Of the four ways of seeking for Christ that we mentioned, three have already been considered, namely prayer, reading, and the sacraments. The fourth way we suggested was by conformity to the will of God. The connection between this way and the sacrifice of the Mass is fairly evident, but before considering it in any detail, we would again draw attention to one fact that must never be forgotten. God’s plan is to restore all things in Christ, and without Christ, all things are sterile and powerless. There is no other way of reaching our final end except through Him. The point is so important that we may consider it for a moment.
The human race was intended by God for a superhuman destiny—a supernatural one. Adam and Eve were raised to a supernatural state by grace and were intended to transmit that state to their children, but by their sin lost that grace, both for themselves and for their children; the whole human race accordingly fell back to a merely human condition, surrounded with difficulties which would interfere with its reaching even a merely human end, but it was absolutely powerless to achieve its superhuman or supernatural end. For example, men were intended to be the friends of God, sharing in His nature like sons. They lost that share of His nature. The result can be illustrated by considering what would happen if some beloved friend or, worse still, some favorite child, were not merely to lose the use of his reason, but by losing his rational nature radically and completely, were to descend to the level of the brute animals. The result defies even imagination, but we can realize that such a being would have no longer any hope of finding happiness as a friend of ours. Something like that happened when we fell from grace.
Another way of visualizing the result of the Fall would be to regard the whole human race as barren soil, utterly devoid of life of any sort, and completely incapable of producing any life, until some form of seed were given to it. Whatever life eventually develops must come from that seed. Christ is that seed, as we have already said. We mortals are in the position of the friend or child that has lost not merely the use of reason, but the very faculty itself, and has become an animal. Both comparisons are to some extent inaccurate, but this much may be said: that the living plant is no more different from the dead earth, nor the rational man more different from the brute beast, than is the supernatural different from the natural. A dog has a better chance of proving Euclid’s fifth proposition, or of writing a symphony, than a man without grace has of performing a supernatural act. The supernatural is utterly beyond his powers, and yet, for the Christian, his whole happiness depends upon his achieving a supernatural end.
Once the supernatural is admitted to be the one thing necessary, the natural must cede to it. Natural standards or purposes must be laid aside, and things must be judged and arranged from the supernatural point of view. Further, although we have been speaking in the last four chapters of the soul as seeking for Christ, yet it must be remembered that that search is impossible without the grace of Christ. It is a supernatural search and must have a supernatural seeker; our search must be supernaturalized by grace, either actual or habitual, and in the present dispensation, all grace comes to us through the Passion and Death of Christ. “Without me you can do nothing” (1 Jn 15:5). Even in our search for Jesus, we must have His aid. That is why the starting point of the spiritual life in baptism must be union with Christ. But we have already explained that our quest for Christ is a quest for closer union with Him, an endeavor to develop the life of Christ that is in us, by drawing His life from the rest of His Mystical Body of which we are the members and He is the head and the source of all its life.
The last chapter showed us how Christ has left us His sacrifice to be an expression of our own interior sacrifice to God. To make His sacrifice completely ours we have to conform our dispositions to His. In other words, on entering into Christ we have to say, as He did on entering into the world: “Behold, I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb 10:9). And having said that in our heart, we have to say it in all our life. Then can we call His sacrifice, summing up all His Life and His Death, our own.
The need for this conformity to the will of God becomes clear also from another point of view. If we consider ourselves as members of the Mystical Body, a little reflection will make it clear that this conformity to the will of God is the fundamental law of living membership of Christ. Let us consider again the constitution of the human body. It is made up of members, organs, and cells, all performing their own functions and each with its own special activity. Yet they all form a perfect unit. The reason for this unity is that they are all animated—in the literal meaning of the word—by one vital principle, which is the human soul. This vital principle modifies their activities and coordinates the function of each, so that each works for the benefit of the whole, and each in turn is sustained by the whole organism. After death, this one vital principle departs, for death is the separation of the soul from the body. Immediately, each part of the body becomes its own natural self, so to speak, and functions according to its own nature, no longer directed or coordinated by the same soul. The result is that the various chemical substances in the human body interact in their natural manner, destroy the organs and the tissues, and produce decomposition. But even in its formation, the human body resembles the Mystical Body. If we examine the beginning of the human organism, we find that it starts from a single cell into which God infuses a human soul as a vital principle. This cell then multiplies, using the food prepared for it by the maternal organism, and in the course of development differentiation occurs, certain groups of cells being formed for particular purposes. Under the influence of the one vital principle, the cell develops into the highly organized compound that we know as the human body.
