In a presidential election year that has been unimaginably dramatic, one is tempted to get caught up in the screaming headlines, the earnest television commentators, the raging or laudatory opinion columns and the comments of Internet pundits. Surely, the question of who is elected president of the United States of America is the most pressing and important question of our times.
Or is it?
Presidential politics make for high drama, but all the while the high drama is acted, a low drama is being played out according to another agenda, another schedule and another set of rules and values. A recent pilgrimage to Poland made me realize that the agony of the 20th century, with its ideologies, revolutions, death camps, genocide and rumors of genocide, had running beneath it another plan, another purpose and another Providence. Beneath the history, there is a secret history. Beneath the wars, another far-more-important war is raging. Beneath the tyrants and the terror, invisible warriors are always wrestling.
We visited Auschwitz, and it is commonplace to regard the horrors of the concentration camps and cry out, “Where is a loving God in all this?” In fact, God was there in a place we could not see. He was working in Poland in a very ordinary convent in Krakow, where a simple nun had a vision of Christ’s everlasting mercy. Helena Kowalska was the third of 10 children born to a peasant family. With only three years of school, she entered the convent and took the name Faustina. Her role was as a menial laborer, but heaven gave her a vision of the resurrected Christ with rays of mercy emanating from his breast, and she was to promulgate this message to the whole world. She died in 1938, with not the slightest idea that her divine mission would ever be accomplished.
That same year, a young student arrived in Krakow from the provinces. Bright and charismatic, Karol Wojtyla was going to be a writer, an actor and a literary figure. Instead, under the Nazi occupation, he decided to train in secret as a priest. He worked in a stone quarry and a chemical factory while he completed his studies and was secretly ordained. Then, under the communist regime, he became a philosophy professor, a pastor and a man of prayer.
At 38, he became Poland’s youngest bishop; and 20 years later, he became one of history’s youngest popes — at just 58 years of age. He took the name John Paul II. Captivated by the story of the unknown mystic, he eventually promulgated Sister Faustina’s message, canonized her as a saint and made the message of mercy the hallmark of his mission.
The message is simple: In the midst of the world’s greatest darkness, a light shone. It was from Poland’s dark night that the Resurrection image of mercy was born — and that image says without words, “Love will conquer all. Life triumphs over death, and the darkness can never extinguish the light.” It says that, beneath the politics of Nazism and communism, another Power was at play.
Today, when you visit Krakow, Nazism and communism are dead, and on the outskirts of the city, two great, modern basilicas commemorate St. Faustina and Pope St. John Paul II. John Paul’s basilica stands on the site of the stone quarry where he once worked. Faustina’s is a few hundred yards away, next to the convent cemetery where she was buried. They rise as a witness to the fact that, in the 20th century (as in every century), God’s providence is working parallel to the politics of the day.
The news headlines trumpet the concerns of the world while God is at work behind the scenes — in some hidden convent cell, in the library hours of a young student, in a peasant hovel in Lourdes, Fatima or Nazareth. What Providence provides in those places eventually and always overwhelms the politics and the power brokers of the day.
Therefore, should you be delighted or despondent about the state of the American presidential election, take heart. It is neither as wonderful or as terrible as you imagine, for what is going on in the politics of this day (as in every day) is ephemeral. It lasts but a season, then is gone. Eye, instead, the inner workings of Providence. Develop a sense for the secret history of the world. Snoop around and search out the hidden plan of Providence, and you will be delighted to know that what is done in secret will one day be blazoned from the housetops.
Father Dwight Longenecker is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina.