Conformity to the Will of God


The Agony in the Garden -
by BOTTICELLI, Sandro -
from Capilla Real, Granada

(Click Image to Enlarge)


Mt:26:39 - And going a little further, He fell upon His Face, Praying and Saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this Chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I Will, but as Thou Wilt. (DRV)


The Annunciation -
by VERONESE, Paolo -
from Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, Pedralbes
(Click Image to Enlarge)


Lk:1:38 - And Mary said: Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to Thy Word. And the Angel departed from her. (DRV)

 

Our Greatest Fault is that we wish to Serve God in our Way, not in His Way -- according to our Will, not according to His Will. When He wishes us to be Sick, we wish to be Well; when He desires us to Serve Him by Sufferings, we desire to Serve Him by Works; when He wishes us to Exercise Charity, we wish to Exercise Humility; when He seeks from us Resignation, we wish for Devotion, a Spirit of Prayer or some other Virtue. And this is not because the things we Desire may be more Pleasing to Him, but because they are more to our Taste. This is certainly the Greatest Obstacle we can Raise to our own Perfection, for it is beyond doubt that if we were to wish to be Saints according to our own Will, we shall never be so at all. To be Truly a Saint, it is necessary to be One, according to the Will of God.

Saint Francis de Sales

 

Conformity to the Will of God

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

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What It Means

If we wish to Satisfy the Heart of God, we must in everything, bring our own Will into Conformity with His. We must also Strive to bring our Will into Uniformity with His, as regards all that He Commands.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Conformity means the Joining of our own Will to the Will of God.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Uniformity means, further, making the Divine Will One (1) with ours, so that we Desire nothing but what God Desires.

This is the Sum and Substance of that Perfection to which we ought to Aspire; this is what must be the Aim of all our Works, Desires, Meditations, and Prayers. For this we must ask the Assistance of all our Patron Saints and of our Guardian Angels, and above all, of our Mother Mary, who was the Most Perfect of all the Saints because she Most Perfectly Embraced the Divine Will.

But the Chief Point lies in our Embracing the Will of God in all things which befall us, not only when they are Favorable, but when they are Contrary to our Desires. When things go Well, even Sinners find no Difficulty in being in a State of Uniformity to the Divine Will; but the Saints are in Uniformity also under Circumstances which run Counter-to Self-Love. It is in this that the Perfection of our Love for God is shown.

We must bring ourselves into Uniformity to the Divine Will, not only as regards those Adverse Circumstances which come to us Directly from God — such as Sickness, Poverty, the Death of Loved Ones and other things of a Similar Nature — but also as regards those which come to us through Men, such as Insults, Acts of Injustice, Thefts and Persecutions. We must understand, when someone Damages our Reputation, our Honor, or our Property, that although the Lord does not Will the Sin which such a one commits, He nevertheless does Will our Humiliation, our Poverty, and our Mortification. It is certain that everything which Comes-to-Pass in the World, Comes-to-Pass through the Divine Will: "I Form the Light, and Create the Darkness, I make Well-Being and create Woe" - (Isaiah 45:7). From God come all things that are Good, and all things that are Evil, that is to say, all things which are Contrary to our own Liking and which we Falsely call Evil; for they are Good when we receive them as coming from His Hands: "If Evil befalls a City, has not the Lord caused it"? said the Prophet Amos (3:6). "Good and Evil, Life and Death, Poverty and Riches, are from the Lord" - (Sirach 1:14).

It is true, as I observed above, that whenever anyone treats you Unjustly, God does not Will the Sin which such a Person Commits, or Concur in the Malice of his Intentions. But He Concurs as Regards the Material Action by which such a Person Wounds, Plunders, or Injures you, so that what you have to Suffer is certainly Willed by God and comes to you from His Hands. Thus the Lord told David that He was the Author of the Injuries which Absalom would Inflict upon him, even to the taking away of his Wives in his very presence, in Punishment for his Sins: "I will bring Evil upon you out of your Own House. I will take your Wives while you live to see it, and will give them to your Neighbor" - (2 Samuel 12:11). He also told the Israelites that it would be as a Punishment for their Wickedness when He would Command the Assyrians to Spoil and Bring them to Ruin: "Woe to Assyria! My Rod in Anger, my Staff in Wrath. Against an Impious Nation I send him, and against a People under my Wrath, I order him to Seize Plunder, Carry off Loot, and Tread Them Down like the Mud of the Streets" - (Isaiah 10:5-6).

Saint Augustine explains it thus: "The Wickedness of these Men is made to be, as it were, an Axe of God", to Chastise the Israelites. And Jesus Himself said to Saint Peter that His Passion and Death did not come to Him, so much from Men, as from His Father Himself: "Am I not to Drink the Cup the Father has given Me?" - (John 18:11). When the Messenger came to Job to tell him that the Sabeans had taken all his Goods away, and had put his Sons to Death, what was his Reply? "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" - (Job 1:21). He did not say the Lord has given me Sons and Property, and the Sabeans have taken them away from me; but the Lord has given them to me, and the Lord has taken them away. He Perfectly Understood that his Loss was Willed by God; and therefore he added, "Blessed be the Name of the Lord"! We must not look upon the Troubles which Befall us as Happening by Chance, or only through the Fault of Others. We must Rest Assured that everything which happens to us, Comes to Pass Through the Divine Will.

He who Acts in this Way, does not only become a Saint, but he Enjoys, even in this World, a Perpetual Peace. The Happiest Man in the World is he who Abandons himself to the Will of God and Receives all things, whether Prosperous or Adverse, as from His Hands. "We know that God makes all things Work Together for the Good of those who have been Called" - (Romans 8:28). Those who Love God are always Content, because all their Pleasure Lies in the Accomplishment of the Divine Will. Thus, even Afflictions, are Converted into Contentment by the Thought that in the Acceptance of them, they are giving Pleasure to the Lord Whom they Love. "No Harm Befalls the Just" - (Proverbs 12:21). And, in Truth, what Greater Contentment can a Man ever Experience than in Seeing the Accomplishment of all that he Desires? Now whenever anyone Desires nothing except what God Desires, everything that such a One Desires does, consequently, Come to Pass. Souls that are Truly Resigned, Desire whatever happens; if they Suffer Poverty, they Desire to be Poor. Whatever happens to them, they Desire it all; and therefore they are, in this Life, Happy. When Cold or Heat, Rain or Wind Prevails, he who is in a State of Union with the Divine Will says: I wish it to be Cold, I wish it to be Hot; I wish the Wind to Blow, the Rain to Fall, because God Wishes it so. If Poverty, Persecution, Sickness, Death arrive, I also wish to be Poor, Persecuted, Sick; I wish even to Die, because God Wishes it.

This is the Freedom which the Sons of God Enjoy, Worth more than all the Wealth of this World. This is that Great Peace which the Saints experience, which "is beyond all understanding" - (Philippians 4:7), with which the Pleasures of the Senses and all other Worldly Satisfactions cannot compete. For these, being Unsubstantial and Transitory, may bring Temporary Pleasure to the Senses; but they do not bring Contentment to the Spirit in which True Contentment resides, "The Godless Man, like the Moon, is Inconstant" - (Sirach 27:11). The Godless, that is the Sinner, Changes like the Moon which today Waxes, tomorrow Wanes. Today you will see him Laughing, tomorrow Weeping; today all Gentleness, tomorrow Furious as a Tiger. And why? Because his Contentment depends on the Prosperity or the Adversity with which he meets, and therefore he Varies as the Circumstances which Befall him vary. But the Just Man is like the Sun, always Constant in his Serenity under whatever Circumstances may Come to Pass, because his Contentment lies in his Uniformity with the Divine Will. Therefore he enjoys a Peace which nothing can Disturb. The Will of God is Good, Delightful, and Perfect, because He Wills only that which is Best and Most Perfect.

