Our Blessed Lord has given us the command: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48) Obviously we can never attain the infinite perfection, the infinite sanctity and holiness that is God’s; but, with the help of God’s grace, each person can attain (and is commanded to attain — Mk. 1 2:23ff) the degree of sanctity in keeping with the graces and gifts received. God has His plan for each of us and He has given each of us all the graces and opportunities, all the qualifications and capacities needed to fulfill what He calls us to accomplish. Yet His plan will be fulfilled in us only in the measure that His will is fulfilled in us, i.e. only in the measure that we can bring our will to surrender to His. Only in that measure will we attain the perfection, the sanctity to which we are called.
Because, however, of the damage that original sin has done to our nature with the obscuring of our judgment, the weakening of our will, and our inclination to evil (i.e. Our inclination to choose what pleases us rather than what pleases God), the accomplishment of God’s will in all circumstances is impossible for us without God’s help. Add to that the ability of the Evil One to distract us from our divine goal, by holding up before us the enticements of the world, and we can see that “becoming perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect,” will be an uphill battle and a lifelong struggle.
St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (I Thes. 4:3). These words of St. Paul are true not only in the sense that God “wishes” or “intends” our sanctification, but also in the sense that our sanctification will come about only in the measure that His will Is fulfilled in us . . . only in the measure that we humbly and faithfully fulfill His commandments and the God-given duties of our state in life, and accept freely —with a “YES, FATHER”—the crosses and hardships, the setbacks, disappointments and sorrows that He allows to come our way.
The divine grace that was infused into our soul at baptism by the Holy Spirit has made us adopted children of the Father. We are His children in a very real sense, sharing in His own divine life. In a very real sense He is our Father, who loves us with an infinite love, who understands our needs and weaknesses, and who is an infinitely wise and loving provider looking after the needs of His children. Some may seem to think that God is not a loving Father, that He has not provided for the needs of all, when they see the hunger and starvation of so many, the wars and displacement of peoples, etc. yet God provides sufficiently for the needs of mankind, but the greed and hatred of some is responsible for the want and suffering of others. And this God cannot prevent without taking away man’s free-will, i.e. his ability to choose between good and evil; and this God will not do.
When we read some books on the spiritual life with the long lists of exercises and mortifications, it can be discouraging to the fainthearted, and causes one to focus more attention on self than on God. Yet our Blessed Lord said: “But one thing is necessary . . .” (Lk. 10:42) ... “He who does the will of My Father In heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 7:21). The road to sanctity, then, is not complicated, even though at times not easy.
If the work of sanctification were so complicated, Our Blessed Lord would not have demanded it in such clear terms: “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.“ All have been called to holiness (whether they receive ten talents, or five, or one), therefore the way must be simple enough for all to attain it, not by themselves, but by the aid of divine grace, and of God’s guiding and purifying hand.
The expression “YES, FATHER” is not just a prayerful formula. It expresses the basis of the spiritual life. It is the heart of our prayer. It keeps us ever mindful of God’s guiding and healing hand in our lives, both as to joys and pleasures or sufferings and sorrows. It is the royal highway of carrying the cross behind Jesus. However, following Him in this manner requires a constant alertness to the hand of God guiding all the events of our life. At times He even uses our mistakes and the opposition of others to bring out the exercise of the Christian virtues, to afford us the opportunity of making reparation, and to undermine the attachments that stand in the way of our surrender to God.
Pope Benedict XV decreed, in giving the guidelines to the Sacred Congregation of Rites as to the norm of holiness required that one be eligible for beatification: “Sanctity properly consists in the conformity to God’s will, expressed in a constant and exact fulfillment of the duties of our state in life.”
Sanctity, therefore, does not consist in doing extraordinary things, but is essentially reduced to the fulfillment of our duties toward God and neighbor by reason of our state in life. Consequently, it is something possible for all of us. For this reason, one should strive to see the expression of God’s will in each of his duties. Then each task will be seen as an opportunity of offering a “YES, FATHER” to a God of infinite love and mercy, thereby loving Him in return. Persevering faithfully in the fulfillment of one’s duties, not merely when they come easily and with satisfaction, but when tired, or sad, or disappointed, etc., calls for uncommon generosity of spirit. “It takes uncommon virtue,“ said Pope Pius Xl, “to fulfill with exactitude, that is, without carelessness, negligence or indolence, but with attention, piety and spiritual fervor, the whole combination of ordinary duties which make up our daily life.”
This constant fidelity to our God-given duties does not come easily, as we all know from experience. Yet one should not be discouraged at failures, but see each day as a new beginning to start again, knowing that God can make fruitful our efforts and desires.
Various persons may visit a medical doctor for help, each having a different problem or illness. For each he will prescribe a special remedy to get at the root of the illnesses. Whether we know it or not, each of us has spiritual illnesses—weaknesses and attachments—that tend in some measure to enslave our will, making it difficult for us to surrender our will to God’s.
Our Heavenly Father, the Divine Physician, knows our weaknesses and attachments that interfere with our total surrender to Him. And in His loving concern for us, he not only offers strengthening and healing graces, but He uses human instruments as part of the healing process. For example, he lets people touch the sensitive areas of our ego, with incidents that upset, irritate, frustrate etc. He does this not only to make us aware of hidden attachments that often make us respond impatiently, or angrily, or uncharitably; but in hope that we will see His hand allowing it, and surrender to His action. Because of the wounds of our fallen nature referred to above, that surrender will not be without pain. Yet each time we can manage to do so with a “YES, FATHER,” . . . His action chips away ever so slightly at that attachment, and our action has both a meritorious and satisfactory value. That is, it not only merits an increase of grace, but in some measure pays the debt of temporal punishment due to sin.
There are certain basic weaknesses and faults in our makeup that we will never overcome by ourselves alone. We need God’s help, not only to overcome them, but even to be clearly aware of them. But God will not do it alone. He demands our cooperation, our surrender to His action. He supplies the opportunities that test our patience, our charity, our humility, our trust, etc. But those opportunities will be lost if we fail to recognize His hand in them, and respond in our heart with a “YES, FATHER.”
We all need to undertake a certain amount of mortification of our own initiative in overcoming our weaknesses; but those opportunities for mortification Which God provides, where He takes the initiative, are far more important and efficacious in getting at the root of our spiritual problems and healing the wounds of our fallen nature, if only we see His hand and submit to His action. With every cross He sends, there is an accompanying grace to help us to bear it.
What we have been saying does not mean that we should not defend ourselves or others against some unjust action, or remind another of something that is out of line. It refers more to those cases where emotion takes over and blinds us to the hand of God providing an opportunity of self-discipline, and our hurt pride causes us to respond in an uncharitable, or impatient, or angry manner.
One with deep faith sees the Providence of God in all that is beyond his power to control, and trusts that God can bring good out of every situation. (See Vol. 45, n.1) He follows that straight and narrow way where God is his Guide, his Provider, his Physician. It is a road that he could never find of himself, nor would he of himself choose, for it is rough going in places. Yet the more he gives God a free hand in guiding him, the richer will be his inheritance when he arrives at that final destination.
In surrendering oneself to the guidance of God, we need never give up anything of our normal or natural self. God? action will never stunt our human nature, for sanctity completes, not lessens, our humanity. There is a most intimate connection between nature and grace. Grace builds on nature and perfects it. The human person will attain the perfection of his humanity only in the measure of his growth in holiness, for only with the help of divine grace can we hope to rid ourselves of all faults. When we speak of the perfection of our humanity, we are not referring to bodily or physical well-being, but the subjection of our lower nature to the higher, so that one more perfectly fulfills the purpose for which he was created.
We will get rid of our faults and weaknesses, not so much by the negative process of suppression (though a certain self-denial is essential), but more through the positive effort to exercise the virtues which we are weak in, and through surrender to God’s touch—his pruning hand, which is always accompanied by his healing grace.
If there is this spiritual alertness to see and accept the demands of God’s will, it will bring into action all of the theological and moral virtues. And the law of charity can never be perfectly fulfilled without them. It will bring about, too, a greater activity of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit received at baptism.
