We often hear about the will of God and we pray in the Our-Father that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. St. Cyprian tells us what that means in his reflection on the Our-Father:
This is not that God should do what he wills, but so that we may be able to do what God wills. For who could resist God in such a way as to prevent him doing what he wills? But since the devil hinders us from obeying, by thought and by deed, God’s will in all things, we pray and ask that God’s will may be done in us.
For this to happen, we need God’s good will – that is, his help and protection, since no one is strong in and of himself but is kept safe by the grace and mercy of God. Moreover, the Lord, showing the weakness of the humanity which he bore, said Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, and showing his disciples an example, that they should do not their own will but God’s, he went on to say nevertheless, let it not be my will, but yours. But it is the will of God that Christ both did and taught:
This is what it means to want to be co-heirs with Christ, this is what it means to do what God commands, this is what it is to fulfill the will of the Father. (END)
The life of the first Christians and their witness to the world make known to us their quality and their character. Their norm of conduct was not to take the easy way out, or opt for the more comfortable line or the more popular decision but rather did they seek to fulfill completely the will of God. They ignored the danger of death… they forgot how few they were, they never noticed how many were against them or the power or strength or wisdom of their enemies. Their power was greater than all of that: theirs was the power of him who had died on the Cross and risen again.[i] They had their gaze riveted on Christ, who gave his life for all men. They were not seeking their own personal glory, nor the applause of their fellow citizens. They always acted with a right intention, because they had their eyes fixed on the Lord. That is what allows St. Stephen to say at the moment of his martyrdom: Lord do not take their sin into account…[ii]
Our intention is right when Christ is the end and motive of all our actions. Purity of intention is no more than presence of God: God our Lord is present in all our intentions. How free our heart will be of every earthly obstacle, how clear our vision and how supernatural[iii] our way of doing things when Jesus Christ really reigns in our intimate world and presides over all our plans and purposes.[iv] By contrast, the person who is always seeking the approval and applause of others can easily deform his own conscience. The rule of action then becomes what people will say, rather than the Will of God. Concern for the opinion of others can easily become fear of the environment. It is easy than to neutralize the apostolic activity of Christians who have taken upon themselves the urgent ask to fulfill on earth[v] the evangelization of the world.
Sometimes in order not to appear out of step, one easily begins not to be consistent with one’s principles. One falls into that temptation of leaning to the side from which approving smiles and handshakes more readily come, or at least in the direction of mediocrity. This is what happened to the Pharisees. Vanity and cowardice were what led them away from God. That is what led them to seek another theatre for their struggles, and is what lost them: because once you begin to try pleasing your spectators, the battles you fight are the ones they want to see.[vi] On the contrary, those who truly seek Christ have to accept that their conduct will be unpopular and often criticized particularly if they live in an environment that is not very Christian.
The first thing we have to do with our actions is to please Christ. If I were still concerned about pleasing men, I would not be a servant of Christ.[vii] And St. Paul also replies to some Corinthians who were criticizing his apostolate: Not that it makes the slightest difference to me whether you or indeed any human tribunal find me worthy or not. I will not even pass judgment on myself…The Lord alone is my judge.[viii]Human judgments are often wrong. Only God can judge our actions and our intentions. Among the surprises which await us on the day of judgment not least will greet those actions of ours which merited the applause of men. On the other hand it can happen that he will weigh in positive terms some actions which have drawn down criticism and censorship upon us. Our Judge is the Lord. It is He whom we have to please.[ix] We must ask ourselves many times each day: Am I doing what I should be doing now? Do I seek the glory of God, or am I trying to show off, to make sure people like me? If we are sincere on those occasions we will obtain light to rectify our intention of necessary, and direct it towards God.
[i] St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew, 4
[iii] The natural world is the world of nature, what things are in themselves. The supernatural world is the world of grace given by God: sanctifying which makes us godlike sharing God’s own life and actual which is the grace God makes available to us for the taking to do His will.
[iv] S. Canals, Jesus as Friend
[v] Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 93
[vi] St. John Chrysostom, op.cit., 72
[vii] Gal 1,10
[viii] 1 Cor 4:3-4
[ix] G. Chevrot, In Secret