How Great is the Folly of those who Fight against the Divine Will! They have to Suffer, because no one can ever Prevent the Accomplishment of the Divine Decrees. And they even draw down upon themselves Greater Punishment in the Next Life and Greater Unhappiness in this: "Who has Withstood Him and remained Unscathed?" - (Job 9:4). Let the Sick Man cry as he will about his Pains. Let him who is in Poverty Complain, Rave, Blaspheme against God as much as he Pleases in his Distresses, what will he Gain by it, but the Doubling of his Affliction? "What are you in search of, Foolish Man", says Saint Augustine, "when seeking Good Things? Seek that One Good in Whom are all Good Things". What can you find, Senseless Man, away from your God? Find God, Unite yourself to His Will; and you will always be Happy, both in this Life and in the Next.

In short, what is there that God Wills but our Good? Whom can we ever find to Love us more than He? It is His Will, not merely that no one should Perish, but that all should Save and Sanctify themselves: "He wants None to Perish but all to come to Repentance" - (2Peter 3:9). "It is God's Will that you Grow in Holiness" - (1Thessalonians 4:3). It is in our Good that God has placed His own Glory. It being the Nature of Goodness to Communicate itself; God has a Supreme Desire to make the Souls of Men Partakers of His Own Happiness and Glory. And if, in this Life, He sends us Tribulations, they are all for our Own Good: "God makes all things Work Together for the Good of those who have been Called" - (Romans 8:28). Even Punishments do not come to us from God for our Destruction, but for our Salvation. In order to Save us from Eternal Evils, the Lord Encircles us with His Own Good Will: "You surround him with the Shield of Your Good Will" - (Psalm 5:13). He not only Desires, but is Anxious for our Salvation: "The Lord thinks of me" - (Psalm 40:18). And what is there that God will ever Refuse us, says Saint Paul, after having given us His own Son? - (Romans 8:32). This, then, is the Confidence with which we ought to Abandon ourselves to the Divine Will.

 

How to Practice It

But let us now look at the Matter from a more Practical Point of View, and Consider the Circumstances which call for our Uniformity with the Will of God.

In the First Place, we must have this Uniformity as regards those Things of Nature which come to us from without, as when there is Great Heat, Great Cold, Rain, Drought, Pestilence, and the like. We must take care not to say: What Intolerable Heat! What Wretched Weather! or other such words. We ought to Will everything to be as it is, since God Orders it all. Saint Francis Borgia, on going one night to a Jesuit Residence when the Snow was Falling, Knocked at the Door several times. But the Fathers were Asleep and he was not let in. They Apologized in the Morning for having kept him waiting outside. But the Saint said that during that time he had been Consoled by the Thought that it was God Who was sending those Flakes of Snow.

In the Second Place, we must have this Uniformity as regards things which happen to us from within, as in the Sufferings that come from Hunger, Thirst, Poverty or Disgrace. We should always say, "Lord, I am Content; I Will only what You Will".

In the Third Place, if we have any Natural Defect either in Mind or Body — a Bad Memory, Slowness of Comprehension, a Crippled Limb, or Weak Health let us not complain. What were we Entitled to? What Obligation had God to give us a Mind more Richly Endowed, or a Body more Perfectly Made? Could He not have Created us mere Brute Animals or have left us in our own Nothingness? Who ever receives a Gift and tries to make Bargains about it? We should give Him Thanks for what, through a Pure Act of His Goodness, He has Bestowed upon us; we should be Content with the Manner in which He has Treated us. Who can tell, if God had given us more Ability, Better Health, or more Beauty and Charm, whether we should not have used them to our Destruction? How many there are whose Ruin has been brought about by their Talents and Learning; they have grown Proud, looked upon others with Contempt. How many others there are whose Personal Beauty or Bodily Strength have caused them to Fall-into Sin. And, on the contrary, how many others there are who, as a Result of their Poverty or Illness or Ugilness, have Sanctified themselves and been Saved. We should, therefore, be Content with that which God has given us: "One thing only is required" - (Luke 10:41). Beauty is not Necessary, nor Health, nor Keenness of Intellect; what alone is Necessary, is our Salvation.

