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 One: 

Chapter Four:
How the Will of God May Be Recognized In All Things

IT requires a varying mode of treatment in the management of a nursery full of children, a school full of pupils, a house full of servants, a monastery full of Religious, and a plain full of soldiers, and yet the way of ruling is the same in all-----viz. by obedience, which constrains differing wills to unite in one.

   A general will not command well unless he is able, either with his mouth or hand, to carry about all his soldiers with him, that is to say, either with his voice or signal, to enforce obedience to every order. Things are then managed well, and the discipline is uniform and regular when in a house the master of the family, in a school the tutor, in a monastery the abbot, in a camp the general, leads about with him all who belong to him, either with his tongue or his hand; that is to say, when he governs with a word or a sign, and constrains them to go wherever he wishes.

    But as it is fitting that a soldier should wait for an order either from the tongue or hand of his general, holding himself in readiness to execute whatever command is given him, in the same way also it is right that the Christian should so hang, as it were, on the Tongue or Hand of God, that whatever He wills, says, commands, or in whatever direction He gives a sign, he should immediately will the same, and that he should instantly go in that direction, yea, run, or rather fly. We should all of us exclaim,-----"In the head of the Book it is written of me that I should do Thy Will, O my God! I have desired it, and Thy law in the midst of my heart." [Ps. XXXIX. 8, 9] Yea, of my memory, my understanding, my will. Thy Will, O my God, is to me the summing up of all laws!

   When Saul had been struck down to the earth by Christ, his first question was,-----"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts IX. 6] And let this be the never-ceasing question of all good men, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Show me, O my good Jesus, by a word or sign, what is Thy Will, and I go, I obey, I do whatsoever Thou wilIest me to do.

   This question, therefore, must now be answered before all others-----viz. in what way the Will of God is to be recognized in all things? And here I will furnish some rules by means of which the Divine Will may easily be discovered.

WHATEVER leads away from God is contrary to the Will of God. Whatever attracts towards God is in accordance with the Divine Will. "For this is the Will of God, your sanctification." [I Thess. IV. 3]

Therefore, if anyone detect any such thing in himself as to be constrained to confess that this business, this society, this trade, this way of living, does not make me more holy, but I am being led away from God, though gradually and by easy steps, it follows that neither that business, nor that society, nor that trade, nor that way of living, is according to the Divine Will.

THE Will of God is most clearly revealed to us by the law of God and of the Church. In all doubtful cases, therefore, we must not merely inquire what the laws of God and the Church require, but what is more or less conformable to them. Christ long ago pointed out this most excellent interpreter of the Divine Will to that rich young man who asked what was the shortest road to eternal life, when He said,-----"Thou knowest the commandments." [Luke XVIII. 20] Of a truth nothing is better than to have regard to the commandments of the Lord. Abraham points out this messenger between God and men, charged with the Divine Will, when he says to the rich man,-----"They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." [Luke XVI. 29] Blessed Paul also says,-----"Be not conformed to this world, but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect Will of God." [Rom. XII. 2] The "good" Will of God is contained in the Decalogue-----the "acceptable" in the evangelical counsels-----the "perfect" defines that His Will should be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

IT is commanded by blessed Paul,-----"In all things give thanks; for this is the Will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all." [I Thess. v. 18] And here, first of all, it is most noteworthy that "in all things" we must give thanks, even when things are most full of trouble and adverse. S. Chrysostom [in loc.] has well said:-----"Have you suffered some evil? If you choose, it is not evil. Give thanks to God, and thou hast already changed the evil into good. This is the part of a philosophic mind." The ancient Germans used to train their children in such an excellent way, that if ever they injured their finger in the fire, they immediately said, "Thanks be to God." It is a short but noble precept. Whatever then, my Christian friend, either presses upon you or afflicts you, say a hundred times, say a thousand times, "Thanks be to God." S. Paul adds,-----"Extinguish not the Spirit." Let there be a place for Its Divine Inspirations. God not infrequently unfolds His Will by means of secret addresses, which are then safely believed to be really Divine, when the Glory of God alone is proposed as the thing to be followed. But S. Paul further adds,-----"Despise not prophecies." Hence it is by no means right that commentaries on God's Book, holy sermons in church, or admonitions of faithful men, should be despised by him who desires to conform himself to  the Divine Will. He who is not willing to hear them, is not willing to understand the Will of God. Last of all, S. Paul commands,-----"From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves." As good bankers know false coin either by the ring, or the stamp and inscription, and refuse it, so let us avoid, as contrary to the Divine Will, whatever carries on its face the appearance of even the faintest shadow of sin.

