In recent years, a gradual illumination has come about in my life. And this has greatly affected my understanding of God’s will. In the second half of my life, this intuition or insight has made my soul feel lighter and brighter—and more joyful.
In my younger years, when I thought of God’s will, it seemed dark and gloomy to me. I identified God’s will as a whole system of laws and commandments I was obligated to follow if I wanted to please God and win salvation. In those years, when I prayed “Thy will be done” in the Our Father, I thought of it mainly in terms of my responsibility—and often a gloomy one at that—to obey a set of rules so God would love me.
Today, when I think of God’s will, it is something very different. The idea nearly glows with light now. I began thinking of it, first of all, as God’s loving plan to lead me—and all God’s people—to healing and happiness. I see God’s will today more as St. Francis of Assisi saw it, namely, as God’s desire to love us unconditionally and to lead us to abundant life. As St. Irenaeus put it, “God’s glory is the human person fully alive!”
Now, when I pray “Thy will be done,” it has a more joyful ring to it because God’s will is to bring total healing and happiness to everyone God loves. One can only respond gratefully and lovingly to such a wonderful plan!
Responding Joyfully to God’s Will
I still see, of course, a clear link between God’s will and God’s commandments, but these commandments take on their true meaning only after I understand God’s will that I be happy and fully alive. Obeying God’s will is not, first of all, a dreary task of following lots of rules and piling up good deeds so that God will think well of me. God already loves me immeasurably and wishes to save me.
My obeying—my moral task—is not a matter of bringing God’s love into existence (God’s love is already there!), but it’s more a matter of responding to that love. And I respond to it by affectionately trying to follow God’s commandments in a spirit of joy. For they are now not simply seen as cold, disciplinary rules to burden my spirit, but as loving guidelines for discovering fullness of life.
Obeying God’s will calls for “response-ability” rather than just responsibility. Leading a good moral life is not the cause of God’s loving and saving me, but its consequence. God’s gift of love comes before my task of responding to it, and not the other way around.
Don’t Underplay God’s Role
God desperately wants to be in a growing love union with us. There are two sides to such a love relationship: God’s side and ours. Too often we overlook God’s side of it and focus mainly on our side of the relationship, on our responsibility.
Yes, our efforts are important and, indeed, Jesus urges us to love God “with all our strength.” But I can see God smiling at us anxious little creatures as we work so frantically.
Finally, God intervenes, saying, “Relax. Remember that my love is just waiting to enter your heart. I’ve already created you in my image. You are already important. You already have everything. I’ve laid down my life for you—held nothing back from you. Open your heart more to me and let me give more of myself to you. Then our love union can really start to sing!”
St. Irenaeus was right: “God’s glory is the human person fully alive!”
Gracious God, you are a God of overflowing love. Help us enjoy a happy love union with you! Amen
Friar Jim: Thank you very much for your E-spirations. Father Joseph
Friar Jim: I read all the way to the end. Good thoughts. Hope you are doing well! Rose Mary
Friar Jim: I look forward to receiving these reflections. You write so beautifully and provide a great deal of food for reflection. May the Lord bless and keep you. May he let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May he look upon you kindly and give you his peace. Eileen
A: Dear Joseph, Rose Mary and Eileen: Thanks for your well wishes. I wish you all a most blessed and grace-filled Advent. Friar Jim