In the Fourth Place, we must be Particularly Resigned under the Pressure of Sickness. We must Embrace it Willingly, whatever kind it is and for as long as God Wills. Nevertheless, we should Employ the usual Remedies, for this is what the Lord Wills too. But if they do us no Good, let us Unite ourselves with the Will of God, and this will do us much more Good than Health. Lord, we should say, I have no wish either to get Well or to remain Sick; I Will only what You Will. Certainly our Virtue is greater, if in Times of Sickness, we do not Complain of our Sufferings. But when these Press Heavily upon us, it is not a Fault to make them known to our Friends, or even to ask God to Free us from them. I am speaking now of Sufferings that are Severe. Even Jesus Christ, on seeing the Approach of His Passion, said, "My Heart is nearly Broken with Sorrow" - (Matthew 26:38), and He Prayed to be Free from it: "My Father, if it is possible, let this Cup pass Me by" - (Matthew 26:39). But Jesus Himself has Taught us what we ought to do after Praying in this Manner: We must Immediately Resign ourselves to the Divine Will, adding, as He did, "Still, let it be as You would have it, not as I". How Foolish, too, are those who say that they Wish for Health in order to Render Greater Service to God by Serving the Community, by going to Church, by Receiving Holy Communion, by doing Penance, by Study. But, my Friend, I wish you would tell me why it is that you want to do these things? Is it to Please God? And why go out of your way in order to do them, if you are sure that what Pleases God is not that you Pray, receive Communion, do Acts of Penance or Study, but that you Suffer with Patience the Sickness or Pains which He has sent you? Unite your own Sufferings with those of Jesus Christ. But, you say, I am Troubled that I am Useless, and a Burden to my Family. Here, too, you should Resign yourself to the Will of God, and Urge your Family to Resign themselves also. No, these Desires and Regrets do not Spring from the Love of God, but from the Love of Self, which is forever Hunting Excuses to Depart from the Will of God. If we wish to give Pleasure to God, let us say, whenever we happen to be Confined to our Beds, "Your Will be Done". And let us often repeat it, even for the Hundredth or Thousandth time. In this way we shall give more Pleasure to God than we could give Him by all the Mortifications and Devotions which we could Perform. There is no better way of Serving God than by Cheerfully Embracing His Will. God is not Glorified so much by our Works, as by our Resignation and Conformity to His Holy Will. And that is why Saint Francis de Sales used to say that we Serve God more by Suffering, than by Working.

I call the Time of Sickness the 'Touchstone' by which Souls are Tried, because in it is discovered the Value of the Virtue which anyone possesses. If he does not Lose his Tranquility, if he makes no Complaints, is not Overanxious and Obeys his Doctors, Preserving throughout his Peacefulness of Mind in Perfect Resignation to the Divine Will, it is a Sign that he Possesses Great Virtue. But what, then, should we say of the Sick Person who Complains and says that he Receives Little Help from others, that his Sufferings are Intolerable, that he can find no Remedy, that his Doctor is Ignorant, at times Complaining even to God that His Hand Presses too Heavily upon him? Saint Bonaventure relates, in his Life of Saint Francis, that when the Saint was Suffering Pains of an Extraordinary Severity, one of his Religious, who was somewhat too Simple, said to him: "Father, Pray God to treat you with a little more Gentleness; for it seems that He Lays His Hand too Heavily upon you". Saint Francis, on hearing this, said in reply: "Listen. If I did not know that these words of yours were the result of mere Simplicity, I would never look at you again — daring, as you have, to find Fault with the Judgments of God". And after saying this, Extremely Weak though he was, he threw himself on the floor and said: "Lord, I thank you for all the Sufferings which You send me. I ask you to send me more of them, if it so Please You. It is my Delight for You to Afflict me, because the Fulfillment of Your Will is the Greatest Consolation which I can receive in this life". And in the same way we should receive all other Crosses from the Hands of God. But so many Troubles, you say, are Punishments. I ask in reply, are not the Punishments which God sends us in this life, Acts of Kindness? If we have Offended Him, we have to Satisfy His Justice in Some Way or Other, either in This Life or in the Next. It should be a Consolation to one who has Deserved Hell, to see that God is Punishing him in this World. This should give him Hope that it may be God's Will to Deliver him from Eternal Punishment. Let us, then, say what was said by Eli, the Priest: "He is the Lord. He will do what He Judges Best" - (1Samuel 3:18).