In the liturgy for the feast of Mary, the Mother of God (Jan. 1), reference is made to the “marvelous exchange” brought about by the Incarnation of the Son of God. In that mystery God took on our human nature. In order to share with us His divine nature. A similar “marvelous exchange” takes place at Mass. We offer the gift of ourself at the Offertory (in our promise or resolve to surrender to His will), and He gives Himself in Holy Communion, not merely coming bodily under the species of bread and wine, but by giving us an increase of His divine life through grace.
Yet, that same “marvelous exchange” also takes place every time we say “YES, FATHER,” renouncing our will in favor of His, and especially when it is not easy. What happens when we renounce our will in order to embrace God’s? We give up what we want (some temporal satisfaction), in favor of what God wants to give (some gift of grace) which is of infinitely greater value. Every time this happens, God gives us something eternal in exchange for something only temporary, something divine in exchange for something merely human. Each day will bring frequent occasions of surrendering to His will (in sacrifices needed to keep His commandments, in the fulfillment of our God-given duties, or in the acceptance of the crosses He sends our way) . . . in order to receive His gifts . . . in order to return His love.
We should pray for a strong faith that helps us to recognize the little crosses of each day, to recognize the hand of God behind the ups and downs, the trials and disappointments, the little irritations and frustrations. We cannot accept what we don’t see; and if we do not see God’s hand behind these little trials which He allows for our spiritual growth, our nature will shrink back, or rebel against them. In doing so, we will have rejected that “marvelous exchange.”
Our Blessed Lord expressed this is another way: “He that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.“ (Mt. 16:25) He says in effect: “He that will give up his own will (in spite of the hardship, inconvenience, sacrifice) for my sake, i.e. in order to conform it to mine, will allow me to live my divine life more fully in him.” Such a one will attain a fulfillment, that having his own way could never bring.
None of us knows what lies ahead, but God does. His will (springing from infinite love and wisdom) has prepared a path for us. Every detail of our life is seen in the divine mind. One should pray for the grace to embrace with courage and readiness all that God wishes and permits, confident that in His will we shall find our peace and sanctification.
The will of God is the beginning and the end of all things (Apoc. 1:8). It is the source of every good both on earth and in heaven. And yet how many reject it in favor of their own personal wants. How often one chooses the creature in preference to the Creator.
There is an axiom in theology according to which— God gives grace in the measure that we do not place obstacles in the way . . . in the measure that we do not reject His advances . . . His pruning hand. Each time we surrender to His action, that “marvelous exchange” takes place of which we spoke.
Love of God is shown by one willingness to make the sacrifices needed to surrender to His will. In the measure that one habitually strives to conform his will to God, with the growth of grace that it brings, the soul is gradually transformed into the likeness of Christ. As Fr. F.D. Joret, O.P. states, grace is crucifying thing, inasmuch as it is an inflowing of the very grace which Jesus received in its fullness and which led Him to the Cross (Dom. Life, p.268). Our human nature recoils from the Cross, but as it is perfected by grace one more readily embraces it, to share in Christ’s redeeming action for souls.
That transformation, however, will be slow and at times painful. Christ suffered much in His surrender to the will of His Father, and at times our surrender to the will of the Father (because of our attachments) will not be easy. Yet the grace to do so will be given if we ask for it and try to give God His way. This is part of the process whereby God purifies the soul from the attachments that stand in the way of our surrender to His will. Each “YES, FATHER” furthers that process. With each increase of grace there is growth in love which makes “his yoke easy, and his burden light” (Mt. 11:30). If we do all we can to do what Christ did—to submit our self entirely to the will of the Father—the Father will do the rest.
St. Teresa of Avila stressed much the general theme of these reflections:
“The highest perfection consists not in interior favors, or in great raptures, or in visions, or in the spirit of prophesy, but in the bringing of our wills so closely into conformity with the will of God, that as soon as we realize He wills anything, we desire it with all our might, and take the bitter with the sweet. “ (Found.5)
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