Providence: A Hecker Reflection
This is the twentyfirst in a series of previously unpublished reflections from the 1854 spiritual notebook of Paulist Founder, Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker. The reflection series is being made pubic in conjunction with Father Hecker's cause for canonization. Father Paul Robichaud, CSP, Paulist historian and postulator for Father Hecker’s cause for sainthood, offers a response to Father Hecker’s reflection.
To Act in the Providence of God
“There is no better thing for man then to be happy and to live the best life he can while he is alive.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12)
We are where we are by God’s providence – except for sin – and even that is embraced in the arms of God’s providence What better guide can we have for the future? The secret of our life is hidden from us. Our business is to act with unshaken faith and generous confidence in the providence of God; and to do what lies before us with heroic courage. “Whatever task your hand finds to do; do it with all your might.“ (Ecclesiastes 9:10) This is the most practical and wisest rule of life.
Do all that you can do, just as others do. What is extraordinary is beyond the rule, and if it is not a delusion, will be done in spite of you. The highest rule of life is not to be governed by our base instincts … but by the suggestions, inspirations and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
St. Teresa (of Avila) speaking in the Interior Castle of extraordinary gifts, said: “It is enough to know the commandments and counsels of God show us the way in which we should walk to please God. Let us therefore walk in these ways with courage, thinking of the life and death of the Lord, and the great obligation we have to Him; as for everything else, it will come when it pleases God.”
A response from Father Paul Robichaud, CSP
The providence of God consists of three parts. God’ creation of us in the past – in which we find meaning for our lives. God’s care for us in the present – in which we find the courage to live out the virtues of faith, hope and love. Lastly, God’s will or plan for us in the future – in which we shall triumph in the death and resurrection of Jesus and shall as children of the Father, inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God. God’s Providence or care embraces the past, present and future.
In this reflection, Father Hecker writes that trusting in God’s care for us, we should live out the ordinary moments of our lives with unshaken faith, generous hope and heroic courage. Do everything as well as you can and don’t give in to baser instincts that would have us short-change or shortcut the decisions and actions of our day. Be attentive and in prayer and discernment listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us. If it is the Spirit calling from within, it will happen and if it is not the Spirit, it will pass.
Every important issue that Servant of God, Isaac Hecker confronted in his life, he faced with a basic trust in God’s providence. From comforting his parents as a child of four years that he would survive a smallpox epidemic to founding the Paulist Fathers in a time of personal and religious crisis and his struggle with leukemia in later life which robbed him of energy and blocked his ability to expand the Paulist mission – in all these moments – Father Hecker believed that it was God’s will and not his own that would win out in the end. As he often said to his Paulist brothers in difficult moments, trust in the Holy Spirit and leave the rest in God’s providence.
About Father Isaac Hecker’s 1854 Spiritual Notebook:
Servant of God, Father Isaac Hecker wrote these spiritual notes as a young Redemptorist priest about 1854 and they have never been published. Hecker was 34 years old at the time, and had been ordained a priest for five years. He loved his work as a Catholic evangelist. The Redemptorist mission band had expanded out of the New York state area to the south and west, and the band’s national reputation grew. Hecker had begun to focus his attention on Protestants who came out to hear them. To this purpose Hecker began to write in 1854 his invitation to Protestant America to consider the Catholic Church, “Questions of the Soul” which would make him a national figure in the American church.
Hecker collected and organized these notes that include writings and stories from St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Jesuit spiritual writer Louis Lallemant and his disciple Jean Surin, the German mystic John Tauler, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jane de Chantal among others. These notes were a resource for retreat work and spiritual direction and show Hecker’s growing proficiency in traditional Catholic spirituality some ten years after his conversion to the Catholic faith. They are composed of short thematic reflections.