 

Aridity, Spiritual Desolation

In Times of Spiritual Desolation, we should also be 'Resigned'. When a Soul First gives itself up to the Spiritual Life, the Lord is Accustomed to Heap Consolations upon it and thus Withdraw it from the Pleasures of the World. But Afterward, when He sees it More Settled in Spiritual Ways, He draws-back His Hand to Test its Love, and to see whether it Serves and Loves Him without Reward in this World. "While we are living here", as Saint Teresa used to say, "our Reward does not consist in any Increase of our Enjoyment of God, but in the Performance of His Will". And in another Passage: "The Love of God does not consist in Tenderness, but in serving Him with Firmness and Humility". And: "The Lord Tries those who Love Him by means of Dryness and Temptations". Let the Soul Thank the Lord when He Caresses it with Sweetness, but not Torment itself with Impatience when it is left in a State of Desolation.

This is a Point which should be Well Understood, for some Foolish Persons, seeing themselves in a State of Dryness, think that God may have Abandoned them, and so they Stop Praying and Lose all that they have Gained. There is no Better Time for Exercising our Resignation to the Will of God than when we Suffer Spiritual Dryness. I am not saying that you will not Suffer Pain on seeing yourself Deprived of the Sensible Presence of God. It is impossible for a Soul not to feel such Pain as this. Even our Redeemer Cried-out from the Cross: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" - (Matthew 27:46). In its Sufferings, such a Soul should always Resign itself Perfectly to the Will of the Lord. These Spiritual Desolations and Abandonments are what all the Saints have Suffered. "What Hardness of Heart", said Saint Bernard, "do I not Experience! I no longer find any Delight in Reading, no longer any Pleasure in Meditation or in Prayer". The Condition of the Saints has been, Ordinarily, one of Dryness. Consolations the Lord does not bestow, except on Rare Occasions, and to perhaps the Weaker Ones, in order to Prevent their Coming to a Standstill in their Spiritual Journey. The Joys which He Promises as Rewards are being Prepared for us in Heaven. This World is the Place for Meriting by Suffering; Heaven is the Place for Rewards and Enjoyments. Therefore, what the Saints have Desired and Sought for in this World has been not a Sensible Fervor with Rejoicing, but a Spiritual Fervor with Suffering.

We must Bear in Mind that Dryness is not always a Punishment, but is occasionally sent by God for our Greater Good, in order to keep us Humble. When God sends Darkness and Desolation, He is Testing His True Friends. This, then, is your Answer whenever you feel yourself Tempted to Stop Praying because it seems to be a Waste of Time: "I am here in order to Please God". Saint Francis de Sales used to say that if in Time of Prayer we did no more than drive-away Distractions and Temptations, our Prayer would be Well-made.

 

Temptations

What is said with regard to Dryness, must also be said of Temptations. We should try to avoid Temptations; but if God Wills or Permits that we be Tempted against the Faith, against Purity, or against any other Virtue, we should not Complain, but Resign ourselves in this also to the Divine Will. To Saint Paul, who Prayed to be Released from his Temptations, the Lord answered: "My Grace is Sufficient for you". And so, if we see that God does not Listen to us by Releasing us from some Temptation, let us also say: Lord, do whatever Pleases You; Your Grace is Sufficient for me. Temptations are not the Cause of our Losing Divine Grace. Temptations, when we Overcome them, keep us more Humble, Gain for us Greater Merits, Make us have Recourse to God more frequently, and thus keep us from Offending Him and Unite us more Closely to His Holy Love.

