grace, you will succeed! Giving up is not an option.
As the late Pope Benedict XVI said, "Stand firm in the faith! Do not let yourselves be confused!"
In the end, perseverance makes all the difference in winning the fight.