Recently I had lunch with a young man whom I respect very much as a devoted lover of God and deep pray-er, and we talked of many things, but mostly we talked of the will of God, and more precisely, the discernment of His will.
He had asked me in recent days, “What is your will?” I thought about it and at our lunch meeting I shared, “My will is to go live off the beaten track in some rural Midwestern town, grow a long beard, wear flannel shirts and jeans, pray a lot, eat hearty meals at a giant wood table with my wife and many children and grandchildren while we laugh and tell funny stories, and maybe teach religion at a tiny Catholic Church while I support my family through writing and drawing children’s books.” I was embarrassed to say that, but it was the truth. That is the life I see myself living and it seems far from the life I live today.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord makes some serious demands on us: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Lk 9:23-25)” At Mass I was thinking about that: what do I have to die to in order to live?
I don’t think God would have me die to that which leads me into deeper union with Him, of course, or helps me live my primary vocation fully and with integrity. Instead, I think I am called to die to the falseness in me, the part of me that denies God and Goodness because of its attachment to the passions and the pleasures of life, the part of me that desires to possess God’s creation rather than love with a detached, well-ordered charity.
In the Intercessions for Morning Prayer today we prayed, “Teach us to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Church, that it may be more effective for ourselves and for the world as the sacrament of salvation.” It is in this entering more deeply into the mystery of the Church that we are drawn out of ourselves, out of our vanity and inordinate self-love, and into the Beauty (in the truest sense of the word) of the Divine. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters call the celebration of the Holy Eucharist the Divine Liturgy. This is a good reminder that what we celebrate is Divine, transcendent. When we draw near to God He draws near to us (see Jas 4:8).
I don’t know that it is the Lord’s will that I go live as a shaggy artist in a farmhouse with a multitude of children yanking on my faded flannel shirt, but I can see His will in that image: it is an image of withdrawing from the busyness that suffocates us and confuses us with its noise; it is a call to solitude of heart; a call to intentional relationship with God; a call to communion of family rather than a frenzied “sharing of quarters;” it is a call to pass on the faith (catechesis); it is a call to sanity, to use Frank Sheed’s term for the living in and experiencing of reality. It is, ultimately, a call to prayer and communion.
I believe God’s will is found in gazing at the Person of Jesus Christ, who said that his food was to do the will of the Father (see Jn 4:34). Jesus Christ is the will of the Father. In entering more deeply into this mystery, I discover God’s will for my life, because I am then not simply doing His will, but living in His will.
On this day, the day after Ash Wednesday, it is good to reflect on this, the dying to self that Jesus calls us to, and to the invitation to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Again, quoting the Intercessions for the Liturgy of the Hours, “May our hearts thirst for Christ, the fountain of living water.” It is in discovering within ourselves this thirst that we recognize His thirst for us, a thirst that may only be quenched through union, through prayer and self-denial for love of the other. May this Lent be a time that we enter more deeply into the mystery of salvation, and so discover the Lord’s will for our lives.