America & the Hand of Providence

11-18-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Pope Paul III, not Paul VI of Humanae Vitae fame, now St. Pope Paul VI, but Pope Paul III of Sublimus Deus fame, is who we should thank on this Thanksgiving Day holiday. Sublimus Deus (The Sublime God), an encyclical letter issued in 1537, some 45 years after Columbus came to America, stated that, “Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved…” It also called for the evangelization of the native Americans who wished to receive the Christian faith.

In 1614 a few years before the arrival of the Mayflower, Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) sailed from America back to England and left his Lieutenant Thomas Hunt behind to load his other ship with dried fish. Hunt instead lured some native Americans on board and subsequently kidnapped them, intending to sell them as slaves in Europe. Hunt came to port in Malaga, off the coast of Spain. Fortunately for the Indians (as the Europeans called them) Spain was a Catholic country adhering to the moral teachings of Paul III and so opposed the slave trade and the enslavement of the Indians. One of those Indians was Tisquantum, whose name means “the wrath of God” but better known as Squanto. The Spanish Jesuits intervened and freed Squanto and some of his companions. Somehow Squanto communicated to the Spanish priests that he wanted to go home, except they had no idea where his home was. The Spanish Jesuits would have probably baptized Squanto so to ensure his status as a free man.

Squanto made it to London, where he stayed for three years trying to get back to North America. In those three years, Squanto learned the English language and became familiar with the customs of the white man. Finally, a British merchant agreed to let Squanto sail with him to North America and after six years Squanto made it back to his homeland. Upon arriving, he found out that his tribe had been decimated by disease and not a single member of his tribe remained. Squanto was captured by the Wampanoag tribe; whose leader was a man named Massasoit.

In the winter of 1620 the Puritan Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower on the shores of New England. After a brutal voyage, they had to face a brutal winter in a foreign land. Because of the kidnapping and the disease that previous Europeans had inflicted on the native Americans, the native people were not happy to see the new arrivals. Being the dead of winter when they arrived, the Puritans could not plant and so they resorted to stealing bushels of corn from the Indians. Not exactly a way to ingratiate themselves with the natives. That of course set the Puritans up to come face to face with the “wrath of God”.

For some reason, Squanto, Tisquantum (the wrath of God) put aside any resentments and wrath he had towards the Europeans for his kidnapping and the decimation of his tribe and got the chief Massasoit to agree to send him to negotiate with the Puritans rather than attack them. History would surely be different if Squanto had not helped the new arrivals survive--- helped the very same people who had introduced new diseases that helped cause his own people not to survive.

Squanto negotiated a fair deal for the theft of the corn and taught the Pilgrims how to plant, fish and survive in this land. Of course, much to their surprise, Squanto spoke perfect English. The Pilgrims were convinced that Squanto was sent by God for their assistance. Little did they know the complete role that divine providence had played in their survival. Ironically, the very anti-Catholic Puritans were saved through the efforts of the likely baptized Catholic Squanto, whose life was spared enslavement because of the efforts of Spanish Catholic priests and Pope Paul III.

This Thanksgiving, if you are worried about a problem in your life or your family or your business, remember that the hand of divine providence is already working to bring forth the solution. And sometimes in order to come to fruition, divine providence comes to depend on the selfless actions of one person, who is willing to put aside his or her pain and need for justice so to open the door for others to live.

That’s how our Thanksgiving got its start. Our gratitude list goes back through many generations and individuals who helped us get to this moment because they somehow allowed divine providence to work through them. Are we willing to let divine providence work through us by putting aside our concerns and like Squanto using our scars and wounds to allows others to survive and thrive?

Fr. John B.