CONFORMITY TO THE WILL OF GOD
III. CONFORMITY IN ALL THINGS
The important thing is to embrace the will of God in all things which befall us, not only when they are favourable, but when they are contrary to our desires. When things go on well even sinners find no difficulty in being conformed to the Divine will; but the Saints are in conformity even under circumstances which run counter, and are mortifying, to self-love. It is herein that the perfection of our love for God is shown. The Blessed Father John of Avila used to say: “A single Blessed be God! when things go wrong, is of more value than a thousand acts of thanksgiving when things are to our liking.”
Moreover, we must bring ourselves into conformity to the Divine will, not only as regards those adverse circumstances which come to us directly from God — such, for instance, as infirmities, desolation of spirit, poverty, the death of relatives, and other things of a similar nature — but also as regards those which come to us through the instrumentality of men, such as contempt, reproaches, acts of injustice, thefts, and persecutions of every kind. On this point, we must understand that when we suffer injury from any one in our reputation, our honour, or our property, although the Lord does not will the sin which such a one commits, He nevertheless does will the humiliation, the poverty, or the mortification that comes to us. It is certain and of faith, that nothing comes to pass in the world but by the Divine will: I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil (Is. xlv. 7). From God come all things that are good and all things that are evil; that is to say, all things that are contrary to our liking, and that we falsely call evil, for, in truth, they are good, when we receive them as from His hands: Shall there be an evil in the city which the Lord hath not done? said the Prophet Amos (iii. 6). As the Wise Man had already said: Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from God (Ecclus. xi. 14). It is true, as I observed above, that whenever any one unjustly treats you, God does not will the sin such a person commits, nor concur in the malice of his intentions; but He does indeed concur by a general concurrence in regards to the material action by which such a one wounds, plunders, or injures you; so that what you have to suffer is certainly willed by God, and comes to you from His hands. Hence it was that the Lord told David that He was the Author of the injuries which Absalom would inflict upon him, and that in punishment for his sins: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house (2 Kings, xii. 11). Hence, too, He told the Jews that it would be as a punishment for their wickedness that He would command the Assyrians to spoil and destroy them. The Assyrian, he is the rod of my fury … I will give him a charge to take away the spoils, and to lay hold on the prey (Is. x. 5), which St. Augustine explains: “The wickedness of these men is made, as it were, the sword of God.” God uses the iniquity of the Assyrians, like a sword, to chastise the Jews. And Jesus Himself said to St. Peter that His Passion and Death did not come to Him so much from men, as from His Father: The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (Jo. xviii. 11.)
When the messenger (who is thought to have been Satan) came to tell Job that the Sabeans had taken away all his goods and had put his sons to death, what is the holy man’s reply? The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away (i. 21). He did not say: the Lord hath given me sons and property, and the Sabeans have taken them away; but, the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; because he perfectly understood that his loss was willed by God; and therefore he added: As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done; blessed be the name of the Lord. We must not, then, look upon the troubles that befall us as happening by chance or merely through the fault of others; we should rest assured that everything that happens to us comes to pass through the Divine will. “You should know,” says St. Augustine, “that whatever happens in this world contrary to our will does not happen but by the will of God.” Epictetus and Atho, two blessed Martyrs of Jesus Christ, when subjected to the torture by the tyrant, torn with hooks of iron and burnt with blazing torches, only said: “Lord, let Thy will be accomplished in us”; and on arriving at the place of their suffering, they exclaimed, in a loud voice: “Blessed be Thou, O eternal God, because Thy will has been fully accomplished in us!”
Cesarius relates that a certain Religious, although there was in no respect any external difference between himself and the others, had nevertheless arrived at such a degree of sanctity as to heal the sick by the mere touch of his garments. His Superior, in astonishment at this, one day asked him how he could ever perform such miracles, while his life was not more exemplary than that of others. In reply, he said that it was a matter of astonishment to himself also, and that he did not know how to account for it. “But what devotions do you practise?” asked the Abbot. The good Religious replied that he did but little or nothing in this respect, except that he had ever taken great care to will only what God willed, and that the Lord had granted him the grace to keep his own will thoroughly conformed to that of God. “Prosperity,” he said, “does not elate me, nor does adversity cast me down, because I receive everything from the hands of God; and to this end I direct all my prayers — namely, that God’s will may be perfectly accomplished in me.” “And with respect to that loss,” rejoined the Superior, “which our enemy caused us the other day, by depriving us of our means of subsistence, setting fire to our farm-buildings where our corn and cattle were housed, did you not feel some resentment in consequence?” “No, my Father,” was his reply; “but, on the contrary, I returned thanks to God for it, as is my custom in similar cases, knowing that God does, or permits, all for His own glory and for our greater good; and with this conviction, I am always content whatever may come to pass.” Understanding all this, and seeing in that soul so great a conformity to the Divine will, the Abbot was no longer surprised at his performing such great miracles.