If we realize that the Holy Ghost is the Soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, we can realize how complete submission to His will is vital for our life in Christ. We are the members, or, if you will, the cells, of the Mystical Body, and this Body is only fully developed and healthy when all the members and the cells are fully vivified by the Holy Spirit and completely subjected to Him. Now, one important difference between the human body and the Mystical Body is that in the human body none of the parts has any will of its own. Apart from special cases of certain growths, the soul exercises its influence on each part, with full dominion and control. In the Mystical Body, each member is a person; he has a free will of his own, he has full dominion over his actions. He has the power of choice. He can either subject himself to the Holy Ghost by doing the will of God, and insofar as he does that, he is living the life of Christ and will be identified with Him; or he can reject the will of God and live by his own will, in which case he is outside Christ, at least outside His life, and he may even be anti-Christ. We have already considered this view, and there is no need to develop it further here. The lesson is obvious: No one can do his own will and be a perfect member of Christ—and without Christ he can do nothing.
The will of God then is the law of the Christian life. By doing it we find Christ; by doing it we are united to Christ. What then is the will of God for us? The answer to that question up to a point is fairly clear; but in its fullness, the answer is not too easy. With regard to ourselves, we have to distinguish in our own mind two “wills” in God, two divisions of things willed by God, or rather two relations of events to God’s will. There are certain things God wishes to happen and even commands. These are what we may call God’s “signified will.” There are, however, many things which happen contrary to God’s signified will—notably sin. Yet nothing happens without at least God’s permission, in the sense that He does not prevent it. These things, contrary to the signified will, happen by what is called God’s will of good-pleasure. If we use the term permission, it does not mean that God dispenses from His laws and allows them to be broken, exempting those who break them from fault. Even though God “permits” sin to happen, He still forbids it. But He respects the free will of His creatures and does not deprive them of their liberty of choice.
About the first will—the signified will of God—there is no great difficulty, at least up to a certain point. The commandments of God and of His Church, the lawful orders of those in lawful authority, the duties of our state, the evangelical counsels and the inspirations of the Holy Ghost are means by which God makes known to us His will in our regard. The exact details of His will in an individual case may not be easy to determine. In fact, sometimes it would seem that He wills that His will be unknown. But, at least by prayer and counsel, one can always decide upon the immediate future in such a way as to please God. How that is to be done we shall shortly consider.
But God’s will of good-pleasure, or His “permissions,” is a much wider thing, and it is something in which it is at times very difficult to see His hand at all. Yet we must remember that even in creating free will and allowing creatures to use it, God did not abdicate His supreme dominion over all things. He rules the heavens and the earth. Nothing takes place that He has not foreseen, provided for, and “permitted.” This applies even to sin, which He hates and detests. Yet because He decided to create man with free will, He does not interfere with his abuse of it, but He does will the consequences of that abuse. Perhaps the best way to picture the whole process is to visualize God, not merely creating the beginning of the world and leaving it, so to speak, to work out its own destiny, but rather choosing this particular world with its complete history right down to the very end, after examining every single action of every single creature in full detail and in all its consequences, comparing this possible history and sequence with all other possible ones, and finally deciding to create this particular scheme of things in which this particular event, and all its consequences, occur.
From this point of view every single thing that happens to us carries in some way the mark of the choice of God. Logically we must extend that even to our sins, inasmuch as God chooses a universe in which He permits it to happen that certain sins are committed. It is true, the will responsible for this particular sin is this particular created will which decides to sin, and thereby offends God and incurs the guilt of sin. Nevertheless, if it afterward identifies itself with God’s will by repentance and by accepting the divinely willed consequences of its sin, it can apply to itself St. Paul’s principle: “To them that love God, all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28).
Before, however, we examine the question from a practical point of view to determine our individual conduct, let us first try to realize what is the general plan underlying God’s ruling of the universe.
Christ is the center of God’s plan. All things are for Him, and by Him, and all things are to be re-established in Him. All things were created in Him, but men by sin, insofar as in them lay, departed from Him. God’s purpose however did not change. He wills to re-establish all things in Christ.
We speak of God’s plans and God’s “wills,” but in God there is really no multiplicity except that connected with the Blessed Trinity. Human speech, however, can only use human terms in speaking of God’s operations, although in God there is only one idea and one will. He begets His Son by knowing Himself, and the mutual Love of the Father and Son is the Third Person, the Holy Ghost. What God does in this world is only an external shadow or imitation of what He is doing in Himself. In Himself He is begetting His Son; in this world He is also forming His Son’s Mystical Body. In Himself He is loving His Son by the Holy Spirit, and in this world He is loving His Son by the Holy Spirit. There are three Persons but only one divine will.
We have spoken of the Holy Spirit as the vital principle—the soul—of the Mystical Body of Christ, and hence deduced the need for submitting ourselves completely to His guidance—to His will, for His will is the will of God. There need be no confusion if we now regard the process as subject to the influence of external events, and insist upon the need for submitting ourselves completely to the will of the Father, as shown in His commandments and in His providence—for His will is the same will, and will of God. And if in our love for the Son as our Head we wish to submit to His will, and in a loving embrace to identify our will with His, still there is no confusion; for the Son, too, is God, and His divine will is the will of God.
