Knowledge, which is capacity to live a good life, is among the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit. In the Lenten sermons he preached in 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas remarked that the greatest proof of knowledge is our willingness to learn from others. An old joke says that a professional who consults no one but himself has a fool for a client; St. Thomas Aquinas shares this opinion. "...those who cling to their own judgment," he said, "so as to mistrust others and trust in themselves alone, invariably prove themselves fools and are judged as such."
To learn demands humility, the frank acknowledgment that we are neither the source of our talents and gifts, nor the sole guide by which we lead our lives. St. Thomas uses the example of a doctor and patient to describe this humility. "...[W]hen a sick man consults a physician...he takes the medicine...because it is the will of the physician. If he took only what he willed himself, he would be a fool."
In our moral lives, of course, we can have no greater teacher than God. Thus, we pray that Godís will be done - that is, that we may fulfill His plans for us. We may use many different words when we pray, but ultimately every prayer is - or should be - the simple request that we adapt our will to Godís. In this way we imitate Our Savior, who said, "I came down from heaven to do, not my own will, but the will of Him that sent me" (John 6:38).
When we were small, the catechism asked, "Why did God make me?" The answer is "to know, love and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in heaven." We shall see that Godís will is manifold, but it is, first of all, a desire for our eternal happiness. Because we are the only part of material creation to enjoy this destiny, to pray for Godís will to be done is to ask that we may fulfill the uniquely human purpose God has in mind for us.
The angels and saints enjoy the everlasting happiness we can only look forward to. When we pray to do Godís will on earth as it is done in heaven, we are asking to know, love and serve God as completely as those who have already achieved the end for which God created us.
When we desire something we not only will what we desire, but whatever will enable us to achieve our goal. God wills us to be saved, so He gives us the commandments by which we reach our salvation. When we pray to do Godís will, we ask to share the life of the saints; this much is very clear. What we may overlook - or fail to consider - is that to pray for an "end" or goal is to pray for all the steps necessary to reach the goal. Thus, when we pray to share the saintsí everlasting life, we pledge ourselves to follow the commandments, which are the means by which we will come to this life.
St. Thomas asks us to pay attention to the words of our prayer. We do not urge God, "Do your will on earth," nor do we say, "Let us do Godís will." The first would appear to leave us out of the equation; the second to ignore Godís contribution to our salvation. St. Augustine taught, "He who created thee without thyself will not justify thee without thyself," so when we say, "thy will be done" we acknowledge that our salvation is a project in which we will cooperate with God, asking God to provide the grace we need to achieve the full human potential of our actions.
St. John Chrysostom made the same point, in one of his homilies on St. Matthew, by asking: "see how He has taught us also to be modest, by making it clear that virtue is not of our endeavors only, but also of the grace from above?"
To speak, as we do, of heaven and earth when we pray the Our Father, refers not so much to places as to the individuals who inhabit those places. We ask God to enlist us - and to work with us - in the quest for perfection, so that we sinful citizens of earth may embrace Godís will as the righteous have. This reconciliation of the realms of heaven and earth becomes a sign of Godís seeking to restore the human race to the dignity and harmony it enjoyed before our First Parents sinned.
In the Garden, Adamís spirit was wholly subject to God, with the result that our first ancestor experienced no conflict between his body and his spirit. Human flesh was so (happily) subject to the human soul that it was not moved by passion. Nor was the body subject to illness or death. Sin, as we know, overturned that harmony.
For the soul to turn against God was a catastrophe; so were the consequences that our First Parents did not immediately see. Once the soul was no longer a mediating force between God and the human body, human flesh turned against the soul. The result was death, infirmity, and the ongoing struggle between the soul and the senses that is a common - and sad - fact of our human experience. St. Paul eloquently sums up the case when he writes, "I behold another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind" (Rom 7:23) and "the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17).
St. Augustine echoed St. Paul (anticipated St. Thomas Aquinas) when he wrote
Scripture assures us the spiritual warfare that characterizes the moral life of Christians will result in Godís triumph, a triumph we will share when our bodies and souls are united in heaven, at the end of time. In the resurrection of the body, the earth of human flesh will once again embrace the heaven of the human spirit.
St. Ambrose, commenting on St. Paul, described the correlation of our earthly struggle to the reward we look forward to
In the meantime, when we pray for Godís will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we beg that we may enjoy, on earth, some taste of the righteousness, knowledge and life that characterizes the happiness of the blessed.
Although our experience of human weakness may convince us we can enjoy only the remotest taste of these blessings, St. John Chrysostom enthusiastically proclaims that we may relish these rewards even now, if we are single-minded in our pursuit of holiness.
Our faith teaches that Jesus chose certain elements from our life to go beyond whatever importance they may have in themselves, to become a point of connection with Him and His grace. St. Augustine taught that the results we seek from the Lordís Prayer express a hope that we may return this favor - and that our actions, inspired by grace, may reveal Christís love.
The Lordís Prayer is a part of Jesusí long Sermon on the Mount, an instruction that begins with the Beatitudes. "Blessed are those who mourn," He says, "for they shall be comforted" (Matt 5:4). We ordinarily think of mourning as the sorrow we feel when we have lost something, or someone, of great value.
But our Christian life reveals another sort of sorrow - the grief we express when we ask forgiveness for sin. This is the "mourning" early Christian writers considered almost exclusively. This sorrow is blessed because it reminds us that only God can satisfy our desire for happiness. St. John Chrysostom urges us to look at the sorrow we feel when a loved one dies. Then he tells us our sorrow for sin ought to be greater. Obviously, this is a state we cannot reach without Godís grace. But the blessing promised to those who mourn reminds us that our contrition is a further link between Godís will as it is enjoyed by the saints, and as we experience it on earth.
St. Augustine wrote, "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee," a poignant description of our longing for God, and the frustration we experience because unity with God must be postponed. We may not think of this when we say the words of the Lordís Prayer, but to ask that Godís will be done on earth is an expression of our longing for the everlasting life the saints enjoy in heaven.
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