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Uniformity With God's Will
Saint Alphonsus de Ligouri
"Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God: 'Charity is
the bond of perfection;' and perfect love of God means the
complete union of our will with God's."
FROM THE ITALIAN OF ST. ALPHONSUS DE LIGUORI
THOMAS W. TOBIN, C.SS.R.
In Volume 1, Opere Ascetiche di S. Alfonso M. de Liguori,
Roma, 1933, "Uniformity with God's Will" is included as one of
three works under the heading, "Lesser Works on Divine Love."
There is no preface in the Italian original. However, it has been
thought well to provide one here.
Prof. Candido M. Romano says this brochure was written
probably in 1755, as appears from a letter by the Saint, under
date of Nov. 2, 1755, to Sister Giannastasio, at Cava. Romano goes
on to say:
"This (i.e. God's will) was for Alphonsus a theme of
predilection, a theme dearest to his heart. Just as St. Ignatius
stressed 'the greater glory of God,' St. Alphonsus in all his
works, gave prominence to 'the greater good pleasure of God.' Most
likely the occasion that brought forth this treatise was the
death, in 1753, of Father Paul Cafaro, C.SS.R., St. Alphonsus'
confessor and director. The death of this worthy priest deeply
affected the Saint and he expressed his sentiments in a poem on
God's will. The wide acclaim it received may have suggested to him
the thought that a tract on the same subject would be helpful to
the souls of others. If this be true, his surmise proved correct,
for the appearance of his subsequent pamphlet was greeted with
Cardinal Villecourt, in his Life of St. Alphonsus, quotes
long passages from this pamphlet and ends by saying: "Our Saint
frequently read it himself and when his sight had failed he
arranged to have it read to him by others."
This brochure bears the stamp of Alphonsian simplicity of
style and solidity of doctrine. Moreover the instances he cites
from the lives of the saints have a gentle graciousness and
contain a fragrance that is redolent of the Fioretti of St.
Francis of Assisi.
Through God's grace and our Lady's prayers may a diligent
reading of the book bring us far along the way of perfection by
the cultivation of uniformity with God's holy will!
THOMAS W. TOBIN, C.SS.R.
Oct. 16, 1952.
Feast of St. Gerard Majella, C.SS.R.
UNIFORMITY WITH GOD'S WILL
Excellence of this Virtue.
Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God: "Charity
is the bond of perfection;" and perfect love of God means the
complete union of our will with God's: "The principal effect of
love is so to unite the wills of those who love each other as to
make them will the same things." It follows then, that the more
one unites his will with the divine will, the greater will be his
love of God. Mortification, meditation, receiving Holy Communion,
acts of fraternal charity are all certainly pleasing to God -- but
only when they are in accordance with his will. When they do not
accord with God's will, he not only finds no pleasure in them, but
he even rejects them utterly and punishes them.
To illustrate: -- A man has two servants. One works
unremittingly all day long -- but according to his own devices;
the other, conceivably, works less, but he does do what he is
told. This latter of course is going to find favor in the eyes of
his master; the other will not. Now, in applying this example, we
may ask: Why should we perform actions for God's glory if they are
not going to be acceptable to him? God does not want sacrifices,
the prophet Samuel told King Saul, but he does want obedience to
his will: "Doth the Lord desire holocausts and victims, and not
rather that the voice of the Lord should be obeyed? For obedience
is better than sacrifices; and to hearken, rather than to offer
the fat of rams. Because it is like the sin of witchcraft to
rebel; and like the crime of idolatry to refuse to obey." The man
who follows his own will independently of God's, is guilty of a
kind of idolatry. Instead of adoring God's will, he, in a certain
sense, adores his own.
The greatest glory we can give to God is to do his will in
everything. Our Redeemer came on earth to glorify his heavenly
Father and to teach us by his example how to do the same. St. Paul
represents him saying to his eternal Father: "Sacrifice and
oblation thou wouldst not: But a body thou hast fitted to me . . .
Then said I: Behold I come to do thy will, O God." Thou hast
refused the victims offered thee by man; thou dost will that I
sacrifice my body to thee. Behold me ready to do thy will.
Our Lord frequently declared that he had come on earth not to
do his own will, but solely that of his Father: "I came down from
heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me."
He spoke in the same strain in the garden when he went forth to
meet his enemies who had come to seize him and to lead him to
death: "But that the world may know that I love the Father: and as
the Father hath given me commandment, so do I; arise and let us go
hence." Furthermore, he said he would recognize as his brother,
him who would do his will: "Whosoever shall do the will of my
Father who is in heaven, he is my brother."
To do God's will -- this was the goal upon which the saints
constantly fixed their gaze. They were fully persuaded that in
this consists the entire perfection of the soul. Blessed Henry
Suso used to say: "It is not God's will that we should abound in
spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his
holy will.'' "Those who give themselves to prayer," says St.
Teresa, "should concentrate solely on this: the conformity of
their wills with the divine will. They should be convinced that
this constitutes their highest perfection. The more fully they
practice this, the greater the gifts they will receive from God,
and the greater the progress they will make in the interior life."
A certain Dominican nun was vouchsafed a vision of heaven one day.
She recognized there some persons she had known during their
mortal life on earth. It was told her these souls were raised to
the sublime heights of the seraphs on account of the uniformity of
their wills with that of God's during their lifetime here on
earth. Blessed Henry Suso, mentioned above, said of himself: "I
would rather be the vilest worm on earth by God's will, than be a
seraph by my own.''
During our sojourn in this world, we should learn from the
saints now in heaven, how to love God. The pure and perfect love
of God they enjoy there, consists in uniting themselves perfectly
to his will. It would be the greatest delight of the seraphs to
pile up sand on the seashore or to pull weeds in a garden for all
eternity, if they found out such was God's will. Our Lord himself
teaches us to ask to do the will of God on earth as the saints do
it in heaven: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Because David fulfilled all his wishes, God called him a man
after his own heart: "I have found David . . . a man according to
my own heart, who shall do all my wills." David was always ready
to embrace the divine will, as he frequently protested: "My heart
is ready, O God, my heart is ready." He asked God for one thing
alone -- to teach him to do his will: "Teach me to do thy will."
A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to
make a saint. Behold while Saul was persecuting the Church, God
enlightened him and converted him. What does Saul do? What does he
say? Nothing else but to offer himself to do God's will: "Lord,
what wilt thou have me to do?" In return the Lord calls him a
vessel of election and an apostle of the gentiles: "This man is to
me a vessel of election, to carry my name before the gentiles."
Absolutely true -- because he who gives his will to God, gives him
everything. He who gives his goods in alms, his blood in
scourgings, his food in fasting, gives God what he has. But he who
gives God his will, gives himself, gives everything he is. Such a
one can say: "Though I am poor, Lord, I give thee all I possess;
but when I say I give thee my will, I have nothing left to give
thee." This is just what God does require of us: "My son, give me
thy heart." St. Augustine's comment is: "There is nothing more
pleasing we can offer God than to say to him: 'Possess thyself of
us'.'' We cannot offer God anything more pleasing than to say:
Take us, Lord, we give thee our entire will. Only let us know thy
will and we will carry it out.
If we would completely rejoice the heart of God, let us
strive in all things to conform ourselves to his divine will. Let
us not only strive to conform ourselves, but also to unite
ourselves to whatever dispositions God makes of us. Conformity
signifies that we join our wills to the will of God. Uniformity
means more -- it means that we make one will of God's will and
ours, so that we will only what God wills; that God's will alone,
is our will. This is the summit of perfection and to it we should
always aspire; this should be the goal of all our works, desires,
meditations and prayers. To this end we should always invoke the
aid of our holy patrons, our guardian angels, and above all, of
our mother Mary, the most perfect of all the saints because she
most perfectly embraced the divine will.
Uniformity in all Things.
The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in
all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners
find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes
saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and
are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the
measure of our love of God. St. John of Avila used to say: "One
'Blessed be God' in times of adversity, is worth more than a
thousand acts of gratitude in times of prosperity."
Furthermore, we must unite ourselves to God's will not only
in things that come to us directly from his hands, such as
sickness, desolation, poverty, death of relatives, but likewise in
those we suffer from man -- for example, contempt, injustice, loss
of reputation, loss of temporal goods and all kinds of
persecution. On these occasions we must remember that whilst God
does not will the sin, he does will our humiliation, our poverty,
or our mortification, as the case may be. It is certain and of
faith, that whatever happens, happens by the will of God: "I am
the Lord forming the light and creating the darkness, making peace
and creating evil." From God come all things, good as well as
evil. We call adversities evil; actually they are good and
meritorious, when we receive them as coming from God's hands:
"Shall there be evil in a city which the Lord hath not done?"
"Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches are from
It is true, when one offends us unjustly, God does not will
his sin, nor does he concur in the sinner's bad will; but God
does, in a general way, concur in the material action by which
such a one strikes us, robs us or does us an injury, so that God
certainly wills the offense we suffer and it comes to us from his
hands. Thus the Lord told David he would be the author of those
things he would suffer at the hands of Absalom: "I will raise up
evils against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives
before thy face and give them to thy neighbor." Hence too God told
the Jews that in punishment for their sins, he would send the
Assyrians to plunder them and spread destruction among them: "The
Assyrian is the rod and staff of my anger . . . I will send him to
take away the spoils." "Assyrian wickedness served as God's
scourge for the Hebrews'' is St. Augustine's comment on this text.
And our Lord himself told St. Peter that his sacred passion came
not so much from man as from his Father: "The chalice which my
Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"
When the messenger came to announce to Job that the Sabeans
had plundered his goods and slain his children, he said: "The Lord
gave and the Lord taketh away." He did not say: "The Lord hath
given me my children and my possessions, and the Sabeans have
taken them away." He realized that adversity had come upon him by
the will of God. Therefore he added: "As it hath pleased the Lord,
so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord." We must not
therefore consider the afflictions that come upon us as happening
by chance or solely from the malice of men; we should be convinced
that what happens, happens by the will of God. Apropos of this it
is related that two martyrs, Epictetus and Atho, being put to the
torture by having their bodies raked with iron hooks and burnt
with flaming torches, kept repeating: "Work thy will upon us, O
Lord." Arrived at the place of execution, they exclaimed: "Eternal
God, be thou blessed in that thy will has been entirely
accomplished in us.''
Cesarius points up what we have been saying by offering this
incident in the life of a certain monk: Externally his religious
observance was the same as that of the other monks, but he had
attained such sanctity that the mere touch of his garments healed
the sick. Marveling at these deeds, since his life was no more
exemplary than the lives of the other monks, the superior asked
him one day what was the cause of these miracles.
He replied that he too was mystified and was at a loss how to
account for such happenings. "What devotions do you practice?"
asked the abbot. He answered that there was little or nothing
special that he did beyond making a great deal of willing only
what God willed, and that God had given him the grace of
abandoning his will totally to the will of God.
