This past Friday, as I sat in church listening to St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, these words hit me like a sledgehammer:
"Five times at the hands of the Jews I received 40 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, danger 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 sleepless nights, through hunger and thirsts, 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."
After a reading like this one can't help but reflect on St. Paul's great courage and his zeal for spreading the Gospel. But do you know what really struck me the most outside of the hardships that St. Paul underwent?
It was the fact that nothing, and I mean nothing can destroy us nor take our life without the express permission of God. St. Paul lived through each and every one of these horrors because God allowed it to be so. Only He has the ultimate power over life and death. Death cannot claim someone before their time. Some may ask:
Well, what about those who never make it out of the wombs of their mothers? Or children who die young? How about those whose lives are taken by another? Those killed by drunk drivers?
Here we get into the area of God's permitting will which differs from his perfect will. This "permitting will" entered after the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. This may be an area that is very difficult for us to understand but God does not ask us to understand....He asks us to trust. To trust that good will be brought out of even the greatest evil.
I have a very good friend who lost her teenage son at the hands of a drunk driver. One day, a few years after this tragic lost, she said to me, "Mary, I have to tell you, had my son not died when he did, I have reason to believe that his soul may have been lost had he stayed on earth." This woman had a beautiful mystical experience regarding the salvation of her son's soul and, what she had previously thought to be "the unkindness of Our Lord", changed instantly after a small glimpse of a mercy so great and a God so good that He allowed this young man to die early in order to save his soul. She still grieved but she no longer questioned.
St. Paul's love for the Lord was so great that he understood that death would come when it was time to go, no sooner no later. All the apostles understood this, also. Though most of their deaths came in the form of martyrdom, God brought such immense good out of each of their lives and deaths that we are still reaping its benefits thousands of years later.
Every single person on this earth has a mission and I, for one, believe that even those "little ones" who never got the chance to take a breath here on earth fulfilled the mission they were sent for. God thinks in terms of quality not quantity - the souls of these "little ones" may have been so beautiful already that stepping foot on this earth may have not even been necessary.
Many years ago, I remember, after suffering from years of infertility, finally seeing that beautiful plus sign on a home pregnancy test. I joyously made an appointment with my doctor....only to find out after further testing that it was an ectopic pregnancy. I remember crying and crying for days on end, no one could console me. I realized that, though this baby was in the wrong place, a baby it was, soul and all, and though he or she wouldn't live that this child had a purpose, nonetheless. Oddly enough, this ectopic pregnancy paved the way for my daughter to be born. Somehow, after years of doctors not being able to get dye through my tubes, something happened. Not only did God prevent my tube from bursting, after the HCG numbers bottomed out signifying the baby's death, somehow the doctor was suddenly able to get the dye through the very tube that had previously contained the ectopic pregnancy while the other tube remained completely blocked as usual. My belief is that this pregnancy stretched the tube in the area where it was blocked and when the dye was pushed through, this area was "unblocked" and enabled me to conceive my daughter, Michaela.
I cannot prove this of course, but I believe it anyway. What else could explain it? God can bring great good, even out of circumstances which we cannot understand with our limited perspective here on earth.
"I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be hindered." Job 42:2