Conformity of the Human Will to the Divine

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away . . . blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job 1: 21


Book Four:

Chapter One: The Chief Hindurances to the Conformity
of the Human Will with the Divine

WHEN the keys of a house or a city are entrusted to anyone, there is at the same time committed to him the power of entering that house or city at his pleasure; but sometimes Christ is long seeking for the keys to the inmost chambers of the heart before He obtains them, and gains free access thither. So little nobility of feeling do we show to that most bountiful of all guests!

Ludovicus Blosius tells a story of S. Gertrude the virgin, which is well worthy of being known. Our Lord appeared to her, and said,-----"In this hand I carry health, in the other disease; choose, my daughter, which you like best." And what could Gertrude do? Should she choose health, it would seem like presumption. Should she prefer disease to health, it would be put down to excessive modesty. It certainly is the custom among men that, when a friend offers a choice of this kind to a friend, he should choose the worse of the two, in order to show his modesty, and on this principle Gertrude ought to have chosen disease, in order to escape the torments of the other world. And she would not have made a foolish choice, after the example of S. Catherine of Siena, who preferred a chaplet of thorns far before a crown of gold. But Gertrude, with greater wisdom, and to her greater profit, chose neither, but folding her hands in the form, of a cross upon her breast, and throwing herself upon her knees, exclaimed,-----"O my Lord, this only I desire of Thee in all my prayers, that Thou wouldest not regard my will, but Thine Own: and so I am ready to receive either; neither do I choose. To Thee, O Lord, it belongs to decide whether Thou wouldest leave with me this or that." To whom Christ replied,-----"Whosoever desires to be often visited by Me, let him offer to Me the key of his will, and never ask it back from Me." And Gertrude, being thus instructed, composed a little prayer, which she arranged according to the following form,-----"Not my will, but Thine be done, O my most loving JESUS!" And this she continued to repeat, according to her rule, three hundred and sixty-five times a day. And this little prayer seems preferable to a thousand other prayers. He will have done well indeed who has frequently repeated it day and night, and with all the more earnestness when adversity presses upon him with the greatest vehemence. No one can be so engrossed with business, or laden with cares, but that ten, twenty, thirty, or even a hundred times every hour, he may repeat this short form,-----"Not my will, but Thine be done, O my most loving JESUS!"

But it seems perchance to some one to be no light matter always to obtain from himself this to will. At times the will resists; and refuses to be driven to perform things which are so meanly thought of, and so hard to bear. It is necessary, therefore, that he who desires that his own will should be as closely united as possible to the Divine should offer himself as being ready and prepared to do those things especially from which his corrupt nature shrinks. The rebellious will must be forced, therefore, to do that, above all other things, which it hates the most.

1. And first of all, let the man who is devoted to the Divine Will offer himself to the loss of all things, and say,-----"O my Lord, I offer myself to Thee, being just as ready for poverty as I am for riches (it is hard indeed, but salutary), nor do I refuse to bear even that poverty of soul which deprives me of consolations, and leaves me barren of every feeling of sweetness. If it thus seem good to Thee, O my God, let my heart become like the most barren ground. Thou, O Lord, hast pledged me, not in costly and fragrant wine, but in wormwood, and in wine mingled with myrrh. To Thy favour, then, will I respond even from this bitter cup. I know, O Lord, that Thy cellar abounds in choicest wine, and the most generous hippocrass; but, in order to try Thy servants, Thou art wont to pledge them in this dead and acid drink. Therefore I will drain, O good JESUS, the cup Thou shalt present to me, however bitter it may be."

Once upon a time God made a clear manifestation of Himself to one of His chosen friends, and soothed his soul with consolations of various kinds. It was as though he were perpetually standing on Mount Thabor, before the radiant presence of Christ. "And why is this?" he used to say to himself. "Do we not live in a place of sorrow and mourning, and does the time demand such sweet consolations?" And so he prayed against this great comfort of soul. God granted his prayer, and for the space of five years exercised him with many cares and difficulties. At last He sent an Angel to replace the man's mourning by consolation; but he, with perfect composure, and steadfastness of purpose, said,-----"I seek for no other consolation but this alone, that I may know that it pleases God that I should be afflicted with sorrow. The Divine Will is to me the greatest alleviation of all griefs. Only let me please God, and I care not whether I am healthy or sick."