"Prosperity does not lift me up, nor adversity cast me down,"
added the monk. "I direct all my prayers to the end that God's
will may be done fully in me and by me." "That raid that our
enemies made against the monastery the other day, in which our
stores were plundered, our granaries put to the torch and our
cattle driven off -- did not this misfortune cause you any
resentment?" queried the abbot.
"No, Father," came the reply. "On the contrary, I returned
thanks to God -- as is my custom in such circumstances -- fully
persuaded that God does all things, or permits all that happens,
for his glory and for our greater good; thus I am always at peace,
no matter what happens." Seeing such uniformity with the will of
God, the abbot no longer wondered why the monk worked so many
Happiness deriving from perfect Uniformity.
Acting according to this pattern, one not only becomes holy
but also enjoys perpetual serenity in this life. Alphonsus the
Great, King of Aragon, being asked one day whom he considered the
happiest person in the world, answered: "He who abandons himself
to the will of God and accepts all things, prosperous and adverse,
as coming from his hands.'' "To those that love God, all things
work together unto good." Those who love God are always happy,
because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity,
the will of God. Afflictions do not mar their serenity, because by
accepting misfortune, they know they give pleasure to their
beloved Lord: "Whatever shall befall the just man, it shall not
make him sad." Indeed, what can be more satisfactory to a person
than to experience the fulfillment of all his desires? This is the
happy lot of the man who wills only what God wills, because
everything that happens, save sin, happens through the will of
There is a story to this effect in the "Lives of the Fathers"
about a farmer whose crops were more plentiful than those of his
neighbors. On being asked how this happened with such unvarying
regularity, he said he was not surprised because he always had the
kind of weather he wanted. He was asked to explain. He said: "It
is so because I want whatever kind of weather God wants, and
because I do, he gives me the harvests I want.'' If souls resigned
to God's will are humiliated, says Salvian, they want to be
humiliated; if they are poor, they want to be poor; in short,
whatever happens is acceptable to them, hence they are truly at
peace in this life. In cold and heat, in rain and wind, the soul
united to God says: "I want it to be warm, to be cold, windy, to
rain, because God wills it."
This is the beautiful freedom of the sons of God, and it is
worth vastly more than all the rank and distinction of blood and
birth, more than all the kingdoms in the world. This is the
abiding peace which, in the experience of the saints, "surpasseth
all understanding.'' It surpasses all pleasures rising from
gratification of the senses, from social gatherings, banquets and
other worldly amusements; vain and deceiving as they are, they
captivate the senses for the time being, but bring no lasting
contentment; rather they afflict man in the depth of his soul
where alone true peace can reside.
Solomon, who tasted to satiety all the pleasures of the world
and found them bitter, voiced his disillusionment thus: "But this
also is vanity and vexation of spirit." "A fool," says the Holy
Spirit, "is changed as the moon; but a holy man continueth in
wisdom as the sun." The fool, that is, the sinner, is as
changeable as the moon, which today waxes and tomorrow wanes;
today he laughs, tomorrow he cries; today he is meek as a lamb,
tomorrow cross as a bear. Why? Because his peace of mind depends
on the prosperity or the adversity he meets; he changes with the
changes in the things that happen to him. The just man is like the
sun, constant in his serenity, no matter what betides him. His
calmness of soul is founded on his union with the will of God;
hence he enjoys unruffled peace. This is the peace promised by the
angel of the Nativity: "And on earth, peace to men of good will."
Who are these "men of good will" if not those whose wills are
united to the infinitely good and perfect will of God? "The good,
and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God."
By uniting themselves to the divine will, the saints have
enjoyed paradise by anticipation in this life. Accustoming
themselves to receive all things from the hands of God, says St.
Dorotheus, the men of old maintained continual serenity of soul.
St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi derived such consolation at hearing
the words "will of God," that she usually fell into an ecstasy of
love. The instances of jangling irritation that are bound to arise
will not fail to make surface impact on the senses. This however
will be experienced only in the inferior part of the soul; in the
superior part will reign peace and tranquillity as long as our
will remains united with God's. Our Lord assured his apostles:
"Your joy no man shall take from you . . . Your joy shall be
full." He who unites his will to God's experiences a full and
lasting joy: full, because he has what he wants, as was explained
above; lasting, because no one can take his joy from him, since no
one can prevent what God wills from happening.
The devout Father John Tauler relates this personal
experience: For years he had prayed God to send him someone who
would teach him the real spiritual life. One day, at prayer, he
heard a voice saying: "Go to such and such a church and you will
have the answer to your prayers." He went and at the door of the
church he found a beggar, barefooted and in rags. He greeted the
mendicant saying: "Good day, my friend."
"Thank you, sir, for your kind wishes, but I do not recall
ever having had a 'bad' day."
"Then God has certainly given you a very happy life."
"That is very true, sir. I have never been unhappy. In saying
this I am not making any rash statement either. This is the
reason: When I have nothing to eat, I give thanks to God; when it
rains or snows, I bless God's providence; when someone insults me,
drives me away, or otherwise mistreats me, I give glory to God. I
said I've never had an unhappy day, and it's the truth, because I
am accustomed to will unreservedly what God wills. Whatever
happens to me, sweet or bitter, I gladly receive from his hands as
what is best for me. Hence my unvarying happiness."
"Where did you find God?"
"I found him where I left creatures."
"Who are you anyway?"
"I am a king."
