Another Way of Showing How Conforming Ourselves to the Will of God Is the Way to Find Contentment

by admin on February 20, 2011

THE glorious St. Augustine on those words of our Savior: Whatever ye shall ask the Father in my name shall l be granted you (John xiv. 13), says that a man should not seek peace and quiet by means of doing his own will and gaining what he has a craving for, because that is not what is good for him or suits him—on the contrary, it may be a bad thing for him—but by acquiescing in the good or better lot that God offers him, and this it is that he ought to ask of God. Quando nos delectant mala, et non delectant bona, rogare debemus potius Deum ut delectent bona quam ut concedantur mala. If you find no relish in the accomplish­ment of the will of God, which is good, but your taste and appetite is bent on the accomplishment of your own will, you ought to beg and entreat of God, not that He would grant you what you wish for, but that He would grant you the grace to relish the accomplishment of His will, which is the good that suits you. He quotes to this effect that passage in Numbers (xi. 4) when the children of Israel grew weary of the manna from heaven which God sent them and desired and asked for flesh meat. God ful­filled their desire, but greatly to their cost, for while the meat was still in their mouths, the anger of God came upon them, and slew the strongest and overthrew the flower of Israel (Psalm Ixxvii. 31). God in chastisement made a great slaughter amongst them. It is clear that the manna from heaven which God sent them was better than the flesh meat which they sought and the onions and garlic of Egypt which they sighed after. Thus, says the saint, they should not have asked these things of God, but that He would heal their palate to relish the manna from heaven and find a taste in it; and in this way they would have had no temp­tation to desire other food, for they would have found all things in the manna and all the tastes that they could wish. In the same way, when you are under a fit of temptation or passion and your taste is unhealthy and so you have no rel­ish for virtue and goodness, but like a sick man you crave after evil and noxious food, you must not let yourself be governed by your appetite nor seek for the fulfilment of your desire; for that would not be a means to find content­ment, but rather to feel afterwards greater dissatisfaction and more restlessness and trouble. What you should desire and beg of God is that He would heal your palate and give you a taste for the accomplishment of His most holy will, since that is the good that is suited to you, and in this way you will come to gain true peace and true contentment. St. Dorotheus has drawn this conclusion in another way or, rather, explains the same truth in another manner. He says that he who entirely conforms his will to the will of God so as to have no will one way or another but what God wills this way or that, comes by this means always to do his own will and always remain in great peace and quiet. Let us take an example from obedience, and thereby what we wish to say will be explained, and we shall arrive by one road at two virtues. We commonly say to those who are thinking of being religious and following the way of obedi­ence : “See that here in religion you must not do your own will in anything.” St. Dorotheus says: “Go along, you may quite well do it; and I will give you method by which you may do your own will all day long, not only lawfully, but holily and with great perfection. Do you know how? The religious who is thoroughly obedient and has no will of his own, always does his own will because he makes another’s will his; and thus, without seeking to do our own will, we always find it in what we are doing.” Contrive that your own will shall be no other than the will of the supe­rior, and so all day long you will go about doing your own will, and that with much perfection and merit. In this way I sleep as much as I wish, because I have no wish to sleep more than obedience ordains. I eat what I wish, since I have no wish to eat more than they give me. I pray as I wish, and read and work and do penance as I wish, because in all this I have no wish but to do what obedience has meted out for me and ordained, and so of all the rest. Thus a good religious, by not seeking to do his own will, comes to be always doing his own will. This is how good religious are so cheerful and content; it is the making of the will of obedience their own that keeps them cheerful and content. Herein lies the whole issue of the ease or hardship of reli­gious life, and hereon depend the cheerfulness- and content­ment of the religious. If you make up your mind to give up your own will and take the superior’s will for yours, you will find religious life very easy and pleasant’ and you will live in great contentment and cheerfulness; but if you keep another will apart from that of your superior, you cannot live in religion; two different wills are incompatible one with the other. Even with the fact that we have in our­selves one will only, yet because we have a sensitive appe­tite that contradicts the will and reason, we can hardly get on with it, although this appetite is inferior and subor­dinate to our will; what would it be with two wills, each claiming the mastership! No man can serve two masters (Matt. vi. 24). The difficulty of religious life is not so much in the things themselves and the hardships that there are in it, as is the repugnance of our will and the fancies of our imagination: it is that which makes things to us grievous and difficult. This is easily understood by the difference that we experience in ourselves when we are under tempta­tion and when we are not. When we are free from tempta­tions, we see that things become light and easy to us; but when temptation comes, and sadness and melancholy press upon us, that which used to be easy becomes very difficult, and we fancy that the very sky would fall were we to try it. The difficulty is not in the thing, since that is the same as it was yesterday, but in our bad disposition. When a sick man loathes his food, it is not the fault of the food, which is good and well cooked, but of the peccant humor of the patient, which makes the food seem bad and disagree­able; so it is here.

