Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
There’s this famous story of Abraham dickering with God in Genesis 18:
Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near, and said, “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt thou destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:20-33)
From this story has grown up a sort of charming folk legend in some sectors of Judaism that God spares the world for the sake of 36 humble righteous people hidden somewhere on the face of the globe. I think of that legend, and of Paul’s remark to the Corinthians…
For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
...when I read Dawn Eden on St. Josephine Bakhita.
Some people think that because I place no hope at all in Caesar or Mammon, I have no hope. On the contrary, I have plenty of hope—just not in Caesar or Mammon. Our hope is in God the Blessed Trinity, and in the “riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18), just as it was 2000 years ago when St. Paul had not the slightest hope in the world of becoming a player in the court of Caesar, or a successful and wealthy tentmaker. It is in the least and the weakest—people like St. Josephine of whom the world took no note—that the future, indeed the eternity, of our race is found. The big shots and power brokers will, if they find salvation at all, be spending eternity thanking God that people like St. Josephine were around offering sacrifices and prayers in Christ Jesus for their unworthy wretched selves while they were busy screwing up their lives and the world. The real story of human history—the story of the saints—has never been told. All our histories are about what the rich and powerful were doing because we don’t really believe “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 1:51-53). We get glimpses of the real story (the biggest interruption in the monotonous narrative of power struggle being the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, of course). But the real story will not be known till That Day, when we discover who the real heroes of history were, what the real story of history was, and how much we owe all those obscure saints for saving our bacon from our own self-destructive lunacy so many times throughout history by their courageous imitation of Christ. There will be a lot of surprises. And yet we will also see that we shouldn’t have been surprised because the whole story is really all summarized in the story of Christ, played out again and again in the lives of his saints, ever ancient and ever new.