"And where is your kingdom?"
"In my soul, where everything is in good order; where the
passions obey reason, and reason obeys God."
"How have you come to such a state of perfection?"
"By silence. I practice silence towards men, while I
cultivate the habit of speaking with God. Conversing with God is
the way I found and maintain my peace of soul."
Union with God brought this poor beggar to the very heights
of perfection. In his poverty he was richer than the mightiest
monarch; in his sufferings, he was vastly happier than worldlings
amid their worldly delights.
God wills our Good.
O the supreme folly of those who resist the divine will! In
God's providence, no one can escape hardship: "Who resisteth his
will?" A person who rails at God in adversity, suffers without
merit; moreover by his lack of resignation he adds to his
punishment in the next life and experiences greater disquietude of
mind in this life: "Who resisteth him and hath had peace?" The
screaming rage of the sick man in his pain, the whining complaints
of the poor man in his destitution -- what will they avail these
people, except increase their unhappiness and bring them no
relief? "Little man," says St. Augustine, "grow up. What are you
seeking in your search for happiness? Seek the one good that
embraces all others.'' Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not
God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with
bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and
in the next.
God wills only our good; God loves us more than anybody else
can or does love us. His will is that no one should lose his soul,
that everyone should save and sanctify his soul: "Not willing that
any should perish, but that all should return to penance." "This
is the will of God, your sanctification." God has made the
attainment of our happiness, his glory. Since he is by his nature
infinite goodness, and since as St. Leo says goodness is diffusive
of itself, God has a supreme desire to make us sharers of his
goods and of his happiness. If then he sends us suffering in this
life, it is for our own good: "All things work together unto
good." Even chastisements come to us, not to crush us, but to make
us mend our ways and save our souls: "Let us believe that these
scourges of the Lord have happened for our amendment and not for
God surrounds us with his loving care lest we suffer eternal
damnation: "O Lord, thou hast crowned us as with a shield of thy
good will." He is most solicitous for our welfare: "The Lord is
solicitous for me." What can God deny us when he has given us his
own son? "He that spared not even his own son, but delivered him
up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all
things?" Therefore we should most confidently abandon ourselves to
all the dispositions of divine providence, since they are for our
own good. In all that happens to us, let us say: "In peace, in the
self same I will sleep, and I will rest: Because thou, O Lord,
hast singularly settled me in hope."
Let us place ourselves unreservedly in his hands because he
will not fail to have care of us: "Casting all your care upon him,
for he hath care of you." Let us keep God in our thoughts and
carry out his will, and he will think of us and of our welfare.
Our Lord said to St. Catherine of Siena, "Daughter, think of me,
and I will always think of you." Let us often repeat with the
Spouse in the Canticle: "My beloved to me, and I to him."
St. Niles, abbot, used to say that our petitions should be,
not that our wishes be done, but that God's holy will should be
fulfilled in us and by us. When, therefore, something adverse
happens to us, let us accept it from his hands, not only
patiently, but even with gladness, as did the apostles "who went
from the presence of the council rejoicing, that they were
accounted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus." What greater
consolation can come to a soul than to know that by patiently
bearing some tribulation, it gives God the greatest pleasure in
its power? Spiritual writers tell us that though the desire of
certain souls to please God by their sufferings is acceptable to
him, still more pleasing to him is the union of certain others
with his will, so that their will is neither to rejoice nor to
suffer, but to hold themselves completely amenable to his will,
and they desire only that his holy will be fulfilled.
If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a
life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all
things to the divine will. Reflect that all the sins of your past
wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God's
will. For the future, embrace God's good pleasure and say to him
in every happening: "Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in
thy sight." When anything disagreeable happens, remember it comes
from God and say at once, "This comes from God" and be at peace:
"I was dumb and opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it."
Lord, since thou hast done this, I will be silent and accept it.
Direct all your thoughts and prayers to this end, to beg God
constantly in meditation, Communion, and visits to the Blessed
Sacrament that he help you accomplish his holy will. Form the
habit of offering yourself frequently to God by saying, "My God,
behold me in thy presence; do with me and all that I have as thou
pleasest." This was the constant practice of St. Teresa. At least
fifty times a day she offered herself to God, placing herself at
his entire disposition and good pleasure.
How fortunate you, kind reader, if you too act thus! You will
surely become a saint. Your life will be calm and peaceful; your
death will be happy. At death all our hope of salvation will come
from the testimony of our conscience as to whether or not we are
dying resigned to God's will. If during life we have embraced
everything as coming from God's hands, and if at death we embrace
death in fulfillment of God's holy will, we shall certainly save
our souls and die the death of saints. Let us then abandon
everything to God's good pleasure, because being infinitely wise,
he knows what is best for us; and being all-good and all-loving --
having given his life for us -- he wills what is best for us. Let
us, as St. Basil counsels us, rest secure in the conviction that
beyond the possibility of a doubt, God works to effect our
welfare, infinitely better than we could ever hope to accomplish
or desire it ourselves.
Special Practices of Uniformity.
Let us now take up in a practical way the consideration of
those matters in which we should unite ourselves to God's will.
1. In external matters. In times of great heat, cold or rain;
in times of famine, epidemics and similar occasions we should
refrain from expressions like these: "What unbearable heat!" "What
piercing cold!" "What a tragedy!" In these instances we should
avoid expressions indicating opposition to God's will. We should
want things to be just as they are, because it is God who thus
disposes them. An incident in point would be this one: Late one
night St. Francis Borgia arrived unexpectedly at a Jesuit house,
in a snowstorm. He knocked and knocked on the door, but all to no
purpose because the community being asleep, no one heard him. When
morning came all were embarrassed for the discomfort he had
experienced by having had to spend the night in the open. The
saint, however, said he had enjoyed the greatest consolation
during those long hours of the night by imagining that he saw our
Lord up in the sky dropping the snowflakes down upon him.