This is the favor which God does to those whom He calls to religious life; He gives them a relish and a liking for fol­lowing the will of another. This is the grace of vocation with which God has favored us beyond our brethren who have stayed behind there in the world. Who has given you this facility which you find in giving up your own will and following that of another ? Who has given you a new heart, wherewith you have abhorred the things of the world and found a taste for recollection and prayer and mortification ? You were not born with it; no, certainly, but rather with the- contrary, for the feelings and thoughts of the human heart are inclined to evil from, his youth (Gen. viii. 21). It has.been the grace of the Holy Ghost; it is that which like a good mother has put aloes on the breasts of the world, that that might become bitter to you which was before sweet, and sweetest honey on the things of virtue and reli­gion in order to make that tasty and sweet to you which before seemed bitter and disagreeable. That saint said [St. Agatha]: “I give Thee infinite thanks, O Lord, for having guarded me and chosen me from childhood and for having rid my heart of the things of the world.” It is no great thing that we have done in becoming religious; but great and very grand is the favor that the Lord has done us in drawing us to religion and giving us a taste of the manna of heaven while other men are tasting and enjoying them­selves on the garlic and onions of Egypt.

Sometimes I set myself to consider how people in the world give up their will and do the will of another in view of their temporal gains and interests, from the grandee by the side of the king to the lackey and stable-boy. They eat, as they say, to another man’s hunger and sleep to another man’s inclination for sleep; and they are so thoroughly trained to this and have so thoroughly made another’s will their own that by this time they have got a liking for this style of life and take it for a pastime. And this they do to gain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible (I Cor. ix. 25). Is it much for us to get a taste for this style of life so well laid out as that of religion, and make our own the will of the superior, which is better than ours? If they for a little honor and temporal interest make another’s will so thoroughly their own that now it is to them a delight and pastime to follow it, turning nights into days and days into nights, is it a great thing for us to do the same for the love of God and for the gaining of life everlasting? Let us, then, resolve to make the superior’s will our own, and in this manner we shall always do our own will and live very contented and happy lives in religion, and very spiritual will be our cheerfulness and joy.

Let us now turn this to our purpose and apply it to the matter in hand. Let us make the will of God ours by con­forming ourselves to it in all things and not otherwise will­ing or willing not than as God wills and wills not; in this manner we shall come to do always our own will and to live in great contentment and cheerfulness. It is clear that, if you will only what God wills, your will will be accom­plished, and that is what you will and desire. Even the pagan Seneca hit the mark in saying this. “The most exalted and perfect thing in man,” he says, “is to know how to suffer with cheerfulness adversities and hardships, and bear all that happens as though it happened of his own will, for so man is obliged to will, knowing that this is the divine will.” Oh, in what contentment should we live if we succeeded in making the will of God ours and in never will­ing aught but what He wills—not merely because in that way our will would always be accomplished, but chiefly for seeing that the will of God, Whom we love so much, is always accomplished and done! For although we ought to help ourselves by what has been said, yet we ought to come to dwell on this and on this we ought to found all our satisfaction, I mean in the contentment of God and the fulfilment of His most holy and divine will, All things whatsoever he hath willed, the Lord hath done, In heaven, on earth, on the sea, and in all the depths (Psalm cxxxiv. 6). All things that the Lord has willed, He has done; and He will do all the things that He shall will; and He can do as much as He can will, according to the saying of the Wise Man: Power waiteth upon thy will (Wisdom xii. 18). All things are put in subjection to thee, and there is none that can resist thy will (Esther xiii. 9; Rom. ix. 19).

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

{ 2 comments }

Barb H February 23, 2011 at 9:22 PM

It is interesting that many (although I suppose not all) religious orders seem to have made changes in this area of obedience…. making a bit more reliance on information that the individual brings to the table when the decision, whatever that may be, needs to be made.

How does this apply to the person who is NOT in a religious house… but nevertheless wishes to live in obedience… but there is not a ‘superior’ to make the decision.

and… if we are to be directed by spiritual directors, these are few and far between too.

admin April 25, 2011 at 4:20 PM

For those of us who are not in a religious house and wish to practice obedience more in our lives, we may do so by following our bosses instruction; obeying our parents; obeying traffic signals, etc. This, in fact, is the broader context of the commandment to honor your father and mother (authority figures). For example “Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of his gifts…” Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2238

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