instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

"I did it my way" is nothing to brag about

This is from a prayer of St. Catherine of Siena, offered in Avignon in 1376 while she was urging Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome and call a crusade:
Oh most gentle Love, it seems to me You are showing that the truest sign people are dwelling in You is that they follow Your will not in their own way but in Your way.
I emphasized "not in their own way" because I think a lot of people -- good, honest, faithful, hopeful, and loving people -- want to follow God's will in their own way. "'Be perfect and merciful'? Sure thing, God, and I know just how I'm going to do that!" "'Love your enemies'? Ooh, I've got a great idea for loving my enemies!"

Unfortunately, God is not a hands-off managerial type. He doesn't just tell us where to go and leave it up to us to figure out how to get there. He has a plan for every step of our way, even if some of those steps are determined by our own free choices.

In a way, it's harder to accept God's will in our lives the more we accept the idea of God's will in our lives. The better we are, the better our own choices will be, and the easier it is to convince ourselves our own choices are good enough for God. The more we love God, the easier it is to think we love God enough -- unless our love of God is coupled with what St. Catherine called a "holy hatred" of ourselves.

Now, hatred, as much as love, must be based on truth, and the proper "holy hatred" for ourselves must be based on the truth that, however good our own will might be, God's will is better. It's a hatred, not for something evil in itself, but for a lesser good when a greater good is available. So in one sense, "hatred" is too strong a word. In another sense, though, it's just right, because for most of us (if I may speak for most of us) it takes an act of will to resist and reject our own will, our own wisdom and counsel, in favor of God's.

I think, too, that a tendency to choose one's own wisdom over God's is not wholly irrational in itself. After all, God's wisdom is often obscure, incompletely communicated, counter-intuitive even to excellent human intuition, and even delayed. We know our goal, we can see a path to it; do we really need to wait for our Guide to tell us which way to turn at the crossroads?

The error, then, may not be so much in choosing a way that is clearer and more complete as in failing to obey Christ's instruction to "stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." With the best intentions, we can fall prey to impatience and short-sightedness, and what seemed the obviously right trail to our destination can leave us stranded in a marsh that, had we patiently sought God's will, we would have avoided.