2. In personal matters. In matters that affect us personally,
let us acquiesce in God's will. For example, in hunger, thirst,
poverty, desolation, loss of reputation, let us always say: "Do
thou build up or tear down, O Lord, as seems good in thy sight. I
am content. I wish only what thou dost wish." Thus too, says
Rodriguez, should we act when the devil proposes certain
hypothetical cases to us in order to wrest a sinful consent from
us, or at least to cause us to be interiorly disturbed. For
example: "What would you say or what would you do if some one were
to say or do such and such a thing to you?" Let us dismiss the
temptation by saying: "By God's grace, I would say or do what God
would want me to say or do." Thus we shall free ourselves from
imperfection and harassment.
3. Let us not lament if we suffer from some natural defect of
body or mind; from poor memory, slowness of understanding, little
ability, lameness or general bad health. What claim have we, or
what obligation is God under, to give us a more brilliant mind or
a more robust body? Who is ever offered a gift and then lays down
the conditions upon which he will accept it? Let us thank God for
what, in his pure goodness, he has given us and let us be content
too with the manner in which he has given it to us.
Who knows? Perhaps if God had given us greater talent, better
health, a more personable appearance, we might have lost our
souls! Great talent and knowledge have caused many to be puffed up
with the idea of their own importance and, in their pride, they
have despised others. How easily those who have these gifts fall
into grave danger to their salvation! How many on account of
physical beauty or robust health have plunged headlong into a life
of debauchery! How many, on the contrary, who, by reason of
poverty, infirmity or physical deformity, have become saints and
have saved their souls, who, given health, wealth or physical
attractiveness had else lost their souls! Let us then be content
with what God has given us. "But one thing is necessary," and it
is not beauty, not health, not talent. It is the salvation of our
4. It is especially necessary that we be resigned in corporal
infirmities. We should willingly embrace them in the manner and
for the length of time that God wills. We ought to make use of the
ordinary remedies in time of sickness -- such is God's will; but
if they are not effective, let us unite ourselves to God's will
and this will be better for us than would be our restoration to
health. Let us say: "Lord, I wish neither to be well nor to remain
sick; I want only what thou wilt." Certainly, it is more virtuous
not to repine in times of painful illness; still and all, when our
sufferings are excessive, it is not wrong to let our friends know
what we are enduring, and also to ask God to free us from our
sufferings. Let it be understood, however, that the sufferings
here referred to are actually excessive. It often happens that
some, on the occasion of a slight illness, or even a slight
indisposition, want the whole world to stand still and sympathize
with them in their illnesses.
But where it is a case of real suffering, we have the example
of our Lord, who, at the approach of his bitter passion, made
known his state of soul to his disciples, saying: "My soul is
sorrowful even unto death" and besought his eternal Father to
deliver him from it: "Father, if it be possible, let this chalice
pass from me." But our Lord likewise taught us what we should do
when we have made such a petition, when he added: "Nevertheless,
not as I will, but as thou wilt."
How childish the pretense of those who protest they wish for
health not to escape suffering, but to serve our Lord better by
being able to observe their Rule, to serve the community, go to
church, receive Communion, do penance, study, work for souls in
the confessional and pulpit! Devout soul, tell me, why do you
desire to do these things? To please God? Why then search any
further to please God when you are sure God does not wish these
prayers, Communions, penances or studies, but he does wish that
you suffer patiently this sickness he sends you? Unite then your
sufferings to those of our Lord.
"But," you say, "I do not want to be sick for then I am
useless, a burden to my Order, to my monastery." But if you are
united to and resigned to God's will, you will realize that your
superiors are likewise resigned to the dispositions of divine
providence, and that they recognize the fact that you are a
burden, not through indolence, but by the will of God. Ah, how
often these desires and these laments are born, not of the love of
God, but of the love of self! How many of them are so many
pretexts for fleeing the will of God! Do we want to please God?
When we find ourselves confined to our sickbed, let us utter this
one prayer: "Thy will be done." Let us repeat it time and time
again and it will please God more than all our mortifications and
devotions. There is no better way to serve God than cheerfully to
embrace his holy will.
St. John of Avila once wrote to a sick priest: "My dear
friend, -- Do not weary yourself planning what you would do if you
were well, but be content to be sick for as long as God wishes. If
you are seeking to carry out God's will, what difference should it
make to you whether you are sick or well?'' The saint was
perfectly right, for God is glorified not by our works, but by our
resignation to, and by our union with, his holy will. In this
respect St. Francis de Sales used to say we serve God better by
our sufferings than by our actions.