BESIDES the laws of God and the Church, there are other interpreters also of the Divine Will, chiefly in doubtful matters. Among them are to be reckoned the magistrate, as well civil as religious, and all such as lawfully bear rule over others; to which are to be added parish priests, spiritual pastors and masters. When Saul was now prepared to obey the Divine Will, and had asked,-----"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"-----the Lord did not burden him with precepts, nor did He suddenly infuse into him all knowledge, but sending him as a disciple to Ananias, said,-----"Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do." [Acts IX. 6, 7] Ananias was to Paul what Peter was to Cornelius, a most faithful interpreter of the Divine Will.

   Thus it pleases God that His Will should be unfolded to man by man. And hence those admonitions which are so frequent,-----"Seek counsel always of a wise man." [Tobias IV. 18] "Do thou nothing without counsel, and thou shalt not repent when thou hast done." [Ecclus. XXXII. 24] "Be continually with a holy man, whomsoever thou shalt know to observe the fear of God, whose soul is according to thy own soul: and who, when thou shalt stumble in the dark, will be sorry for thee. And establish within thyself a heart of good counsel; for there is no other thing of more worth to thee than it. The soul of a holy man discovereth sometimes true things, more than seven watchmen that sit in a high place to watch. But above all these things pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth." [Ecclus. XXXVII. 15-19] In all matters, therefore, where there is doubt concerning the Divine Will, from no one must counsel be sought rather than from those to whom we have entrusted our conscience. And here it may generally be affirmed that the entire will of spiritual masters, or superiors, or those in any way set over us, is the Will of God, sin alone being excepted. Whatever, then, the director of anyone, or superiors, or those placed in authority have ordered must be received in no other way than as a certain indication of the Divine Will. And here blessed Paul sets us an example. Writing to the Galatians [II. I], he says:-----"Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas." And what was the cause of so long a journey? "I conferred with them the Gospel." [II. 2] Lo! he who for so many years had been the evangelizer of the whole world, now submitted his teaching to inquiry, just as if he were the least esteemed of the disciples, and constituted the elder Apostles as his judges, so that whatever they should decree concerning his doctrine, and approve by common consent, or disapprove of, or add to, or take from, he would accept as that it should be so believed and taught. It is more wonderful that he adds,-----"And I went up according to revelation." [II. 2] Could not He Who revealed to Paul that this journey was to be undertaken, have just as well revealed what He would effect by it? In good truth God wills that man should be taught by man. S. Paul went to Jerusalem for the purpose of interrogating the Apostles about his doctrine, not because he himself stood in any doubt of it, but because others did; and for their confirmation it seemed most prudent to interrogate the elder Apostles. Therefore,-----"See and ask for the old paths, which is the good way, and walk ye in it, and you shall find refreshment for your souls." [Jer. VI. 16]