 

Death

We must also Unite ourselves with the Will of God in Regard to our Death, and as to the Time and Manner in which He will send it. What is this World but a Prison for us to Suffer in, and to be in Danger every Moment of Losing God? This is what caused the Psalmist to exclaim: "Lead me forth from Prison" - (Psalm 142:8). It was this Fear which made Saint Teresa Sigh for Death; on Hearing the Clock Strike, she felt Consolation in the Thought that an Hour of her Life had passed, an Hour of her Danger of Losing God. What is more Precious, or to be more Desired, than by a Good Death to Secure the Impossibility of Losing the Grace of our God? But you say, "I have as yet done nothing; there is nothing that I have Gained for my Soul". But if it be the Will of God for your Life to Terminate at this Time, what would you do afterward if you were to Remain Alive Contrary to His Will? Who knows whether, through a Change of Will, you might not Fall into other Sins and Lose Eternal Life? I say that he who has but little Desire for Heaven shows that he has but little Love for God. One who Loves, Desires the Presence of the Object Loved. But we cannot see God without Leaving this World, and that is why all the Saints have Longed for Death, in order to go and see the Lord Whom they have Loved. And so Augustine said, "O, may I Die, that I may see You"! And Saint Paul wrote, "I long to be Freed from this Life and to be with Christ" - (Philippians 1:23).

 

Glory of God

Finally, although we ought to Value the Glory of God, we ought to Value His Will even more. It is Right for us to Desire to Love Him more than the Angels do, but it is not Right for us to Wish for any other Degree of Love than that which the Lord has Granted us. It would be an Obvious Fault to Desire to Possess Gifts of Supernatural Prayer, such as Ecstasies, Visions, and Revelations. On the Contrary, Spiritual Writers say that those Souls on which God Bestows the Favor of such Graces ought to Pray to be Deprived of them, so that they may Love Him by the Way of Pure Faith. There are many who have Attained Perfection without these Supernatural Graces. The only Virtues are those which Raise the Soul to Sanctity, and Chief among them Stands Uniformity with the Will of God. If God does not Choose to Raise us to a High Degree of Perfection and of Glory, let us Conform ourselves to His Holy Will, Praying that He would at least Save us through His Mercy. And if we Act in this Manner, that Reward will not be Small which our Good Lord will give us, since He Loves above all those Souls that are 'Resigned'.

In short, we ought to regard all things that do or will happen to us as Proceeding from God's Hands; and everything that we do we should Direct to this One End: the Fulfillment of His Will. Above all, let us Serve God in the Way in which He Wills. I say this so that we may Shun the Deception practiced by one who Loses Time amusing himself by saying: "If I were in a Desert, if I were to enter a Monastery, if I were to go somewhere else, I would Sanctify myself; I would do such and such a Penance; I would say such and such Prayers". He says, "I would do, I would do". But in the Meantime, by Bearing with a Bad Will, the Cross which God sends him, he not only does not Sanctify himself, but goes from Bad to Worse. These Desires are Temptations of the Devil. We must therefore Drive them Away and Embrace the Service of God in that One (1) Way which He has Chosen for us. By doing His Will, we shall certainly Sanctify ourselves in any 'State' in which God places us. We should, then, always Will only that which God Wills, so that we may be Entirely His.

Let us make ourselves Familiar with some of those Passages of Scripture which call us to Unite ourselves ever more-and-more with the Divine Will: "I am Yours; Save me" - (Psalm 119:94). And especially at Times when any very Great Calamity Befalls us — as in the Case of the Death of Parents, of the Loss of Property, and other such things, let us say: "Father, it is True. You have Graciously Willed it so" - (Matthew 11:26). And, above all, let us Love that Prayer which Jesus Christ has Taught us: "Your Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven". Our Lord told Saint Catherine of Genoa that, whenever she said the "Our Father", she was to Pay Particular Attention to these Words, and Pray that His Holy Will might be Fulfilled by her. Let us, too, Act in this Manner, and we shall certainly become Saints ourselves.

 

- End of Liguori Sermon -

 

Prayer

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Trust Him when Dark Doubts assail thee;
Trust Him when thy Strength is small;
Trust Him when to Simply Trust Him
Seems the Hardest Thing of all.

Trust Him, He is ever Faithful;
Trust Him for His Will is Best;
Trust Him, for the Heart of Jesus
Is the only Place of Rest

Trust Him, through Doubts and Sunshine;
All thy Cares upon Him Cast,
Till the Storm of Life is over
And the Trusting Days are Past.