Many times it will happen that proper medical attention or
effective remedies will be lacking, or even that the doctor will
not rightly diagnose our case. In such instances we must unite
ourselves to the divine will which thus disposes of our physical
health. The story is told of a client of St. Thomas of Canterbury,
who being sick, went to the saint's tomb to obtain a cure. He
returned home cured. But then he thought to himself: "Suppose it
would be better for my soul's salvation if I remained sick, what
point then is there in being well?" In this frame of mind he went
back and asked the saint to intercede with God that he grant what
would be best for his eternal salvation. His illness returned and
he was perfectly content with the turn things had taken, being
fully persuaded that God had thus disposed of him for his own
There is a similar account by Surio to the effect that a
certain blind man obtained the restoration of his sight by praying
to St. Bedasto, bishop. Thinking the matter over, he prayed again
to his heavenly patron, but this time with the purpose that if the
possession of his sight were not expedient for his soul, that his
blindness should return. And that is exactly what happened -- he
was blind again. Therefore, in sickness it is better that we seek
neither sickness nor health, but that we abandon ourselves to the
will of God so that he may dispose of us as he wishes. However, if
we decide to ask for health, let us do so at least always resigned
and with the proviso that our bodily health may be conducive to
the health of our soul. Otherwise our prayer will be defective and
will remain unheard because our Lord does not answer prayers made
without resignation to his holy will.
Sickness is the acid test of spirituality, because it
discloses whether our virtue is real or sham. If the soul is not
agitated, does not break out in lamentations, is not feverishly
restless in seeking a cure, but instead is submissive to the
doctors and to superiors, is serene and tranquil, completely
resigned to God's will, it is a sign that that soul is well-
grounded in virtue.
What of the whiner who complains of lack of attention? That
his sufferings are beyond endurance? That the doctor does not know
his business? What of the faint-hearted soul who laments that the
hand of God is too heavy upon him?
This story by St. Bonaventure in his "Life of St. Francis" is
in point: On a certain occasion when the saint was suffering
extraordinary physical pain, one of his religious meaning to
sympathize with him, said in his simplicity: "My Father, pray God
that he treat you a little more gently, for his hand seems heavy
upon you just now." Hearing this, St. Francis strongly resented
the unhappy remark of his well-meaning brother, saying: "My good
brother, did I not know that what you have just said was spoken in
all simplicity, without realizing the implication of your words, I
should never see you again because of your rashness in passing
judgment on the dispositions of divine providence." Whereupon,
weak and wasted as he was by his illness, he got out of bed, knelt
down, kissed the floor and prayed thus: "Lord, I thank thee for
the sufferings thou art sending me. Send me more, if it be thy
good pleasure. My pleasure is that you afflict me and spare me
not, for the fulfillment of thy holy will is the greatest
consolation of my life."
We ought to view in the light of God's holy will, the loss of
persons who are helpful to us in a spiritual or material way.
Pious souls often fail in this respect by not being resigned to
the dispositions of God's holy will. Our sanctification comes
fundamentally and essentially from God, not from spiritual
directors. When God sends us a spiritual director, he wishes us to
use him for our spiritual profit; but if he takes him away, he
wants us to remain calm and unperturbed and to increase our
confidence in his goodness by saying to him: "Lord, thou hast
given me this help and now thou dost take it away. Blessed be thy
holy will! I beg thee, teach me what I must do to serve thee."
In this manner too, we should receive whatever other crosses
God sends us. "But," you reply, "these sufferings are really
punishments." The answer to that remark is: Are not the
punishments God sends us in this life also graces and benefits?
Our offenses against God must be atoned for somehow, either in
this life or in the next. Hence we should all make St. Augustine's
prayer our own: "Lord, here cut, here burn and spare me not, but
spare me in eternity!" Let us say with Job: "Let this be my
comfort, that afflicting me with sorrow, he spare not." Having
merited hell for our sins, we should be consoled that God
chastises us in this life, and animate ourselves to look upon such
treatment as a pledge that God wishes to spare us in the next.
When God sends us punishments let us say with the high-priest
Heli: "It is the Lord, let him do what is good in his sight."
The time of spiritual desolation is also a time for being
resigned. When a soul begins to cultivate the spiritual life, God
usually showers his consolations upon her to wean her away from
the world; but when he sees her making solid progress, he
withdraws his hand to test her and to see if she will love and
serve him without the reward of sensible consolations. "In this
life," as St. Teresa used to say, "our lot is not to enjoy God,
but to do his holy will." And again, "Love of God does not consist
in experiencing his tendernesses, but in serving him with
resolution and humility." And in yet another place, "God's true
lovers are discovered in times of aridity and temptation."
Let the soul thank God when she experiences his loving
endearments, but let her not repine when she finds herself left in
desolation. It is important to lay great stress on this point,
because some souls, beginners in the spiritual life, finding
themselves in spiritual aridity, think God has abandoned them, or
that the spiritual life is not for them; thus they give up the
practice of prayer and lose what they have previously gained. The
time of aridity is the best time to practice resignation to God's
holy will. I do not say you will feel no pain in seeing yourself
deprived of the sensible presence of God; it is impossible for the
soul not to feel it and lament over it, when even our Lord cried
out on the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In
her sufferings, however, the soul should always be resigned to
The saints have all experienced desolations and abandonment
of soul. "How impervious to things spiritual, my heart!" cries a
St. Bernard. "No savor in pious reading, no pleasure in meditation
nor in prayer!" For the most part it has been the common lot of
the saints to encounter aridities; sensible consolations were the
exceptions. Such things are rare occurrences granted to untried
souls so that they may not halt on the road to sanctity; the real
delights and happiness that will constitute their reward are
reserved for heaven. This earth is a place of merit which is
acquired by suffering; heaven is a place of reward and happiness.
Hence, in this life the saints neither desired nor sought the joys
of sensible fervor, but rather the fervor of the spirit toughened
in the crucible of suffering. "O how much better it is," says St.