S. Chrysostom (In Matt. Hom. VIII. 4) justly extols the virtue of S. Joseph, the betrothed husband of the Blessed Virgin, in this particular:-----"When he had heard these things," he says, "he was not offended" neither did he say,-----'The thing is hard to understand. Didst thou not say just now that He should save His people? And now He saves not even Himself; but we must fly, and go far from home, and be a long time away. The facts are contrary to the promise.' Nay, none of these things doth he say (for the man was faithful), neither is he curious about the time of his return; and this though the Angel had put it indefinitely thus,-----'Be thou there until I tell thee.' But nevertheless, not even at this did he shudder, but submits and obeys, undergoing all the trials with joy." Joseph was perfectly prepared for commencing his flight, for leaving his country, and for enduring want of every kind. The Divine Will soothes all miseries.

When an offering of oneself to poverty has been made, we must then proceed further.

2. To the first oblation, then, of self, let there succeed a second, to be lightly esteemed. And this S. Paul enjoins, when he says,-----"In all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastised, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as needy, yet enriching many; as having nothing, and possessing all things." (2 Cor. VI. 4-10) Let the man who is devoted to the Divine Will say,-----"Lord, I offer myself to Thee for any ignominy and contempt; and that especially for which I have afforded no cause. For Thy sake I do not shrink from being neglected, despised, cast down, and even trodden under foot." This pill is hard and large, but yet it must be swallowed, since it comes from Christ's Dispensary. Christ Himself not only exposed Himself to every kind of injury, but He endured them also as the most abject of men. He was "made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree." (Gal. III. 13) How many of the Saints were thought in the old time to be the wickedest of men; and they knew how they were esteemed, but endured it, however much they may have felt the pain. It is one thing to be esteemed wicked, another to be so; and this last we all of us learn in our cradles without a master, while few only know the former; and those only know it perfectly who receive all contempt from the Hand of God, and from the Divine Will, just as they would receive great honours.

It seems to me that the Mother of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was united to the Divine Will with all her heart, when Joseph her betrothed husband, being alarmed at her being great with child, was thinking about putting her away. And was not the Virgin silent? Had she not committed to the Divine Will whatever opinion might be formed about her? And by this illustrious example many of the Saints were moved; for although they were accused of the most heinous crimes, yet they held their peace, and bore the ignominy, and committed themselves entirely, with all their ignominy, to God.

S. Emmeramnus, Bishop of Ratisbon, was not only accused of a most abominable crime, but was also tormented with the utmost cruelty; for, at the command of Lambert, who was the son of the prince, he was fastened to a ladder, and having been thus prepared for torture, his fingers and toes were cut off, then his ears, nose, arms, and feet; at last his tongue was pulled out, and not long after his soul followed. And could this holy Bishop, and so many other innocent people, endure with calmness the extremity of ignominy? How comes it then that we, who are guilty of a thousand offenses, bear with such impatience contempt so trifling, and an act of injury which is of the smallest possible magnitude? If the Will of God, from which all these things spring, is really dear to us, we shall not easily be disturbed by any contempt however grievous; yea, rather each one will be the greatest possible despiser of himself.

After our Lord had risen from the dead, He said to Magdalen, who was about to embrace His feet with the deepest reverence,-----"Do not touch Me; for I am not yet ascended to My Father." (John xx. 17) Just as if He had said,-----"You will often see Me, Magdalen, and you will not be denied that privilege of touching and kissing Me, which was granted to many of the women of Jerusalem, who ventured to do it as well as you." Christ, indeed, now that His sufferings were all over, and He had endured death, might justly have forbidden that He should be touched; but because He had not as yet ascended to Heaven, the home of immortality, He not only permitted Himself to be touched by His beloved Disciples, but by women also. And yet we, vile and contemptible men of earth that we are, who not merely have never ascended to the habitations of the Blessed, but have not as yet descended either into the grave,-----we, I say, who are still mortal, and exposed to all sorts of miseries, nevertheless cry out so often,-----"Do not touch me! Do not touch me!" In our frenzy we often allow our tongue to run on in a thousand foolish ways. But what monstrous ignorance of the Divine Will possesses us, my Christian friends, and makes us so sensitive as not to be able to endure to be addressed with even a single phrase less honourable than we think our due? He who understands the mystery of the Divine Will, voluntarily offers himself to contempt of every kind, and exclaims,-----"O my Lord, I am most worthy to be despised, and cast out by all; and therefore, when I see that I am suffering that which long ago I have merited, I will not take it amiss! I know, a Lord, that no one will ever despise me who has not first of all received the power to do so from Thee. I will not, therefore, complain; but will make myself viler than I am, and will be lowly in my own eyes."