BUT if neither time nor place allow of seeking advice, let a man reason with himself, and by an easy process he will be able in this way to unravel every doubt concerning knowledge of the Divine Will. Let him carefully consider which of two things, about which he is doubtful, is the more pleasing to his own will, which is the more gratifying to his carnal appetite, and which is the more desirable in his own estimation. When he has ascertained this, which is easily done, and has seriously resolved with himself to conform his actions as closely as possible to the Divine Will, then he will safely choose that which is the less pleasing to his will, which is the less gratifying to his carnal appetite, and which has about it less splendor and show. For the other choice, which is in accordance with the inclination of our own will, or fleshly feelings and thoughts, ought fairly to be held in strong suspicion by every one, and be thought to be closely allied to error; but this, which struggles against one's inclination, may be believed to be, for the most part, the safer:-----"While thou dost not," says Isaias, "thy own ways, and thy own will is not found, to speak a word." [LVIII. 13] A man who has a troublesome and sluggish digestion may easily be convinced in this way;-----that which you most eagerly desire is the least wholesome for you. Melons, cucumbers, mushrooms, snails, iced drinks, undressed fruits and vegetables, and food of this kind, things which irritate the stomach, do the utmost harm, but at the same time they are very often heaped into the stomach greedily. So in the matter before us; very often that which is pleasing and sweet to the senses of the body is harmful to the spirit; that which pleases the human will is displeasing to God. "Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols; for which things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of unbelief." [Col. III. 5, 6] Therefore,-----"Go not after thy lusts, but turn away from thy own will," the son of Sirach admonishes you [Ecclus. XVIII. 30], that you may conform yourself to the Will of God.

   But if the matter be one of entire indifference, as, for instance, if two beggars meet you, both of them in the same state of destitution, but yet your alms are not enough to divide between the two, give to which you please, with the intention of fulfilling the Divine Will, and you will not do amiss. But if the indifferent thing be one of greater moment, you must have recourse to reflection and prayer. Then if, when considering the propriety of undertaking some one or more things, it is not quite clear what the Divine Will is, do not let any of them be undertaken hastily, until it appear in some way or other that they will not be contrary to the  Divine Will. In every deliberation of this kind Reason and Conscience can effect very much; and no bad counselors are they in a doubtful case, for when they are disposed to examine a thing with care they will easily pronounce what is best to be done. But it may happen that a man of tender conscience may fall into a labyrinth where the spirit and flesh struggle together in such away, as that he begins to fear lest perhaps he is opposing himself to the Divine Will. And here let the same thing be a solace to him which often is to a preacher. An afternoon preacher [to explain what I mean] sees nearly all of his hearers sleeping. He is greatly vexed at the sight of so many drooping heads, but it seems better than if the same number of people were shamelessly to engage in idle talk. And so long as two or three do not sleep, he says to himself, that is enough for me, and is a sufficient reason why I should go on. One must stand for thousands. And so let the other man thus reason with himself, however he may be disturbed. Only let those two eyes, the Reason and the Will, be watchful, only let them carefully observe the Will of God, and I care nothing about other things, for I shall stand firm and unshaken; and although I cannot follow the indications of the Divine Will very closely, yet I will do my best to follow them. 

IN order to discover the Divine Will it is of the utmost avail to ask with Paul,-----"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" It was the custom of the Saints, in all doubtful cares and perplexities, to take refuge in the safeguard of prayer, as of old Moses and Aaron did in the Tabernacle of the Testimony. And as when the clouds collect in such dense masses that the sky begins to thunder, bells are rung in towers to scatter them; so, as often as the sun of the Divine Will is withdrawn from our eyes, and we know not what is to be done, the best thing is to beat Heaven with our prayers. Thus Saul, when overtaken by that sudden tempest in the midst of the open country, cried out,-----"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" And it is the most fitting time for repeating this little prayer over and over again, when we approach the Heavenly feast; then should we redouble our fervor as we exclaim,-----"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Yes, every day in the most solemn part of Holy Mass, at the aweful moment of the Consecration, let this be the most ardent of all our prayers,-----"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" for it is highly desirable that a form of Heavenly aspiration should be used by devout people every day during celebration. Jacob Lainez was accustomed to say every day at the end of the Consecration, after the words of the centurion,-----"Lord, I am not worthy"-----while he held Christ in his hands.-----"May that which I have promised please Thee, O Lord?" And so, in cases of every kind, we ought to pray, while the Heavenly Bread is being broken,-----"Lord, as Thou wilIest, so do I also will; that which I have rightly promised I recall not." This daily oblation of self to the Divine Will is the most excellent preparation for the last conflict in death.

