Blessed Fr. Sopocko
A Reminder of What God is Willing to Do for Us
Many people these days see their lives as little more than a seemingly endless string of frustrations. As the playwright Oscar Wilde once wrote, most men lead lives of "quiet desperation." The Holy Scriptures assure us, however, that they have been deceived: God is not asleep! He is at work in your life and mine, if only we have eyes to see, and He will work even more powerfully in our lives than we can ask or imagine if only we open our hearts to Him in prayer and trust. His providential care extends to all of creation and especially to human beings whom He made in His own image and bought with the price of His own blood.
Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko, the confessor and spiritual director of St. Faustina, reminds us of these truths in his writings again and again:
It is ... our Savior who stresses Mercy in the Divine Providence, which takes care of, not only men, but also of the most [lowly] things such as sparrows and the lilies of the field. Therefore, He forbids us to worry excessively about temporal goods, "Do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat: nor yet for your body, what you shall put on... for your Father knows that you need all these things" (Mt 6:26-32). ... Above everything else God in His mercy wants to take care of His creatures that they might reach their goal. This motive seems to be dominant and decisive in the Providence of God. ...
Like the fire in the sun, Mercy and compassion are always aflame in the open Heart of Jesus. The sentiments of this Heart are embodied in the behavior of the merciful Samaritan who does not discriminate nationality or descent, dress or position, but hastens to help him who, in his wretchedness, turns with confidence to Him for help. (God is Mercy, pp. 33 and 48)
However, it is very important to understand what the Catholic Tradition means by "God's providential care." It is not a pious platitude; it is not an expression of "sugar candy mountain" spirituality in which we delude ourselves that if we prayerfully entrust our lives to our Lord, He will insure that we never have to feel deep sorrow or suffer terribly. If the cross was the path to heaven for our Lord and Savior, how could it be any different for us who seek to follow Him? "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mt 16:24).
In fact, as Fr. Sopocko points out, some crosses of sadness are good for us to carry because they purify our hearts and draw us nearer to God:
The right kind of sadness comes from God. It is caused by the realization of our own misery, a recognition of our sins, by compassion for the physical and spiritual misfortunes of others, our longing for God and by the thought that God is offended. The fruit of this sadness is the purification of the heart, abundant merit and holy solace. "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt 5:5). (p. 79)
Our compassion for the plight of others can be expressed by praying for their needs, by words of love, and by deeds of mercy. Our longing for God can be assuaged by drawing near to Him in prayer and the sacraments. But the sadness in our hearts caused by repentance is perhaps dearest to our Savior's Heart of all our sorrows. Blessed Sopocko writes:
"Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost" (Lk 15:6).
Who would believe that the Lord has ... His days of special joy on which He seems to be more happy than usual? When does the Lord feel such joy? Is it when people render Him glory, when they build sanctuaries to Him, when the martyrs give their life for His name? No doubt, God rejoices in all that. But the summit of His joy is the conversion of the sinner. It is the day of gladness for God when the sinful man abandons his sordid life and washes himself with tears of sorrow for having offended God; when the extortioner, the usurer, the wrongdoer stop their malice and, like Zaccheus, compensate in a fourfold manner for the wrongs committed; when the fickle and fallen woman rises from her degradation and, like Magdalen, becomes a penitent; when any sinner amends his way of life.
God not only willingly forgives the prodigal sons who do penance, but he also soothes the wounds of their heart, pours solace into their soul, presents them with a festive garment by restoring their innocence and adopting them as His children. Upon the lamentable ruin of sin, He raises a new sanctuary of the regenerated soul. He clothes it with the garment of sanctifying grace, adorns it with the crown of His gifts, restores its lost merits and the right to heaven. (p. 72)
Sometimes our sadness is not caused by any of these good things (our compassion for others, contrition for sin, or longing for God) but simply by our bodily weakness, such as emotional or physical exhaustion, or serious illness. But even here God's Mercy has numerous ways of reaching out to us to refresh us on our journey. Blessed Sopocko writes:
Sometimes sadness is a symptom of a tendency to disease or a direct effect of actual disease. In this case one should undergo medical treatment, use exterior means like reading good books, gazing at a beautiful countryside, etc. A change of abode, singing, the company of dear friends, are efficacious too, but the most efficacious means is the company of our best friend, the Merciful Jesus, Who applies balm soothing all the wounds of the human heart.
How many ways our Good Shepherd finds to lighten our burdens on the road to heaven — while always pressing us on to our ultimate goal! This too is part of His providential care for us.
There are some crosses, however, that we are not meant to carry — the burden of anxiety, or worse, dark despair — and to that subject, with the help of Fr. Sopocko, we will turn our attention next week.
For more information on Blessed Michael Sopocko, the confessor and spiritual director of St. Faustina, visit thedivinemercy.org/message/Sopocko.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, based in Stockbridge Mass.