John of Avila, "to endure aridity and temptation by God's will
than to be raised to the heights of contemplation without God's
But you say you would gladly endure desolation if you were
certain that it comes from God, but you are tortured by the
anxiety that your desolation comes by your own fault and is a
punishment for your tepidity. Very well, let us suppose you are
right; then get rid of your tepidity and exercise more diligence
in the affairs of your soul. But because you are possibly
experiencing spiritual darkness, are you going to get all wrought
up, give up prayer, and thus make things twice as bad as they are?
Let us assume that this aridity is a punishment for your
tepidity. Was it not God who sent it? Accept your desolation, as
your just desserts and unite yourself to God's holy will. Did you
not say that you merited hell? And now you are complaining?
Perhaps you think God should send you consolations! Away with such
ideas and be patient under God's hand. Take up your prayers again
and continue to walk in the way you have entered upon; for the
future, fear lest such laments come from too little humility and
too little resignation to the will of God. Therefore be resigned
and say: "Lord, I accept this punishment from thy hands, and I
accept it for as long as it pleases thee; if it be thy will that I
should be thus afflicted for all eternity, I am satisfied." Such a
prayer, though hard to make, will be far more advantageous to you
than the sweetest sensible consolations.
It is well to remember, however, that aridity is not always a
chastisement; at times it is a disposition of divine providence
for our greater spiritual profit and to keep us humble. Lest St.
Paul become vain on account of the spiritual gifts he had
received, the Lord permitted him to be tempted to impurity: "And
lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was
given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet me."
Prayer made amid sensible devotion is not much of an
achievement: "There is a friend, a companion at the table, and he
will not abide in the day of distress." You would not consider the
casual guest at your table a friend, but only him who assists you
in your need without thought of benefit to himself. When God sends
spiritual darkness and desolation, his true friends are known.
Palladius, the author of the "Lives of the Fathers of the
Desert," experiencing great disgust in prayer, went seeking advice
from the abbot Macarius. The saintly abbot gave him this counsel:
"When you are tempted in times of dryness to give up praying
because you seem to be wasting your time, say: 'Since I cannot
pray, I will be satisfied just to remain on watch here in my cell
for the love of Jesus Christ!' "Devout soul, you do the same when
you are tempted to give up prayer just because you seem to be
getting nowhere. Say: "I am going to stay here just to please
God." St. Francis de Sales used to say that if we do nothing else
but banish distractions and temptations in our prayers, the prayer
is well made. Tauler states that persevering prayer in time of
dryness will receive greater grace than prayer made amid great
Rodriguez cites the case of a person who persevered forty
years in prayer despite aridity, and experienced great spiritual
strength as a result of it; on occasion, when through aridity he
would omit meditation he felt spiritually weak and incapable of
good deeds. St. Bonaventure and Gerson both say that persons who
do not experience the recollection they would like to have in
their meditations, often serve God better than they would do if
they did have it; the reason is that lack of recollection keeps
them more diligent and humble; otherwise they would become puffed
up with spiritual pride and grow tepid, vainly believing they had
reached the summit of sanctity.
What has been said of dryness holds true of temptations also.
Certainly we should strive to avoid temptations; but if God wishes
that we be tempted against faith, purity, or any other virtue, we
should not give in to discouraging lamentations, but submit
ourselves with resignation to God's holy will. St. Paul asked to
be freed from temptations to impurity and our Lord answered him,
saying: "My grace is sufficient for thee."
So should we act when we find ourselves victims of
unrelenting temptations and God seemingly deaf to our prayers. Let
us then say: "Lord, do with me, let happen to me what thou wilt;
thy grace is sufficient for me. Only never let me lose this
grace." Consent to temptation, not temptation of itself, can make
us lose the grace of God. Temptation resisted keeps us humble,
brings us greater merit, makes us have frequent recourse to God,
thus preserving us from offending him and unites us more closely
to him in the bonds of his holy love.
Finally, we should be united to God's will in regard to the
time and manner of our death. One day St. Gertrude, while climbing
up a small hill, lost her footing and fell into a ravine below.
After her companions had come to her assistance, they asked her if
while falling she had any fear of dying without the sacraments. "I
earnestly hope and desire to have the benefit of the sacraments
when death is at hand; still, to my way of thinking, the will of
God is more important. I believe that the best disposition I could
have to die a happy death would be to submit myself to whatever
God would wish in my regard. For this reason I desire whatever
kind of death God will be pleased to send me."
In his "Dialogues", St. Gregory tells of a certain priest,
Santolo by name, who was captured by the Vandals and condemned to
death. The barbarians told him to choose the manner of his death.
He refused, saying: "I am in God's hands and I gladly accept
whatever kind of death he wishes me to suffer at your hands; I
wish no other." This reply was so pleasing to God that he
miraculously stayed the hand of the executioner ready to behead
him. The barbarians were so impressed by the miracle that they
freed their prisoner. As regards the manner of our death,
therefore, we should esteem that the best kind of death for us
which God has designed for us. When therefore we think of our
death, let our prayer be: "O Lord, only let me save my soul and I
leave the manner of my death to thee!"
We should likewise unite ourselves to God's will when the
moment of death is near. What else is this earth but a prison
where we suffer and where we are in constant danger of losing God?
Hence David prayed: "Bring my soul out of prison." St. Teresa too
feared to lose God and when she would hear the striking of the
clock, she would find consolation in the thought that the passing
of the hour was an hour less of the danger of losing God.
