About 36 hours before, the title started out as “God’s will and our freedom”, but then something clicked it over, to invert the wording.
And then, as if to ratify the new title, there was a post with some quotes by St. Alphonsus de Liguori.
The crucial quote is:
“Conformity signifies that we join our wills to the will of God. Uniformity means more — it means that we make one will of God’s will and ours, so that we will only what God wills; that God’s will alone, is our will.”
It almost sounds like a distinction without a difference, yet it is an idea worth wrestling with.
Added to that, the idea of “rejoicing in God’s freedom” was already bouncing through the brain, and the mind of Merton is regularly playing hide and seek there, as well.
“Sanctity does not consist merely in doing the will of God. It consists in willing the will of God. For sanctity is union with God, and not all those who carry out His will are united to His will. Even those who commit sin contribute, by the effects of their sin, to the fulfillment of the will of God. But because they sin they formally will what God does not will. And a man can also sin by failing to will what God wills him to do. In either case, he may do what God wills while himself willing the opposite.”
(from No Man is an Island, pg. 56)
“Only the will of God is indefectible. Every other freedom can fail and defeat itself by a false choice. All true freedom comes as a supernatural gift of God, as a participation in His own essential Freedom by the Love He infuses into our souls, uniting them with Him first in perfect consent, then in a transforming union of wills.”
(from New Seeds of Contemplation, pg. 200)
This topic just might be the crux of the concept of conversion. We tend to put our freedom first and see God’s will only as a limiting factor on our freedom, and only as a small point of contact with our freedom, at most.
Here Merton yet again has something relevant to contribute:
“The man who is content to keep from disobeying God, and to satisfy his own desires wherever there is nothing to prevent him from doing so, may indeed lead a life that is not evil: but his life will remain a sad confusion of truth and falsity and he will never have the spiritual vision to tell one clearly from the other.”
(from No Man is an Island, pg. 111)
It would seem that we need to stop seeing God’s will as something that circumscribes, constrains, and dampens our freedom. As if our freedom had primacy, while God’s freedom is merely an afterthought. The needed metanoia is to see first God’s extravagant freedom and to understand that apart from that, our freedom is paltry, impoverished, and empty. We ought to be watching what God’s freedom and mercy is up to in our lives first, and only then attempt to exercise our freedom, employ our will in light of what God is doing–in light of “[God’s] truth, as it is communicated to our lives concretely in the providential will of God.” (ibid.)
(Additionally, we need to resist the attitude that thinks if God is not loving us the way we want or that he is not giving us what we want, then he is not loving us, when in fact he cannot love us any more than he already does and is.)
Therefore, the lesson appears to be this: to be still and let God act first, and then follow his lead. God’s freedom will enter into our freedom, our will, and expand it. We will come to see that our wills were designed for this, waiting for this. And then what Christ said starts to become true for us: the kingdom of heaven is found within –“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is becoming clear that the shortest distance to union with God’s will is trust (and it has been said that trust is the intersection of faith, hope, and love, the supernatural virtues whose aim is to unite us with God)–trusting in the extravagance of God’s mercy and rejoicing at the privilege of both being a witness of and giving witness to God’s wildly unconstrained freedom!
If we are tempted to doubt this, we need only to call to mind that God’s freedom was least constrained when this world thought it was most constrained: at the crucifixion. This is where Jesus gave us the ultimate example of trust, of being still, of allowing God to act. “Not my will but yours be done.”
While this may seem initially frightening, we need to remember that the apparent death and annihilation implied by this is actually a rebirth to new life, brought forth passively by God from a confining womb out into a realm of light and freedom!
So seek the grace to trust. The result will be joy.