3. When the soul is now prepared for Poverty and Contempt, there follows a third Oblation of self-----to every kind of sickness. Hanging lamps of silver and other metals are made with such skill, and are supplied with so clever a fastening at the joints, that wherever and however they are carried they are never upset, but always remain lighted, and always look upwards towards the sky; and whoever is truly devoted to the Divine Will is like a lamp of this kind; for, however roughly and improperly he is handled, he still looks towards God and the Divine Will, always standing upright before his Maker, to Whom he frequently offers himself thus :-''If Thou wilIest, O Lord, that my body should be worn out and feeble, or if Thou wilIest that I should be a living corpse, deprived of all strength, wasting away with disease, afflicted with pains, or confined for years to my bed, behold, I am ready and prepared! If it so please Thee, even the most weary sickness will be more pleasing to me than health, however lasting; and it will be equally my pleasure either to be well, according to Thy Will, or to fall into sickness, and to give thanks for it." That which the great master of virtue, John Avila, taught, in the following words, is very well worthy to be noted:-----''It avails more," he used to say, "to thank God once in time of tribulation, than six thousand times in prosperity." For most people know how to thank God when it goes well with them, but few indeed in adversity!

Ludovicus Blosius relates that a virgin, remarkable for her saintliness of life, on being asked by what acts of discipline she had arrived at such perfection, replied,-----"Never have I been so much overwhelmed by grief as to be prevented from asking to endure greater sorrows for love of God, thinking myself unworthy of gifts so singular."

Such force, then, must be applied to the will, as that it should learn to be indifferent about good and bad health, and to be prepared for either. But we must proceed.

4. Fourthly, let the will of man voluntarily offer itself to death of every kind, and let it not look for a quick passage or a protracted life otherwise than as it pleases God. Let, then, one who loves the Divine Will exclaim,-----"I desire neither to live long, nor to die soon, but in either case to obey Thee, O good JESUS. Nor do I prescribe by what kind of death I would desire to die. By whatever kind Thou shalt will to call me to Thyself, by that I am ready to go. But only, O my Lord, would I desire to pray against sudden death; yet not even here do I wish to strive against Thy Will. If Thou willest that I should depart by a sudden stroke, so be it done, as Thou willest. By Thy grace I will ever strive to live in Thy grace. I know that, 'the just man, if he be prevented with death, shall be in rest.' (Wisd. IV. 7) And so I neither shrink from early death, nor desire it to come late; neither do I shudder at a miserable death, or one which my eyes loathe to look upon. We are constrained to believe that many fall asleep in death most placidly, and yet are hurried away to Hell, while many depart by a horrible and painful death, and are received into Heaven. This judgment is too deep to be capable of being disclosed to human eyesight. And therefore will I cheerfully welcome both an easy and a painful Passage, as it shall seem fit to God. For whether we live or die we are the Lord's. 'None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.' " (Rom. XIV. 7)

S. Martin, Bishop of Tours, when about to yield up his soul, said,-----"If I am still necessary to Thy people, O Lord, I refuse not labour. Thy Will be done!" And so the Church, extolling his virtue, says-----"O wonderful man! who wast not overcome by toil, and who couldest not be conquered by death, who neither feared to die, nor refused to live!"

To LIVE and TO DIE, then, must both be embraced and received according to the ordinance of the Divine Will. Does God will that we should live? Let us live, whether it be in happiness or misery; only let us be aspiring towards happiness. Does He will that we should die? Let us meet death with a soul which is thoroughly prepared for it; and, as an old writer admonishes us, let us at least not advance sluggishly towards death, since it is that which summons us to immortal life.

But how few are there, alas! who die without a murmur! Who does not depart this life struggling against death, and full of sorrow? But this is not to commit oneself entirely to the Divine Will; nor to be content with the time allotted to us. It is our duty to keep in readiness the things which are allowed to us for an uncertain period, and, when called upon. to yield them up without complaint. It is the part of an unprincipled debtor to reproach one to whom he owes money. The days will always be few if you count them. Reflect that the chief good does not consist in time. As far as you can, turn it to good account. It does not help your happiness at all that the day of death is postponed, since life is not made happier, but only longer by the delay. How much better it is not to count the years of others, but to value one's own in a kindly spirit, and reckon them as gain. You ought not to complain about that which is taken away, but to return thanks for that which is given. Since, therefore, it pleases the Divine Will that I should now die, now will I die, and now will I die with cheerfulness.

