Gina Christian

“Turn left at the next stop sign,” the robotic voice droned. I detected an edge to its tone; I’d already disregarded three previous prompts from my GPS app.

The morning after Hurricane Ida had swept through the region, I was threading my way to work through road closures and stalled traffic. Aside from torrential rains, my neighborhood had been largely spared; tornado warnings had lapsed without incident, and power supplies remained steady.

But in the randomness of nature’s wrath, others had lost homes, businesses and even lives in the vicious storm. The contrast was surreal: while some fled flooded downtown streets, I was rushing to an urgent meeting blocks away.

In the process, I found myself battling the navigation app, which seemed to be taking me off course despite its promise to guide me along the fastest possible route. Panicked, I quickly recalculated the directions at a stop sign, only to cluck my tongue in disbelief: the app was advising me to cross from Philadelphia into New Jersey, then re-enter the city at a more southern point.

“Are you kidding me?” I muttered. “I have to go to New Jersey to get to Philadelphia?”

Although I’d grown up in the Garden State, I wasn’t too familiar with its highways anymore, having lived on the other side of the river for the last three decades. Ignoring the app yet again, I made a few turns to evade traffic — and suddenly found myself in a no-exit lane for one of the bridges to New Jersey, nine miles and counting in the opposite direction from my meeting, which was due to start in less than 45 minutes. I had no EZ Pass or cash for the bridge tolls, and only just enough gas to make it to the office without stopping to refuel.

Midway over the river, I blinked back tears of frustration and groaned, “Jesus, please help me.” 

I knew, of course, that my momentary distress was just that, compared to the genuine anguish others had suffered due to the storm. Still, I was fearful of inconveniencing my coworkers, one of whom already had an extremely full schedule.

At that moment, an old quote came to mind, words of wisdom from St. Mother Theodore Guérin, a 19th-century French religious and missionary: “Have confidence in Providence that so far has never failed us,” said Mother Guérin. “The way is not yet clear. Grope along slowly. Do not press matters; be patient, be trustful.”

The gentle maxim was no platitude: Mother Guérin had lived those words from her childhood, and every successive experience in her life had only tested and proved them further. 

Born in 1798, Anne-Therese Guérin lost her father and two brothers while still a child, then spent some 10 years caring for her ailing mother before entering the convent at age 25. Once professed, her trials only multiplied: chronic illness, difficult teaching assignments, misunderstandings and false accusations.

Assigned to lead the Sisters of Providence mission in the United States, Mother Guérin and her five companions arrived in the Indiana woods after a three-month journey, only to find there was neither a home nor a school ready for them. Sharing a farmhouse with neighbors, the sisters endured bitter cold and privation. “Everything is frozen, even the bread,” one of the nuns wrote.

On this side of the Atlantic, continued hardship awaited Mother Guérin, including clashes with a bishop who at one point imprisoned and excommunicated her. As she lay ill, the bishop resigned, and she was — providentially — restored to her beloved congregation. 

In October 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI canonized this extraordinary woman, who knew with all her heart that “the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate: God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 303).

Of course, the literal and figurative storms of life can lead us to question that care; the Catechism itself boldly asks, “But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil exists in it?” (CCC, 310).

The death and destruction wrought by the “mere” remnants of Hurricane Ida, preceded by a long season of pandemic, polarization and conflict, can erode our belief in a loving and protective Lord — unless we grasp that “God freely willed to create a world ‘in a state of journeying’ toward its ultimate perfection’” (CCC, 310).

Both creation and creatures are on this path: through God’s mysterious wisdom, we live amid “both constructive and destructive forces of nature,” yet remain able to choose in favor of a divine will that (as St. Augustine reminds us) “causes good to emerge from evil itself,” whether we face tragedy or minor trials. 

Approaching the toll booth for the bridge back to Philadelphia, I silently repeated Mother Guérin’s words and slowed to explain to the attendant my lack of payment. 

Before I could speak, she waved me through with a smile. “The man in front of you paid for you,” she said. “How about that?”

Stunned, I edged through the toll booth and drove on, remembering another piece of advice from Mother Guérin: “If you lean with all your weight upon Providence, you will find yourself well-supported.”

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Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.