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 Two:

Chapter Four: With What Intention We Must Use the Prayer,-------
"Thy Will be Done on Earth, as It is in Heaven!"

WHEN the disciples besought their Divine Master-----"Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples" [Luke XI. 1], He assented, and "said to them, when you pray, say, 'Our Father Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven,' " etc. But how hard is this prayer, O my God! There is too much dissimilarity between those blessed spirits in Heaven and us exiles in this vale which is so productive of wormwood. To those blessed ones above all things happen according to their wish, nor is there anything which cannot please them; but in our case, we, who are still banished from Heaven, can scarcely find anything which does entirely please us.

There is disgust and loathing everywhere, and scarcely even a few things, and these only very seldom, turn out according to our wishes; while there are numberless things which displease us every day, and excite our anger. But in Heaven it is most pleasant, as it is also most easy, to attune oneself to the Divine Will, for there no adversity disturbs; but here a thousand vexations harass us: we are weighed down with cares; there is scarcely the smallest time for recovering breath; conflict follows upon conflict; our misfortunes are linked together; and a continuous chain of calamities scarcely allows us time to pray without distraction. As, therefore, the full and the hungry do not sing on equal terms, nor do they who have just risen from a sumptuous feast, and they who have kept a long fast, dance on equal terms, so neither can we pray with the same readiness as the blessed,-----"Thy Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven." Our condition and theirs are too different for this; but remove us thither, O Lord, and we will equally with them unite our desires and acts to Thine. But may God forgive such words, my Christian friends! We are but the idlest of mendicants, and not as ready as might be, even with our tongue. How quickly, alas! do we succumb before things which certainly are not so very difficult; a gentle breeze overthrows us; we shrink from whatever cannot be accomplished agreeably. Christ, O ye timid ones, taught us to do nothing which might not be done. This at least let us do, and strive with all our might to fulfill the Divine Will on earth, as the Angels do in Heaven. If in reality we are able to do less, let us at least be liberal in our wishes. S. Cyprian [De Hab. Virgo 23] says, excellently,-----""Christ taught us to pray, 'Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven;' and this, not that God should do what He Himself wills, but that we should be able to do what He wills." Whoever, therefore, wishes to follow the example of prayer which Christ sets him, must not repeat the words indistinctly beneath his breath, but should say out fearlessly,-----"Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." But let him attend carefully to what I am about to add; and let him pray that he may have the power to fulfill the Divine Will-----
1. (I) With perfect Purity of Intention. Thy Will be done! For this I have determined to follow, not for the sake of gain, nor because Thou hast fenced me in with blessings, as Satan slanderously said of Job (Job I. 10); nor yet from fear of punishment, lest I should be banished into Hell; but with a single eye I regard Thy Will alone. I will because Thou willest, O my God.

(2) Lovingly. Thy will be done! This is my only care, that what I do may be pleasing to Thee, and that even in this way the name of Thy Majesty may be made known by me, a most unprofitable servant. Thy pleasure, O my God, I esteem so highly, that I should think it reward enough to have Pleased Thee, and so I agree with Chrysostom when he affirms,-----""You know not of a truth what it means to please God, if you seek for any other reward."

(3) Readily. Thy Will be done! Slowly to will is the part of one who wills not. Most acceptable are those acts of obedience which are prompt, ready, and where there is no delay. It is a sign of one who does a thing willingly, to do it quickly. Favour is taken away from an act of kindness in proportion as there is an increase of delay; therefore,-----""My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready!" (Ps. CVII. 1), to perform all Thy Will.

(4) Cheerfully. Some things we do quickly enough, but not with sufficient good-will. "Not with sadness or of necessity," says S. Paul, "for God loveth a cheerful giver." [2 Cor. IX. 7.] He who has set the Will of God before himself as his end and aim, if trouble or sorrow intervene he swallows them without difficulty; for he is longing for such dainties as to be able to say,-----""My meat is to do the Will of Him That sent me ;" therefore,-----""Thy Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven!"

(5) Perfectly. Thy Will be done! Not even the smallest indication of it being omitted. A man who is really anxious to yield himself to the Divine Will does not seek for exceptional cases, nor does he use such language as,-----''I will, O Lord, but not yet; I obey, O Lord, only command not that particular thing; I will wash, and even kiss, the feet of all men, only let me not be compelled to perform this office to mine enemy; I will endure being despised, only let me not be put to shame in public; I am prepared for all things, if Thou wilt only not require that particular thing from me." But not so the man who really loves the Divine Will. He makes no exceptions; he withdraws himself from no blows. On the other hand, he rather says,-----"Dost Thou will, O my Lord, that I should suffer more, and still more bitter things? Behold me! I am ready, I am prepared. Lay upon me heavier commands; chastise me more severely; only Thy Will be done!"

(6) Perseveringly. Thy Will be done! After the first, after the second, the third, and the fourth decade of my life Thy Will be done; and be it done for ever. "I have inclined my heart to do Thy justifications for ever, for the reward." [Ps. CXVIII. 112] Dost Thou will, O Lord, that I should suffer something for a hundred, or a thousand years? If Thou wilIest, I will. And this is the way to recite the Lord's Prayer with devout intention. These are the wings of the seraphim by which we are borne on high to a knowledge of the Divine Will.

2. And here we must specially observe that the blessed in Heaven rejoice more fully in the performance of the Divine Will than in the greatness of their own glory. And so they are all most perfectly contented with their own reward, and none is displeased because he has less than another. For they who see God are not merely conformed to the Divine Will, but are also absorbed in it, and are transformed into it, so as henceforward to will the Will of God alone; and they rejoice more that it is the Will of God that they should be blessed, than that they enjoy this blessedness. And upon this conformity of the human will with the Divine there follows a most excellent effect of love, which may be called not so much conformity, as actual union of the human will with the Divine; and this so influences the blessed that with all their  powers, and with the utmost possible ardour, they desire that God should be as He is, as Wise and Powerful, as Merciful and Just, as worthy of all fullness of  Honour and Glory and Majesty. Just as a son who has been well brought up does not grudge happiness to his father any more than to himself, and desires that his parent should be honoured as much as himself, or even more than himself; so the blessed rejoice in the blessedness which God enjoys, as much as they do ill their own. And hence those songs in Heaven so full of joy,-----"Alleluia; Salvation, and Glory, and Power is to our God; for true and just are His Judgments. Alleluia; for the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned. Let us be glad, and rejoice, and give glory to Him." [Apoc. XIX. I, 2, 6, 7]

And this, which I will not call conformity to, but union with, the Divine Will amongst the blessed, we too can imitate in our prayers in this way. Let the understanding contemplate, like a most attentive spectator, God's Power, Eternity, Wisdom, Beauty, and infinite Blessedness; but let the will rejoice that God is Infinite Good, the Fount of all riches, Who wants nothing, Who can do all things, Who is liberal towards all, Who is present in everything. Theologians hold that this is the greatest and most perfect act of Divine love; for as no love can be greater than that wherewith God loves Himself, so our love also cannot be better than by daily being made more conformable to that Divine love. It is a saying of philosophers, that to love is nothing else than to desire good for some one. And if this principle is established, it follows that the more good we desire for anyone, the more we love him. But we cannot wish any greater good to God than what He is Himself, the most boundless Good of all goods; and so we cannot love God more ardently than by wishing Him all His Own good. And, therefore, in this way especially the Will of God will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

3. And they whose wills are thus closely united with God's Will are the lightnings of which Job speaks,-----"Canst Thou send lightnings, and will they go, and will they return, and say to Thee, Here we are?" [ Job XXXVIII. 35] Lightning and thunderbolts being fire of the utmost subtlety, rise upwards by their own nature; but because God sends them downwards to the earth, forgetful of their own properties, they rush below with incredible swiftness, cleaving a way through iron, rocks, and whatever resists their course. And you may call those the lightnings of Christ who trample under foot their own will that they may obey the Divine Will. They would soar on high indeed, if they followed their own aspirations, but because God wills otherwise, they let themselves down even to the lowest depths, not unwillingly, but with the utmost readiness; they break through difficulties and impediments of every kind; they are not wearied with such constant motion, but when their mission is accomplished they return like lightnings, and stand before their Lord, and say,-----"Lo! here we are! What shall we now do? We are ready even to die. Command what Thou wilt." As, moreover, the lightnings leap [a thing to be observed], not from the water, or from the earth, but from a dense and well-closed cloud; so the will which is ready, and easily led to obedience in everything, issues forth from prayer and meditation, which soar on high like clouds, while the senses of the body are safe closed up on all sides. For if anyone attentively considers with what wonderful obedience so many millions of Angels in Heaven serve the Deity, and how the Son of God Himself embraced the Will of His Father in the manger, coarse swaddling-clothes and straw, in journeyings, in agony, and on the Cross, he will not be able to restrain himself, but like lightning he will promise the most ready obedience, and will closely unite his own will to the Divine. And then at last he will with sincerity say the Lord's Prayer, and particularly the clause,-----"Thy Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven."