5. Fifthly, let the man who is devoted to the Divine Will yield himself to God as being perfectly ready to endure all things which can happen either in time or in eternity, and this without the smallest exception or reserve. The eaglet, if it is worthy of its race, is said to gaze upon the sun with steadfast eye; and the human will, if it is perfect, burns in such a way for the Divine, that it voluntarily offers itself to endure all things, nor does it make any exception. And who in this can be nobler than Paul, who followed the Divine Will through naked swords, glittering spears, showers of stones, and stormy seas, through whirlwinds, and the fiercest tempests, through places pathless and remote; nothing could close the way so as to hinder him from following the Divine Will? No, not the fear of prisons, not the scourging with rods thrice repeated, not the cloud of stones, not the dread of shipwreck, not the whole host of perils, not the daily need of dying! So inflamed was S. Paul with the Spirit of God, that, if you had bidden him go into the fire, he would have gone. "For I wished myself," he says, "to be an anathema from Christ for my brethren." (Rom. IX. 3) "What sayest thou, O Paul," inquires S. Chrysostom, "hast thou not already said, 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?'" Even so, Chrysostom; but because Paul loved Christ alone he desired to be plucked away from Christ and His sweet companionship, but only on this condition, that more people should be brought to love Him; and so Paul, under the dominion of blind love, as it were, desired to be separated, not indeed from the love of Christ, but from blessedness and glory with Christ. Behold, how steadfastly this eagle fixed his eyes on the sun of the Divine Will! Of such importance, moreover, is this so energetic a conformity to the Divine Will, that, in comparison with it, it is of little matter if even a thousand worlds should smile. With most of the holy martyrs there was but little difficulty in pledging tyrants in their own life-blood as a thing of the most insignificant value. In the midst of their tortures they abounded with Divine consolations, and so they easily despised their sufferings, and even death itself. S. Lawrence reclined on the red-hot gridiron like a weary traveller on a bench. S. Andrew saluted the cross as if it were a royal couch. S. Stephen welcomed the shower of stones like drops of dew. The man, then, who daily faints beneath the weight of so many troubles, and feels that he is slowly dying, and who nevertheless yields himself up to the power of est of sayings in the schools, "No rule is without an exception," is utterly inapplicable here, for the rule of the Divine Will is without any exception. S. Bernard sets before us an illustrious example of this when he bids us listen to the man whom God found after His Own Heart:-----"My God," he says, "my heart is ready, my heart is ready; ready for adversity, ready for prosperity, ready for abasement, ready for exaltation, ready for all that Thou shalt command. Dost Thou will to make me a shepherd? Dost Thou will to set me up as the king of Thy people? My God, my heart is ready, my heart is ready. But if He shall say to me: 'Thou pleasest me not.' I am ready, let Him do that which is good before Him." (2 Kings XV. 26) An abasement of soul and surrender of his own will worthy of such a devout prince! For observe, if God says, Thou pleasest me not; I will that you should not be king; I will that you should not live,-----"I am ready!" says David; "let Him do that which is good before Him." If God's command had been, I will that you shall again be an exile and fugitive, and in place of a wicked father-in-law shall have a most abandoned son, who shall seek his father's crown and life; still David says,-----"I am ready!" But if God were to command, I will that you should again live in caves and dens of wild beasts, that you should again become a mendicant, and every day be in peril of your life; yet still David says,-----"I am ready!" But if God were to say, I will that you, instead of receiving your revenues, should, in the time of your calamity, be defamed with reproaches, even by your subjects, and should have stones cast at you, and should be cursed with dreadful imprecations; not even this do I refuse, says David,-----"Let Him do that which is good before Him." What heroic valour in that most holy prince, by which alone he would have been acceptable to God, more especially when he said this weeping, and covered with sackcloth! So great a thing did the man after God's Own Heart esteem it to please God that he would most gladly have purchased this grace at the expense of his liberty, children, riches, kingdom, nay, and his very life itself!

Only let David be able to obey the Divine Will, and with the greatest alacrity could he say, in reference to all such things as these,-----"My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready."