The last few weeks have provided some real opportunities to be in some very holy places (the Basilica of the Visitation, for example) in the footsteps of some very holy people such as St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantel. What a treat it has been, and it really has become clear that the various places that we visit, especially where the saints have trod (in significant and not-so-significant ways), the Faith in these places takes on a certain flavor of the saints. For example, nearly every Church in Rome (it seems) has 3 required statues/images/side chapels: Our Lady and Sts. Peter and Paul. They are EVERYWHERE! In and around Assisi, it’s Sts. Francis and Clare. Siena (proudly) has St. Catherine and St. Bernadine of Siena. Venice has Sts. Mark, Lucy, and (allegedly) hundreds of others that they “saved” from the Muslims during the Crusades…that’s another story for another time. Annecy, France has St. Frances de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantel. There’s a real (authentic) pride about having the relics of the saints in “your” Church and/or in your home town, and they are (or at least can be) a real source of inspiration for the faithful, by means of their lives, their teachings, and their witness to Jesus Christ in the world. In fact, Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of the value of the saints in our lives at the end of his encyclical Spe Salvi:
Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. (Spe Salvi, 49).
Likewise, the prayers of the Mass (the Preface before the Eucharistic Prayer, to be exact) remind us of the value of the saints in our daily lives:
By their way of life you offer us an example, by communion with them you give us companionship, by their intercession, sure support, so that, encouraged by so great a cloud of witnesses, we may run as victors in the race before us and win with them the imperishable crown of glory, through Christ our Lord.
In addition to this, I’ve recently been reading one of two books written by an American priest, Fr. Walter Ciszek, who sacrificed over 2 decades of his life to Christ as a prisoner in Russia during and after WWII. After being in solitary confinement for 5 years and being psychologically, emotionally, and physically abused by the Russia authorities there and for a decade and a half in Siberian work camps, he wrote this remarkable book – He Leadeth Me – as his spiritual reflections during this time. One reflection is on the will of God in his life, a Will that is (importantly) driven both by wisdom and a love that seeks the greatest good for the beloved. His reflections raise a very important question regarding the nature of God’s Will, and a phrase which we frequently repeat, often without thinking about what we are saying (myself included): Thy Will be done!
As we, the universal Church of Christ, celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, there’s implicit in this celebration a desire that Christ’s Kingdom would come…a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. It is this kingdom which we desire in this life and in the next, and it starts, as Origen teaches us, with the Kingdom of God within each individual Christian:
…on no account may sin rule in our mortal body but let us mortify our earthly bodies and let us be made fruitful by the Spirit. Then we will be a spiritual garden of Eden for God to walk in. God will rule in us with Christ who will be seated in us on the right hand of God — God, the spiritual power that we pray to receive — until he makes his enemies (who are within us) into his footstool and pours out on us all authority, all power, all strength.
All of this requires us to seek God’s Will, but even the best of us struggle with this, and one major, common temptation that we, as practicing Christians, encounter in this area of our faith is the wrestling of our wills with God’s. Let me be clear; we (myself include) ask that God’s Will be done in our lives, but then we implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) hope that God’s Will will simply be what it is that we want. This is the secret temptation which we must fight to authentically pursue God’s Will and bring the Kingdom of Jesus Christ to bear in our daily lives.
We all have things that we want to see happen, hopes and expectations and dreams about our jobs or careers, our vocation, our families-parents, siblings, children, etc., our friends, our homes, and countless other concerns in our lives. These are all good things, and we should do what we can to pursue “the good” in all circumstances in each of these areas of our lives. However, and this is what Fr. Cizsek discovered “the hard way”: sometimes what we think is best for us (those things we want to see happen in our jobs/careers, vocations, families, friendships, lives) is NOT, in fact, best for us. Our narrow and limited desires may, in fact, lead to our eternal sadness and destruction. In comes a good father to do what is difficult: make decisions for his children which may be unpopular in the present moment, with a vision to a greater good in the future. God only tells us “No” to the things we think we want now because He has the foresight to see something greater for us in the future, and, more importantly, He has the power to bring it about (when no one else may be able to) if only we cooperate with that plan of Divine Governance.
Even on our best days, our desire for God’s Will to be done can be tainted by our little desires and our narrow window of perspective. One of the key struggles of the Christian life is coming to the point where we say “Your Will be done” and really mean it…no matter what may come in the present, no matter what it costs, no matter how difficult it may be to endure the sorrow and pain of current evils, I want what God wants because I know that no matter what, in the end, the plan of God will eventually bring about things greater than can possibly be imagined!
To quote St. Paul: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him (1Corinthians2:9). To quote St. Thomas More, writing to his daughter Meg as he awaited his future martyrdom in the Tower of London: …my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best. Let us truly seek above all things the Will of Christ the King, our Lord and Savior, at all costs because whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best. I leave you with the Prayer of Abandonment of Bl. Charles de Foucauld, a beautiful reflection of one who has grasped the love of the Father for His son(s) in all circumstances (and long live Christ the King!):
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.