The Our Father, Part IV
Thy Will be Done on Earth as It Is in Heaven
by Father Reginald Martin, O.P.
The Gift of Knowledge
Knowledge, which is Capacity to live a Good Life, is among the
Gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit. In the Lenten Sermons
he preached in 1273, Saint Thomas Aquinas remarked that the greatest proof of
Knowledge is our Willingness to learn from others. An old joke says that a Professional who consults no one but himself has a fool for
a client; Saint Thomas Aquinas shares this opinion. "... those who cling to their own judgment",
he said, "so as to mistrust others and trust in themselves alone, invariably prove themselves fools and are
judged as such".
Knowledge and Humility
To 'Learn' demands Humility, the Frank-Acknowledgment that we are neither the Source of our
Talents and Gifts, nor the Sole Guide by which we lead our lives. Saint Thomas uses the example of a Doctor and Patient to describe
this Humility. "... [W]hen a sick man consults a physician ... he takes the
medicine ... because it is the will of the physician. If he took only what he willed himself, he would be a fool"
The Imitation of Christ
In our Moral Lives, of course, we can have no Greater Teacher than God. Thus, we
Pray that Godís Will be done - that is, that we may fulfill
His Plans for us. We may use many different words when we Pray,
but ultimately every Prayer is - or should be - the simple request that we Adapt our
Will to Godís. In this way we imitate Our
Savior, Who said, "I came down from Heaven to do, not My Own
Will, but the Will of Him that sent Me" (John 6:38).
God ís Will on Earth and in Heaven
When we were small, the Catechism asked, "Why did God make me?" The answer is
"to Know, Love and Serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in Heaven". We shall
see that Godís Will is Manifold, but it is, first of all, a Desire for our
Eternal Happiness. Because we are the only part of material creation to enjoy this destiny, to
Pray for Godís Will to be done is to ask that we may fulfill the
uniquely Human Purpose God has in mind for us.
The Angels and Saints enjoy the Everlasting Happiness we can only look forward to. When we
Pray to do Godís Will on Earth as it is done in
Heaven, we are asking to Know, Love and Serve God as completely
as those who have already achieved the End for which God created us.
Ends and Means
When we Desire something, we not only Will what we Desire, but whatever will enable us to achieve
our Goal. God Wills us to be Saved, so
He gives us the Commandments by which we reach our
Salvation. When we Pray to do Godís Will, we ask to share
the Life of the Saints; this much is very clear. What we may overlook - or fail to consider - is that to Pray
for an 'End' or Goal is to Pray for all the steps necessary to reach the Goal. Thus, when we
Pray to share the Saintsí Everlasting Life, we Pledge ourselves
to follow the Commandments, which are the means by which we will come to this Life.
A Word about Our Words
Saint Thomas asks us to pay attention to the Words of our Prayer. We do not urge
God, "Do Your Will on Earth", nor do we say,
"Let us do Godís Will". The First would appear to
leave Us out of the Equation; the Second to ignore Godís
Contribution to our Salvation. Saint Augustine taught, "He Who
Created thee without thyself will not Justify thee without thyself", so when we say, "Thy
Will be done" we Acknowledge that our Salvation is a Project in which we will
cooperate with God, asking God to provide the
Grace we need to achieve the Full Human Potential of our Actions.
Saint John Chrysostom made the same point, in one of his Homilies on Saint Matthew, by asking: "see
how He has taught us also to be Modest, by making it clear that Virtue is not of our endeavors only, but also of the Grace from
Earth and Heaven; Body and Spirit
(A Unity (1) of Body and
To speak, as we do, of Heaven and Earth when we Pray the
Our Father, refers not so much to places as to the individuals who inhabit those places. We ask
God to enlist us - and to work with us - in the Quest for Perfection, so that we
Sinful Citizens of Earth may embrace Godís Will as the
Righteous have. This Reconciliation of the Realms of Heaven and Earth becomes a Sign of
Godís Seeking to Restore the Human Race to the Dignity and Harmony it enjoyed before our First Parents
In the Garden, Adamís Spirit was Wholly Subject to God, with
the result that our First Ancestor experienced no Conflict between his
Body and his Spirit. Human Flesh was so
(Happily) subject to the Human Soul that it was not moved by
Passion. Nor was the Body subject to
Illness or Death. Sin, as we know, overturned that
For the Soul to turn against God was a
Catastrophe; so were the Consequences that our First Parents did not immediately see. Once
the Soul was no longer a Mediating Force between God and the
Human Body, Human Flesh turned against the
Soul. The result was Death, Infirmity, and the ongoing
Struggle between the Soul and the
Senses that is a Common - and Sad - fact of our Human Experience. Saint Paul
eloquently sums up the case when he writes, "I behold another Law in my Members, warring against the Law of
my Mind" (Romans 7:23) and "the Flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the
Flesh " (Galatians 5:17).