   But if a person has for a long time asked something of God, and has not yet obtained his desire, let him rest assured that the Father, Who is supreme in Goodness, wills not that that should be obtained from Him which His son has for so long a time sought, or that the most Benignant Father wills that the patience of His child who asks should be exercised so as to obtain a greater reward. There can be no doubt but that God in His infinite mercy frequently defers the help that has been sought, in order that He may the more abundantly reward more persevering prayers, and more enduring patience. These of a truth must not infrequently be wrested from many, just as money is from misers. God would demand from us fewer prayers and less patience, if He did not in this way urge the slothful forward. And so it is often very much to our profit to have obtained nothing by our daily prayers; for oftentimes the benefit of prayers which are so long delayed is greater than it would have been if they had been granted. And it is this which may well bring great comfort to everyone that he has made
many prayers, and not a few.

   How did King David fast, and weep, and pray, prostrate on the earth before he knew the Will of God concerning his little child who was at the point of death; but when he heard that he was dead, he discovered that the Will of God had ordained that he should die, and so he "arose from the ground, and washed and anointed himself, and when he had changed his apparel, he went into the house of the Lord, and worshipped." [2 Kings XII. 20] Our Lord, after a threefold prayer at the Mount of Olives, being now certain about His Father's Will, said,-----"Sleep ye now, and take your rest: behold the hour is at hand." [Matt. XXVI. 45] And so, even when prayer is rejected, its refusal is received with quietude and calmness of mind, if only for this reason, that it is now evident what Almighty God wills to be done. Heli the priest, when Samuel related what vengeance God would take both upon himself and his sons, made only this reply,-----"It is the Lord, let Him do what is good in His sight" [I Kings III. 18]; just as if he had said,-----"You have told me, Samuel, what is painful for me to hear; but, because I am now certain concerning the Divine Will, I cheerfully receive what you have said, however distasteful it may be, and recognize a proof of God's Ordinance. I and my sons deserve to be punished, and we shall suffer punishment since it so seems good to the Divine Will, against which it is impiety to struggle. Let the Good God do whatever is pleasing to His most holy Will; we are servants, and He is the Lord; we offend in many ways, and it is a master's prerogative to punish faults." When the people of Cæsarea were endeavoring with their tears to stay Paul as he was setting out for Jerusalem, he said to them, with the utmost earnestness,-----"What do you mean weeping and afflicting my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but to die also at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when we could not persuade him, we ceased, saying, the Will of the Lord be done." [Acts XXI. 13, 14] This is true serenity of soul, when we find that our prayers are fruitless, to desire this one thing alone, that the Will of the Lord be done.

No one discovers the Divine Will with greater certainty than he who with entire sincerity desires to conform himself to it in all things. This desire is, in truth, the thread for unraveling the mazes of all labyrinths. All uncertainty about the Divine Will is removed, if, when one is ignorant as to what God wills, or which of two lawful things He would rather have done, he is yet so disposed in mind as to say, with perfect sincerity of intention,-----"If I knew, O Lord, what Thou willest to be done by me in this matter, I would immediately do it." After this protestation has been made, let him unhesitatingly do what he will, and cease to disturb himself, for he will not easily offend against the Divine Will. Such a son as this the All-loving Father will not desert, nor will He suffer him to wander far from His Will. If there is no man at hand by whom He may instruct him, He will send an Angel, as He did to Joseph, when he was deliberating as to what was best to be done in a weighty matter. Thus also an Angel was sent to the three kings from the East, after they had worshipped the Divine Infant in his manger-cradle, to warn them to beware of the treachery of Herod, and to return to their own country by another way. And so to Agar, the handmaid of Abraham. And to numberless others in the same way, either an Angel has been sent as a defense against error, or, instead of an Angel some faithful man. So true is it that He does not deny a knowledge of His Will to such as truly seek it. "The spirit of Wisdom is benevolent" [Wisdom I. 6], and bestows itself without grudging upon all. God is nigh unto all them who seek for Him in sincerity, and reveals His Will, by a way of teaching as wonderful as it is sweet, to all those who with true submission are followers of Him. We best learn to know the Will of God by doing it.