Do you remember when I asked you about your plans for today?
It’s post 267. I wrote it on October 31, 2017. I wrote: “2020. Does that seem like a long way off? Where will you be then? Where will you be on, say, November 2, 2020, the feast of All Souls’ Day?”
I didn’t know, when I asked the questions, how today would be. I didn’t realize it would be a day when we changed all our clocks back an hour. I didn’t realize it would be right before the United States election. But I asked because I thought today might be really different from what you would expect.
So I should ask, where are you now? (The words make me think of Alan Walker’s “Faded,” another song I still like.)
Now it’s 2020, and you didn’t think it would be like this, did you? We’re all facing a world that is so changed. Never before have so many people simultaneously faced the same enemy. Some regions are heading into a second lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and the impacts are certainly unevenly distributed, but everyone is dealing with the fogginess of the future. Ah! We are just mortals, after all, aren’t we? Now we see how little we know, how little we can control. The illusion of controlling our earthly lives has been radically challenged.
Some of the people who read my questions three years ago aren’t on earth anymore. They have died, and that’s what today is for. It’s a day for remembering and praying for everyone who is already gone, those now in heaven or in purgatory.
But you’re still here. The story of your life on earth continues. It’s an interesting story, because you are the main character in it. You will continue to be presented with a series of seemingly-random problems, ranging from small inconveniences to personal disasters. God allows this to see how you will react. Everything is a test. So in this sense, coronavirus is nothing new. It’s just another test in the long series of tests which is the story of your life.
In other words, you’re not just a random piece of wood being tossed up in the big ocean storm called coronavirus. God is still in charge. He knows about your unique, personal experience of the effects of the virus. He knows what you worry about. He knows what you are afraid of. He knows the future, and he won’t let anything happen to you that he doesn’t have a solution for.
However, there is something that you need to know about God’s plan for you, and it is this: you must cooperate.
How do you cooperate?
You cooperate by always trying to do the right thing: the moral thing, the honourable thing, the decent thing. The “right thing” is not necessarily the most profitable, impressive, or cool thing. It’s often difficult and scary because you don’t know how things will turn out, especially when it involves telling the truth. In the case of telling the truth, doing the right thing won’t necessarily look like the most ‘nice’ thing. People so often allow themselves to ignore the evil deeds of others with the excuse that it wouldn’t be nice to question or challenge people. The truth is that they are afraid to challenge the wrong-doer; they are cowardly.
Each day is filled with dozens of moral choices. If you don’t agree, then probably you don’t see the small things as being as important as they really are. But truly, any decision which involves choosing between right and wrong is a big deal. For example, when you go online, it matters what you look at. When you write a comment online, it matters what you say, even though you feel anonymous. When you drive your car, it matters whether you are careful and polite, even though you feel anonymous. And let’s look at all of those daily tasks that you must do. These are important too, whether you are paid for these activities or not. Doing your duty is a morally good thing, and God sees all of the little actions and the energy that goes into tasks that are so quickly forgotten.
Finally, and most importantly, is the realm of your intentions. What are you wanting for the people around you? Are you wanting the best for them? Do you want them to be good, and do you want them to succeed with the talents that God has given them? Or do you secretly envy some of your friends and family members? If you do, then you are not a real friend, and you are not a good family member.
If you are trying to be good, you will receive God’s full reward. The main issue is what you want — your effort, your intention. If you bake a cake for someone, and it doesn’t turn out as nicely as you had hoped, God will still give you full credit for your efforts. Conversely, if you are trying to do something evil, or if you nurture evil wishes in your heart, then you will suffer the consequences of your intentions, even though you were prevented from carrying out your plans.
If you are in a situation where you want to do a good thing, but you are prevented from doing it because of circumstances beyond your control, then God will give you the reward as if you had done it. If you are in a situation where you want to do what is right, but you are outvoted or overruled by others, God will know this too, and he will arrange things so that you will receive a reward while those who have chosen wrongly will not receive it. Nobody’s evil actions can prevent your good actions or intentions from receiving their rightful reward, no matter how linked your futures seem to be. So you must always attempt to do what is right, even if the effort seems futile.
If you are in a situation where you want to do what is right, but you don’t know how to proceed, then God will watch how much effort you expend on trying to figure out the right answer. For this reason, he might not give you the answer immediately. You will be blessed for your persistent struggle to find the truth and the best way.
If you have done wrong, then do your best to set things right. Usually, setting things right will be more difficult than doing things right the first time, but whenever the test is tougher, there is more to be gained from succeeding at it. And even if you are unable to undo the damage as well as you wish, your intention will count for a lot. You can pay for the rest of the damage by patiently accepting the suffering that comes your way.
The thing about personal intention, other than its importance, is its hiddenness. In general, people are silent about what they really want for themselves and for others. Moreover, it is very typical for people to send out false signals, even to the point of outright lying, about their real desires. Why does this matter? It matters because it means that it is very difficult to tell who is good and who is bad. The bible story about the widow who donated a few coins shows that you cannot know from outward actions who is outstandingly good, because often they just won’t stand out. In fact, the general rule is that those who are very good, and who mean the very best, are underestimated and overlooked. Life seems to pass them by while the others know how to play the game.
But our God is a God of last-minute reversals. He is in charge. Do not become complacent because you have not seen much evidence of his presence and his justice. Do not discount his strength and his wisdom. Are you so powerful and knowledgeable that you can scoff at him? Mortal! The wind changes direction and you are frightened.
Do not be arrogant and overly confident in yourself, for soon the day will come when you will regret the times you felt so superior to all this advice.
Instead, be curious about the little hints that God gives you about his love. Become like a child on a treasure hunt. He does love you and care for you, and he won’t snub you in order to get revenge on you for your neglect of him. Pay attention to the coincidences in your life. Pope John Paul II said there are no such things as coincidences. When you begin reaching towards God, he will make his presence increasingly clear to you. But if he makes you wait, do not become impatient. This is also a test. He will watch to see whether you will search for him. Your persistent search will be allowed only so that he can bless you later for your efforts.
Do not be afraid to be a fool in the best sense. Perhaps you long ago declared yourself an atheist or an agnostic. Now you feel that it would be an embarrassment to contradict yourself. Your pride is wounded at the thought of beginning the search again, at the thought of going back to where you left off or returning to where you started. You cannot stomach the thought of repentance and apologies. Or, personal pride being what it is, maybe the thought of listening to or agreeing with someone you dislike or disdain is the issue. Well, all this is nonsense. You are all the more human if you are willing to begin again, even if that means being in agreement with this person or that person. Growing and learning are signs of life. Stubbornness and bitterness — that sounds like death.
And speaking of death, I am glad the Hallowe’en activities are done for another year. As I walked my dog this morning, I saw many houses decorated with plastic skeletons, corpses, and gravestones. These displays are a combination of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and a personal lack of sound judgment, kind of like tattoos. The bigger and bolder they are, the more unhinged the person.
So what do you think? Are you happy with where you are now? Are you in a good place in the most important sense? Are you being the person you should be? Seek improvement, either radical or incremental, whichever will be more successful. Go cold turkey or gradually, but make sure you change whatever needs changing. There’s not much time. A human life is not very long, after all.
Just ask those who have gone before us.
Happy All Souls’ Day.