Saint Augustine echoed Saint Paul (anticipated Saint Thomas Aquinas) when he wrote
... it is thoroughly in accord with both our Faith and Hope, that we are to take Heaven and Earth in the
sense of Spirit and Flesh ... let the Will of God be done on Earth as it is in Heaven; i.e., in such a way that ... as the Spirit
does not resist God, but follows and does His Will, so the Body may also not resist the ... Soul, which at present is harassed by
the Weakness of the Body, and is prone to Fleshly Habit.
Our Progressive Sanctification
Scripture assures us the Spiritual Warfare that characterizes
the Moral Life of Christians will result in Godís Triumph, a Triumph we will share when our
Bodies and Souls are United in Heaven,
at the End of Time. In the Resurrection of the Body, the Earth of
Human Flesh will once again embrace the Heaven of the Human
Saint Ambrose, commenting on Saint Paul, described the correlation of our Earthly
Struggle to the Reward we look forward to
[The Apostle] urges that our Joy in God and our Delight in fulfilling His Commands should increase more and
more: the harder we strive in this World to give ourselves to the Precepts of God ... the more Blessed shall we be in the Life to come
and the greater will be the Glory which we attain in Godís Presence.
In the meantime, when we Pray for Godís Will to be done on
Earth as it is in Heaven, we beg that we may enjoy, on Earth, some taste of the Righteousness,
Knowledge and Life that characterizes the Happiness of the Blessed.
Although our experience of Human Weakness may convince us we can enjoy only the Remotest Taste of
these Blessings, Saint John Chrysostom enthusiastically proclaims that we may Relish these
Rewards even now, if we are Single-Minded in our Pursuit of Holiness.
He hath bidden us make the Earth a Heaven and do and say all things, even while we are continuing in it
[the Earth], as having our conversation [in Heaven] ... there is nothing to hinder our reaching the Perfection of the Powers above,
because we inhabit the Earth; but it is possible even while abiding here, to do all, as though already placed on high.
He did not at all say, "Thy will be done in me, or in us, but everywhere on the Earth; so that error
may be destroyed, and Truth implanted, and all wickedness cast out, and Virtue return, and no difference in this respect be henceforth
between Heaven and Earth ....
Sacramental Human Life
Our Faith teaches that Jesus chose certain elements from our
Life to go beyond whatever importance they may have in themselves, to become a Point-of-Connection with Him
and His Grace. Saint Augustine taught that the results we seek from the
Lordís Prayer express a Hope that we may return this favor - and that our Actions, inspired by
Grace, may reveal Christís Love.
... we are to understand the words, "Thy Will be done ..." as in our Lord Jesus Christ Himself,
as also in the Church; as if one were to say, As in the man who fulfilled the Will of the Father, so also in the woman who is
betrothed to Him. For Heaven and Earth are suitably understood as if they were man and wife; since the Earth is fruitful from the
Our Prayer and the Beatitudes
The Lordís Prayer is a part of Jesusí long 'Sermon on the Mount',
an 'Instruction' that begins with the Beatitudes. "Blessed are those who
Mourn", He says, "for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). We ordinarily
think of Mourning as the Sorrow we feel when we have Lost something, or someone, of Great Value.
But our Christian Life reveals another sort of Sorrow - the Grief
we express when we ask Forgiveness for Sin. This is the
"Mourning" early Christian Writers considered almost exclusively. This Sorrow is
Blessed because it reminds us that only God can Satisfy
our Desire for Happiness. Saint John Chrysostom urges us to look at the
Sorrow we feel when a Loved One Dies. Then he tells us our
Sorrow for Sin ought to be greater. Obviously, this is a State we cannot reach without
Godís Grace. But the Blessing promised to those who
Mourn reminds us that our Contrition is a further link between
Godís Will as it is enjoyed by the Saints, and as we experience it on Earth.
The Sorrow of Delay
Saint Augustine wrote, "Our Souls are Restless until they find their Rest in Thee",
a Poignant Description of our Longing for God, and the Frustration
we experience because Unity with God must be postponed. We may not think of this when we say the words
of the Lordís Prayer, but to ask that Godís Will be done on Earth
is an expression of our Longing for the Everlasting Life the Saints enjoy in
The Sorrow of Our Struggles
Likewise, our Prayer seeks Resolution of the Moral Struggle between
Flesh and Spirit. We Grieve because we are not nearly
as Good as we know we can (and ought to) be. Godís Commandments are fair, and reason assures us
God bestowed them in Love. Nevertheless, the
Commandments are Difficult, and we often Fail in our
effort to keep them. To Pray for Godís Will to be done on Earth
expresses our longing to enjoy once more Mankindís State of Original Blessedness, in which the
Body delighted in its surrender to the Spirit.