In Jesus Christ, however, since He is man as well as God, there are two powers of willing, the human as well as the divine. The whole plan of our Lord’s life was the submission of His human will completely and absolutely in an ecstasy of abandonment to the will of God, as manifested by the “commandment” He had from His Father, by the “inspirations” He had from the Holy Spirit, and even by the manifestation of the will of God as shown in the course of events, notably in the sins of those who crucified Him. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8).
That is the complete summary of our Lord’s life. We have referred to it before; we do not apologize for referring to it again. He vowed His obedience in His Mother’s womb; He submitted as an infant and as a child to those whom God appointed for His guardians. “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them” (Lk 2:51). Until He was thirty years of age He subjected Himself to the will of God as manifested in the words of Mary and Joseph. In His public life, He never did anything but the things that were pleasing to the Father, and He always accepted the many limitations that Providence put to His work. In His Passion and Death, He suffered injustice, injury and insult from evil men, who were sinning against God; yet He never failed to see in all that was done to Him, the will of God. His last act on the cross was to abandon Himself completely into the hands of the Father. . . . He was obedient even to the death of the cross.
“For which cause God hath exalted Him, and given him a name which is above all names” (Phil 2:9). Not only did God raise Him from the dead, but His whole plan is to raise up the whole of mankind through Him from the death of sin. Men had lost the supernatural life, and they could only find it in Christ. Now the whole of God’s will—the whole of His government of the universe, and His government extends to the smallest detail—has one purpose, to re-establish all things in Christ. Therefore, if our wills are conformed to the will of God, the whole of our history, with every single thing that happens to us, is part of a plan—a plan which is being carried out by the omnipotent power of God—to unite us to Christ and sanctify us in Him.
Thus, Christian spirituality and Christian morality is not a negative thing—a mere series of prohibitions: “Thou shalt not . . .”; it is essentially positive and dynamic, an incorporating and a building up of each of us in Christ. And the whole scheme, as far as any one person in the state of grace is concerned, depends only on two wills: the will of God and his own will. It does not matter what other men will, what they do to him; if a man only cleave to God by his own will, God will sanctify him.
Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? . . . But in all these things we have overcome because of him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Rom 8:35–39)
By doing the will of God, then, we are formed into Christ, we are “digested” by Him, we are received into Him and transformed into Him, as the food is taken by the roots and transformed into the vine. When we do the will of God, Christ, our High Priest, takes us into His hands, and blesses us, and says: “This is My Body,” and offers us up to His Father in Himself, and receives us into communion with Himself. The perfect union with Christ is to do the will of God for the love of God. There is nothing higher than that. Therein lies all holiness and all happiness; therein lies all that we may ever become, all that we ever dreamed of being; for it renews us in Christ and unites us to Him who is our God and our all!
Let us quote Monsignor Gay for what follows, lest our own words should be taken for the exuberance of wishful thinking:
God operates so that this will unites those to God who are united to it, and it tends to unite all men to one another. . . . Between the Holy Trinity and us there is an immense hierarchy This will (the will of God), born in uncreated splendor, traverses all these created splendors, of which this hierarchy is composed. First of all, Jesus receives it. He is the necessary mediator between God and man, the supreme head of creation, the universal priest. As He transmits to the Father the obedience of the children, He transmits first of all to the children the wills of the Father; and before He transmits them we are sure He adores them. I will venture to assert that He has actually accomplished them; for, besides having lived here below, for all His members, He accomplished in principle, and, as it were, in substance, all the wills of God that were to concern them personally, through successive ages. Thus, we may see, that even at present, there is not a single will of God which He does not accomplish in a transcendent and heavenly manner by His perfect acquiescence in it, in the name even of that member who will perhaps never acquiesce in it himself, but who, if he acquiesced would only do so by the movement of his Head and Chief, and under His influence.
Then what Jesus does, there is no doubt that Mary does also: if He is a mediator, she is a mediatrix, their life in heaven is not only similar, it is one. . . . There is nothing in the designs of God so particular and so individual as not to be attached to the universal plan, and which does not help to accomplish the great mystery of Christ, which is the consummation of all things in God. . . . The will of God, which is that I should be sick today, which is that I should be contradicted, humbled, forgotten, which arranges for me this unexpected event, which brings about for me this difficulty, which causes me to stumble against this stone, which delivers me to this temptation—such is its origin and its history! Born of God, as Jesus is born of Him, and truly at the same time as Jesus, since all in God is eternal, it is a fruit of which the Divinity itself is the essence. If I eat this fruit I shall be deified; for if Jesus, God by birth, has merited that His divinity, veiled and reserved for a time, should burst forth in His Body, and then should inundate His Church, it is because during all the days of His militant life He always fed upon the will of His Father.But further, this deifying fruit, this will of God, which preserves me, comes to me laden, and, as it were, impregnated with the filial obedience of my Savior, and of my sweet Mother, with piety of the good angels, and with the adoration of the saints.