4. That most famous passage of S. Augustine's is well worthy of attention, where, when examining the command given to the first Pair not to touch the Apple, he assumes the character of Adam and asks,-----" 'If the tree is good, why may I not touch it? But if it is bad, what place has it in Paradise?' And to him God replies,-----'It is in paradise because it is good; I but I forbid you to touch it because I desire that you, should be an obedient and not a rebellious servant.' 'And why is this?' 'Because you are the servant, and I am the Lord.' " And here you have a thousand reasons contained in this one:-----Because God is our Lord, and has set before us His Will to be obeyed by us, and not to be questioned, and we are servants; it is therefore most fitting that we should walk in the way in which the Will of God leads us.

The apostate Angel most craftily and wickedly asked in Paradise,-----"Why hath God commanded?" [Gen. III. I] He ought to have asked,-----Why do you not eat of the fruit of this tree? For to this question there would have been an immediate answer,-----Because God has commanded us not to eat of it. But the most subtle serpent anticipated the reply, and framed his question,-----"Why hath God commanded?" As often, then, as it is ascertained that God wills anything we must not after this inquire,-----"Why is this!" There is a reason, the most urgent of all reasons,-----God so WILLS. When Abraham was bidden to slay his son, what excuses might he not have devised and urged! But he was silent and obeyed. This one reason was enough for him,-----God so WILLS.

5. Parents occasionally ask, in order to test the disposition of their children, whether they would not like, as the day is so fine, to go into the garden, or take a trip into the country? Supposing [they say] we put aside books for today, and look at some pictures instead. If the children answer,-----"Just as our master and parents please," they exhibit a proof of excellent training, and sound discretion. But if they do not disguise their eager desire for walks and play, and before their parents have given their consent, fly out into the sunshine, they show a disposition of an inferior order; and then the father very properly says,-----"Stop, my boy; put away your playthings, you must go to school today." And then follow dejected looks, tears, and mutterings; no attention is paid to books, but the thoughts wander idly; oftentimes, too, there are fits of crying, and complaints against the tyranny of parents. Look at these silly children, so little inclined to yield to the wishes of their parents! And such very often are we ourselves! Most entirely given up to all i sorts of fleeting pleasures, and instantly complaining when God, our Supreme Father, either disturbs our play, or calls us away to work. If we are wise we shall try to imitate children who are well brought up, and shall say nothing else than,-----"Just as it pleases the Lord, our Father, are we ready and prepared to go, or not to go; to do, or not to do; to labour, or to suffer, according as our Father wills."

And here John Tauler appositely remarks,
-----"If God were to give you a choice, and say, 'Do you desire that I should exempt you from all the ills of body and mind, and restore you to paradise?' You ought to make no other reply than this,-----'Thou art able, O Lord, both to take away sufferings and to leave them, according as Thou willest; but that will be most pleasing to me which is most agreeable to Thy Will.' " In this way of a truth we attain a fuller measure of grace than if we grasp at the greatest gifts, when following our own will. God is, certainly, no light exactor of virtues, but, like strict parents, He is wont to train His children in a severer way; and so when you see men who are good and pleasing to God, labouring, and toiling, and ascending by a steep road, while the evil are taking their ease, and are filled to overflowing with pleasure, reflect that the former are pleased with the moderation of sons, the latter with the licence of servants; that the one are restrained by a severe discipline, while the audacity of the other is encouraged. God does not allow one who is dear to Him to remain in the midst of pleasures; He puts him to the trial, and makes him endure hardship, and thus prepares him for Himself. We grow wiser in adversity; prosperity takes away right judgment.

And so, let us offer ourselves as empty baskets to God, either to be filled according to the Divine Will, or to be left empty. S. Jerome, rebuking Julian, says,-----"You fancy that you are standing on the very pinnacle of virtues if you offer a portion from the whole. The Lord desires yourself as a living victim; give to God yourself, not yours."