In the current crisis we need faith, not blame

The late Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest who died last year, said: "God is the first and last resource. We feel God’s presence more and more, because there is nobody else some days who can sustain us to allow us to survive. So we live by miracles, and as we live by miracles, we need faith. Our faith sustains us."

Father Jean-Juste’s statement appears in a memoir by Margaret Trost, a young widow who established a charitable foundation that, prior to the recent earthquake, was providing 7,500 meals a week to children and helping hundreds go to school in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

The title of her book is "On That Day, Everybody Ate." A day in which everybody eats can certainly be considered miraculous, not just in Haiti but even in the richest nation in the world. In the current economic crisis, many Americans can no longer take their next meal for granted.

Yet, as I write this, well-fed politicians in the Senate are holding up the renewal of unemployment benefits for tens of thousands by demanding to know where the money to pay for them is coming from. No one can give a precise answer to that question.

The times demand faith and that is what the nation most needs now. That requires admitting that we are never completely in control of our destiny, either as individuals or as a society.

According to the review of her book in the National Catholic Reporter, Trost learned to live by the faith to which Father Jean-Juste refers, "the belief that miracles are routine and abundant."

Indeed, when we reflect on our lives we realize that we have seen many miracles, which Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines as events in the external world "brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God."

Two examples:

In 1977, I developed an amoebic abscess in the liver that burst into my chest and almost took my life. After I recovered, my doctor, Kevin M. Cahill, told me that I had made medical history. Only one or two other people had survived what I had.

I grew up in a remote community named Whirlwind ("Terromote" in Spanish) in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. The land is what is called high desert, subject to capricious rainfall and devastating droughts.

I have just published the history of the families who lived there. Not surprising, the most striking element of their character was a strong faith.

Families gathered each night to pray the rosary. When rain did not fall, they took a statue of St. Isidore, the patron of farmers, and processed through the fields, praying and singing hymns. They also made pilgrimages to favorite shrines. They had no other recourse but to appeal to God, and he never failed them.

We have not yet come to that stage in the current crisis. Today anger dominates our public discourse. The institutions we trusted — Congress, "the market," laws and agencies designed to protect our welfare — have failed us.

Our leaders thought they had learned the lessons of the Great Depression of the 1930s so well that a similar crisis would not reoccur. But it did.

Science, statistics, computers and other technical advances gave us the illusion that we knew all the answers. We did not.

The great imperative today is to punish those who are guilty, defeat the incumbents.

But as the farmers of my homeland knew, that simply avoids admitting that, in the final analysis, our control of our destiny and our world is at best tenuous, at worst a cruel illusion.

God help us!

Sandoval is a columnist for Catholic News Service.

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