“Hello, it's Pope Francis”, was what one 19 year-old Italian student heard from the other end of the phone a few weeks ago – it wasn't a prank, it was really the pope. Stefano Cabizza had written Pope Francis a note about his life, hopes and dreams and much to his surprise, the pope called him on it, literally. I love surprises, and I believe part of the attraction is tactical advantage. It can gain one both courage and confidence, but can else enhance both pleasure and pain.
Aristotle once said, “the secret to humour is surprise”. That gels well with Bishop Fulton Sheen's teaching on the Divine Sense of Humour
that I wrote on previously
. History, God's medium for His poetry, is full of surprises. What this sort of humour entails is that we be open to God's plan for our lives, which is our real anchor to reality. Worries and anxiety come from the “what might be's
” of the future, and not from God's now, where we make our choices. It's now that we choose to trust in the Lord, and all of the surprises that He may allow to come our way. But whose plan would you rather trust? The Bible says, “'For I know the plans I have for you', says the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).
As you enter into this semester, entrust yourself to God's surprises. In reality, surprises bring about both sorrow and joy, grief and happiness, but Scripture also promises is that He works all things for the good, for those who love Him (cf. Rom. 8:28). As I said, history is full of surprises. This week's Five
tells of merely a sampling of those surprises (in no particular order):
- Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius – We know this took everyone by surprise because historical references state that, while some minor tremors had long been experienced, no one expected the eruption that occurred in November of 79 AD. Archaeology has revealed 'fossils' of people, still about their business, covered in layers and layers of ash. Pliny the Younger, governor of a nearby town, witnessed the eruption from afar, and lost his father (Pliny the Elder) in the tragedy as he tried to help people escape.
- The Titanic – this is one of the obvious 'shockers' of the modern era. It had been touted as a vessel so well-made that even God couldn't sink it. It was to everyone's surprise when, on the ides of April 1912, the RMS Titanic took its final resting place at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is estimated that at least 1500 of its 2200 passengers died during that tragic voyage.
- The retreat of Attila the Hun – The year: 450 AD. The scene: Italy. The situation: Attila the Hun has demanded Emperor Valentinian III's sister with a dowry (allegedly). Emissaries are sent to parley with Attila, and Pope St. Leo I meets him to beg a retreat. History does not reveal what happened to cause him to turn around, but that's exactly what happened. The Huns had the opportunity to take over all of Europe, and to everyone's surprise, they turned around and went home. Some suggest disease overtook his troops, some say a vision of a robed man with a naked sword appeared to him (angelic being), and others suggest he couldn't withstand the presence of the saintly pope. We'll never know, while he had plans to attack again, he died suddenly in 453 AD.
- The Flood at the time of Noah – It's always interested me that, from the famed Gilgamesh Epic in the middle East, to the tip of South America, there are legends of a major flood occurring in the history of the people where a single man (usually a priest) and his family survives to re-start the nations of the earth. What was not surprising to Noah (he knew of it and prepared for it for a approximately a century), must have come as a surprise to the rest of the people around him! Read more about this in Genesis 6-9.
- The Incarnation – God becoming man is by far the biggest surprise for mankind. It is the hinge upon which all of history turns, and also the meaning behind all of it. While God prepared his people to receive the Christ, nobody expected to what extent God would go to be with his people, and to be with them forever. This is why the Angelus prayer is said daily (actually recommended 3 times daily) at noon, because as the sun (Son?) is at its highest point in the day, so in the fullness of time, God brought forth a son, born of a woman (cf. Gal. 4:4-5). The whole Angelus prayer (and the “Hail, Mary” prayer) is focused upon this most unique and surprising event in history. It reveals God's initative (“The angel of the Lord declared to Mary – and she conceived by the Holy Spirit”), Man's response (“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to the word”), the effect of that faithful response in the heart of the believer (“And the Word was made flesh – and dwelt among them”), the petition of the Child of God (“Pray for us O Holy Mother of God – that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”), and finally, the realization of the believers place in the family, the Body, Church of Jesus (“Oremus! - that is, “Let Us Pray!”). The whole of life is anchored on the fact that the God became man.
Throw in your ideas for other “surprises” in history into the comment box!
by Scott Roy