Sunday, August 11, 2013

Heart of Holiness

Trust has come up a good bit on this blog of late, and its necessity in a vibrant spiritual life.
     Today it leads us to the core of the matter.
     "The Universal Prayer" attributed to Pope Clement XI asks for all the graces and assistance necessary to grow in holiness. The heart of the prayer is striking—but not easy to pray.

     I want whatever you want
     because you want it,
     the way you want it,
     as long as you want it. 

Such a prayer requires a huge amount of trust—a limitless trust, really. One can't pray this without turning everything over to God, and accepting His will unconditionally.
    This is not to say that we are to roll over and passively accept anything and everything that happens to us. That would be Quietism: the heresy that equates accepting God's will with total passivity. Often when a problem enters our lives, what He wants is for us to do our darndest to solve it. Embracing His will frequently means accepting the challenge of struggling to overcome a difficulty. 
     There are negative situations over which we have no control. Then embracing His will means to accept that situation as best as possible,
carry that cross, offer it up. This approach is similar to that of the "Serenity Prayer": 

     God, grant me the serenity 
     to accept the things I cannot change,
     the courage to change the things I can,
     and the wisdom to know the difference.

     We don't have to like everything that happens to us; we’re certainly not supposed to want suffering. God doesn't want suffering. What He wants is our good, and for us to be free. There is a difference between His perfect will and His permissive will.[1]
     That’s why praying Pope Clement’s prayer requires trust.
     God knows we question this. Jesus says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a serpent, or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12). The only problem is that sometimes it sure looks like a serpent or a scorpion. That’s why He also says: “I know my plans for you, and they are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
If we come to believe that God is holding back countless sufferings from us, filtering them through His loving hand, and only allowing those that will somehow bring us a greater good, then we can rest in His will. If we can trust that what He wants for us is good, then we can want that good too, even if it comes in a nasty shape. We trust that He’s a good judge of value; He knows which goods are greater.
We can want what He wants when we know that what He wants is our good.
When we're experiencing great suffering, however, it is nearly impossible to believe this. With His grace and help, we can strive to take the longer view, the eternal viewalthough we’ll never be able to reach the pinnacle of His viewpoint. If nothing else, we can cling to Him in the midst of the horrible mystery, knowing that God the Son suffered too, and God the Father gave up His Son for love of us.

Theologians and saints have said that the essence of holiness is conforming one's will to the will of God.
     Only a great love can do so. But love is of the heart, so it's no surprise that love for God is at the heart of holiness.
     If Pope Clement’s prayer seems too impossible to pray sincerely, ask for the love and the trust to pray it. Then pray, "Lord, I want to want whatever you want...". If you can't even pray that, ask for the desire to pray it.
     A life lived with that attitude is one of peace and even joy. Because our fulfillment is union with God.

[1]For a more extensive handling of this topic, see my earlier posts: “Qualifying Gift” and “Trusting in God”. 

To see "The Universal Prayer" in full (though a different translation), click here