The truth of the matter is this: that every act of the spiritual life is performed in partnership with Jesus, and there is no comparison between His share and ours; what we contribute is but a tiny drop of water in the chalice full of the rich wine of His immeasurable love of God. Yet that little drop of our own is of supreme importance. For even though it be true to say He has done everything for us, yet there is one thing He cannot do without our cooperation; He cannot make what He has done ours, unless we also do our own share. We do our share by doing the will of God. It does not matter how trivial the action done is; if it be done according to the will of God, it is done in union with Jesus, and then all His is ours. By putting ourselves thus in union with Him, we are united not only with Him, in all the actions of His own life (beside which all else become negligible), but we are also united with every member of Christ in that all is being done in any part of the world at the moment, or was done at any time in the past. Since this union of will with God is only the result of the union of charity, we may quote St. Thomas in support of this doctrine, for he writes:
Just as in the living body the operation of one member promotes the welfare of the whole body, so it is in the spiritual [or Mystical] Body, which is the Church. Since all the faithful are one body, the good of each one is communicated to the others. . . . Whence it follows that whosoever possesses charity shares in all the good that is done in the whole world.
We are, in fact, united to our Lady in all her actions; we are united to each of the saints in all their actions; we are united to every priest, saying Mass, preaching the Faith, or saving souls; we are united with every prayer and good work of any member of the Church. And we can even appropriate the merit of these good works if we, for the love of God, love them more than those who do them. Looked at, even in this way, the fruits of our partnership seem unbelievable, but in fact even all the good works of the whole Church, present and past, do not at all compare in value with a single action of our Lord’s own personal life: and our Lord’s longing is to make over to us the value of every act of His Life and Passion, so that it may all be our very own. It seems unbelievable, yet such is the love of God.
And we have the sign and symbol and pledge of that in the Blessed Eucharist. As we explained, the Sacrifice of the Mass contains and represents the Sacrifice of the Cross, which was the external expression of the interior sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in a life of complete abandonment to the will of God.
The very words our Lord used show us His intention of handing over to us all His riches.
“This chalice is the new testament in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25). And a “testament” is a pact or agreement, for the disposal of our inheritance to be received. The Blessed Eucharist contains “those things which carry with them Christ’s relation to God the Father” and all those things are at our disposal in the Mass.
Even by baptism, which incorporates us into Christ, we are made rich with His riches. For St. Thomas tells us that the works of Christ belong not only to Himself but also to all His members, with the very same relation which the actions of a just man have to the individual agent:
Christ by His Passion merited not alone for Himself; but He also merited salvation for all His members. The Passion of Christ is communicated to every baptized person as if he himself had suffered and died. . . . The result of the pain of the Passion of Christ is communicated to the baptized person as if he himself had undergone the suffering.
And the sacrament of baptism is only the gateway to the Blessed Eucharist. In the Blessed Eucharist we have Christ’s sacrifice for our own and we receive His very self, who is the author of all grace! It is therefore no mere dream to speak of entering into the fruit of all Christ’s merits. It is for that very purpose that He makes us part of Himself in His Mystical Body. And we are never more completely part of Himself than when we are doing the will of God.
The will of God then, in its twofold aspect, the signified will and the will manifested by the course of events under His providence, contains all that is necessary for our complete sanctification and for our perfect union with Christ. St. Teresa, who knew from personal experience the value of all the forms of union with God—even ecstatic union—insists the union of the will is the most perfect:
The sole concern of him who has but entered into the way of prayer—keep it in mind, it is very important—must be to strive courageously to conform his will to that of God. . . . Herein lies, whole and entire, the highest perfection to which we can attain. The more perfect the accord is, the more do we receive from the Lord and the greater is our progress.
Our Lord preached no other doctrine. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). “He that doth the will of my father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 7:21). And the Holy Spirit promises us, by the mouth of St. John: “He that doth the will of God abideth for ever” (1Jn 2:17). As St. Teresa says, “It is very important to understand all this.” Many people regard perfection as something to be achieved by extraordinary works, by outstanding achievements, by miracles, by ecstasies, by immense sufferings. Our Lord’s notion of perfection is quite different, He merely asks us to do what He did Himself: to submit ourselves entirely to the will of the Father, and He will do the rest. . . .”Spera in eo, et ipse faciet” (Ps 36:5). . . .”Being confident of this very thing, that he, who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).