We pray, "Thy will be done" (Mt. 6:10), and it flows pretty easily from our lips. But do we really have a choice?
Indeed, we do. God leaves us free. We may choose to accept His will and do His will. Or we may choose to resist. Our resistance, however, brings for us its own pains. For the will of God is inexorable. It's going to be accomplished, no matter how much we push back against it. And just as physical resistance to a mighty force can leave us bruised and brush burned, so our resistance to God's almighty will can leave us weary in spirit, sad, and weak. For God wills our joy, though it may not come easily, and so, to oppose His will is to oppose our own happiness.
Our freedom of choice, then, is a relative sort of freedom. We may choose whom we will serve: God or ourselves. Either way, we can count on a struggle, but only one way leads to happiness.
Still, it's fair to ask, Why bother to pray, "Thy will be done"? Isn't it presumptuous, or even redundant? Isn't God's will what happens anyway? Why pray for God's will? It seems like praying for gravity to continue.
The answer is simple. When we pray "Thy will be done," we do not change or strengthen the will of God, but we do change and strengthen ourselves. Such prayer disposes our hearts to do the will of the Father (cf. Catechism, no. 2611). Our prayer conditions us to say, "Thy will," when the pull of our nature says "my will." In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus Himself struggling against the natural human instinct for self-preservation, the natural human dread of pain and death. "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Mt. 26:39). Earthly life is good, but we must reach beyond it if we want to reach heaven. Our human will is good, but we must reach beyond it if we want to be divine if we want to be holy if we want to be saints. And make no mistake about it: Only saints can live in heaven, only those who say, "Thy will be done." Jesus said, "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 7:21).
What gets us to heaven is our ability to share in the divine life, to be "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). How do mere humans become divine? By sharing in the life of God, who became human. Jesus Christ God incarnate, the Word made flesh established a "new covenant" that enables the communion between us and God to occur (Lk. 22:20). It's important that we understand what Jesus was doing. A covenant is not a business transaction, not a deal, and not a contract. All those things exchange goods and services, but a covenant exchanges persons. That's why marriage is a covenant, and so is the adoption of a child. A covenant draws people not into a business partnership, but into a family relationship. Thus a covenant is a union of wills. I don't lose my will in God's, any more than I lose my will in my wife's. I unite my will to His. In doing so, I begin to live more perfectly in Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, for He said, "I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me" (Jn. 5:30). I begin to live more perfectly the life of the Trinity.
The covenant is what makes us part of God's family, and all covenants require a union of wills. Jesus said: "[W]hoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Mt. 12:50). As brothers and sisters of Christ, we are, in the words of Tradition, "sons in the Son."
Between the Poles
Thus, what we're praying for is not fatalistic resignation, but to will what He wills, as forcefully as He wills it with filial boldness.
There are many ways we can misunderstand this petition. Some people look upon it as fatalistic resignation: "Well, God, You're going to do what You want anyway; I'd better just grit my teeth and accept it!" Others find it a source of agonizing scruples and endless, troubled inquiry: They wring their hands and say, "Thy will be done, Lord . . . but how can I ever know Thy will?" as if they dare not think for themselves in the presence of a Power so mighty. In neither of these do we find the attitude of a child toward his father.
Both fatalism and pietism are, at root, denials of God's fatherhood. They both see God the way a slave sees His master: either with resentment or with servile fear. Yet, between these two extremes we find the attitude that is appropriate: the trusting love of a son for his father. Jesus taught us to pray "Our Father" so that we may, even now, begin to share in the life of the Trinity. And this is the life of the Trinity: The Father eternally pours Himself out in love for the Son; the Son eternally returns all His love to the Father; and the love they share is the Holy Spirit. When we unite our will with the Father's will, we begin to love as the Father loves and give ourselves as the Father gives and will as the Father wills.
There is nothing anxious in this attitude. There is no sigh of resignation. This is the deep peace of which St. Augustine spoke when he summed up the Christian life: "Love, and do what you will." For the child of God, doing God's will should be as natural as eating. Think of Jesus' words: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me" (Jn. 4:34).
Will to Power
I have often thought that this is the reason why Jesus taught us to begin our prayers by invoking God as "Father," rather than with the traditional invocation of God as "Lord" or "King of the Universe." It's not that God's will isn't sovereign, like a king's surely it is! but it is, above all, loving and merciful, like a father's.
We begin by praying "Our Father," but we press on, we persevere, by lovingly accepting and doing the will of God. Again, it is this union of wills that perfects us as children of God. And such a divine relation is, in a sense, exactly what we're praying for when we say, "Thy will be done." For, in the words of St. Paul, "this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3).
God's will means more for us than merely following the law. The commandments express His will, but they do not exhaust it. His will for us is much greater. It's nothing short of a sharing in His own life, which is the deepest freedom we can know.
Scott Hahn. "Thy Will Be Done." Lay Witness (Sept/Oct 2002).
This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Scott Hahn holds the Fr. Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and he is the founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. In 2005, he was appointed as the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Dr. Hahn is also the bestselling author of numerous books, including Joy to the World, Angels and Saints, The Lamb's Supper, and Reasons to Believe. He is editor of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and Letter & Spirit: A Journal of Catholic Biblical Theology. He lives in Steubenville, Ohio, with his wife and their six children.Copyright © 2002 LayWitness
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