St. John of Avila was convinced that every right-minded
person should desire death on account of living in peril of losing
divine grace. What can be more pleasant or desirable than by dying
a good death, to have the assurance of no longer being able to
lose the grace of God? Perhaps you will answer that you have as
yet done nothing to deserve this reward. If it were God's will
that your life should end now, what would you be doing, living on
here against his will? Who knows, you might fall into sin and be
lost! Even if you escaped mortal sin, you could not live free from
all sin. "Why are we so tenacious of life," exclaims St. Bernard,
"when the longer we live, the more we sin?'' A single venial sin
is more displeasing to God than all the good works we can perform.
Moreover, the person who has little desire for heaven shows
he has little love for God. The true lover desires to be with his
beloved. We cannot see God while we remain here on earth; hence
the saints have yearned for death so that they might go and behold
their beloved Lord, face to face. "Oh, that I might die and behold
thy beautiful face!" sighed St. Augustine. And St. Paul: "Having a
desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ." "When shall I come
and appear before the face of God?" exclaimed the psalmist.
A hunter one day heard the voice of a man singing most
sweetly in the forest. Following the sound, he came upon a leper
horribly disfigured by the ravages of his disease. Addressing him
he said: "How can you sing when you are so terribly afflicted and
your death is so near at hand?" And the leper: "Friend, my poor
body is a crumbling wall and it is the only thing that separates
me from my God. When it falls I shall go forth to God. Time for me
is indeed fast running out, so every day I show my happiness by
lifting my voice in song."
Lastly, we should unite ourselves to the will of God as
regards our degree of grace and glory. True, we should esteem the
things that make for the glory of God, but we should show the
greatest esteem for those that concern the will of God. We should
desire to love God more than the seraphs, but not to a degree
higher than God has destined for us. St. John of Avila says: "I
believe every saint has had the desire to be higher in grace than
he actually was. However, despite this, their serenity of soul
always remained unruffled. Their desire for a greater degree of
grace sprang not from a consideration of their own good, but of
God's. They were content with the degree of grace God had meted
out for them, though actually God had given them less. They
considered it a greater sign of true love of God to be content
with what God had given them, than to desire to have received
This means, as Rodriguez explains it, we should be diligent
in striving to become perfect, so that tepidity and laziness may
not serve as excuses for some to say: "God must help me; I can do
only so much for myself." Nevertheless, when we do fall into some
fault, we should not lose our peace of soul and union with the
will of God, which permits our fall; nor should we lose our
courage. Let us rise at once from this fall, penitently humbling
ourselves and by seeking greater help from God, let us continue to
march resolutely on the highway of the spiritual life. Likewise,
we may well desire to be among the seraphs in heaven, not for our
own glory, but for God's, and to love him more; still we should be
resigned to his will and be content with that degree of glory
which in his mercy he has set for us.
It would be a serious defect to desire the gifts of
supernatural prayer -- specifically, ecstasies, visions and
revelations. The masters of the spiritual life say that souls thus
favored by God, should ask him to take them away so that they may
love him out of pure faith -- a way of greater security. Many have
come to perfection without these supernatural gifts; the only
virtues worth-while are those that draw the soul to holiness of
life, namely, the virtue of uniformity with God's holy will. If
God does not wish to raise us to the heights of perfection and
glory, let us unite ourselves in all things to his holy will,
asking him in his mercy, to grant us our soul's salvation. If we
act in this manner, the reward will not be slight which we shall
receive from the hands of God who loves above all others, souls
resigned to his holy will.
Finally we should consider the events which are happening to
us now and which will happen to us in the future, as coming from
the hands of God. Everything we do should be directed to this one
end: to do the will of God and to do it solely for the reason that
God wills it. To walk more securely on this road we must depend on
the guidance of our superiors in external matters, and on our
directors in internal matters, to learn from them God's will in
our regard, having great faith in the words of our Lord: "He that
heareth you, heareth me."
Above all, let us bend all our energies to serve God in the
way he wishes. This remark is made so that we may avoid the
mistake of him who wastes his time in idle day-dreaming. Such a
one says, "If I were to become a hermit, I would become a saint"
or "If I were to enter a monastery, I would practice penance" or
"If I were to go away from here, leaving friends and companions, I
would devote long hours to prayer." If, If, If -- all these if's!
In the meantime such a person goes from bad to worse. These idle
fancies are often temptations of the devil, because they are not
in accord with God's will. Hence we should dismiss them summarily
and rouse ourselves to serve God only in that way which he has
marked out for us. Doing his holy will, we shall certainly become
holy in those surroundings in which he has placed us.
Let us will always and ever only what God wills; for so
doing, he will press us to his heart. To this end let us
familiarize ourselves with certain texts of sacred scripture that
invite us to unite ourselves constantly with the divine will:
"Lord, what wilt thou have me do?" Tell me, my God, what thou wilt
have me do, that I may will it also, with all my heart. "I am
thine, save thou me." I am no longer my own, I am thine, O Lord,
do with me as thou wilt.
If some particularly crashing misfortune comes upon us, for
example, the death of a relative, loss of goods, let us say: "Yea,
Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight." Yes, my God and
my Father, so be it, for such is thy good pleasure. Above all, let
us cherish that prayer of our Lord, which he himself taught us:
"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Our Lord bade St.
Catherine of Genoa to make a notable pause at these words whenever
she said the Our Father, praying that God's holy will be fulfilled
on earth with the same perfection with which the saints do it in
heaven. Let this be our practice also, and we shall certainly
May the divine will be loved and praised! May the Immaculate
Virgin be also praised!
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