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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The Worship of God With Our Wills
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We are continuing with our reflections on the worship of God as our greatest privilege on earth. We wish to see how we are to worship God on the second level of our human being. We have a mind, we have a will and we have a body. How do we worship God with our wills? We shall examine how the fact that we must worship God is of the very essence of our faith, better, it is of the very essence of our reason; that's why God made us: to worship him. How are we to give God the great gift of honoring him not only with our minds but also with our wills? There are many ways but the following are the most prominent in divine revelation. We are to worship God with our wills by our desires, by our fears, by our choices, by our sacrifices, and especially by our love.
What are our desires? They are the urges and impulses that our wills are constantly having toward what appeals to them. Nothing appeals to the will except what is pleasant. Our wills are free, our wills are not constrained from within or compelled from without to will or want or desire. We desire what we want to desire. But if we have a free will, we also have a fallen will. On the one hand, therefore, our wills are not either coerced or compelled; on the other hand our wills are weakened because of original sin and our own many personal sins. Every sin we commit weakens our wills.
That being said, we declare that we worship God by watching over our desires. Not everything we desire is pleasing to God, some desires we are to follow and other desires we cannot. We have a free will so that we must want what we desire. You see, there are desires that are spontaneous; there are desires that are immediate; there are desires that are instinctive. We're in the dark, we are groping, we see a light, we desire to go in the direction of the light. If therefore we are to honor and serve God, in a word, worship him, we must first look and see. That's why we've got a mind. The will as will is blind, it cannot see; it needs to be directed, guided by the mind. I have a desire. Do I go after that desire because I have it? No. I first look at the desire. By the way, the difference between seeing and looking is when I look I want to see. I look; I want to see whether this desire is pleasing to God. Ask yourself: is this impulse, this urge, this desire pleasing to God? If my mind enlightened by faith tells me it is, then I will want the desire. The desire can be a powerful, strong, imperious desire, but it is not compelling; that's what freedom is all about. Why do I have a free will? To use it. If then it is not pleasing to God, we do not follow the desire.
Naturally speaking, we desire health. Who doesn't? We naturally desire to be accepted by others. Who doesn't? We naturally desire to please others. Who does not? We naturally desire to be praised by others. Who doesn't? We naturally desire to have, to possess, to enjoy what we possess. Who doesn't? We naturally desire to live a long life. Who doesn't? Our desires are spontaneous, they are instinctive: we don't have to decide to have desires, we've got them. We are to, follow only those desires which our mind enlightened by faith tells us are not only pleasing to us but pleasing to God. Do you mean there are some things that are pleasing to us that we should not want the desire? Yes. But the desire remains, it's powerful, it is seductive; I like it. So what! We are to follow those desires and only those desires that we know from reason and faith are what God wants us to desire.
Countless books have been written inversing this thing that we are talking about. Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Rousseau, all kinds of learned men tell you: what kind of a God would it be that would allow you to have desires and not want you to follow them? We answer: God is master of his universe; why he allows us to have desires that are not pleasing to him for us to follow but mysteriously pleasing to him that we have those desires, you don't solve a mystery by denying it. To summarize: our first way of worshiping God with our wills is by conforming our desires to the will of God.
We worship God by our fears. To many people this must seem strange. What can it possibly mean to worship God with our fears? To worship God with our fears means to avoid, shun, at times run away from what our mind, enlightened by faith, tells us are the persons, places and things in our lives that displease God. God puts people in our lives, nice people, pleasant people, lovable people that he wants us to run away from. In other words, no matter how pleasant some person, some place, sortie thought, some situation, some course of action may be, if I believe on God's word it is not pleasing to him, I may have to tear myself away but I must fear, avoid, if need be, run away from what I know is not pleasing to God.
Again, as with our desires, so with our fears, it is not as obvious as may seem. The problem is there are so many things that we naturally dislike, but that God wants; so we must control our desires if we are going to worship God. There are many things in our life that we naturally dislike. And the moment we use the adverb naturally that means with our nature and we have got to tell ourselves: but my nature is a fallen nature; my natural urges or impulses are not, to say the least, necessarily good. There are many things that we dislike, but God wants them; so we reign ourselves and worship him by controlling our desires.
There are many things that we naturally and maybe intensely like but that God does not want. So, as with controlling our desires, we must control our fears if we are going to worship God. As you know, the Catholic Church has given us two names for the virtues we need. First, to worship God by controlling our desires is the virtue of temperance. It does not mean merely controlling our desire for drink; chastity is a virtue of temperance. And the name which the Church gives to the virtue that controls our fears is fortitude. These virtues are already infused into our souls at Baptism. All we have to do, but we have to do it, is to use the powers otherwise known as virtues the Holy Spirit has infused into our wills to control on the one hand our desires, on the other our fears.
There are things that God does not want, that are so contrary to his will that if we choose them or things that we should avoid and we don't fear them but embrace them we commit sin. Thus everybody must avoid envy and jealousy and laziness. Most people spontaneously run away from work.
However, there are some things that will control our fears in not running away from not because if we fail to do so we would sin, but there are things that God would rather, would be more pleased if we avoid, if we didn't go after. Then if we want to worship God not only by avoiding sin, but by pleasing him by being more generous than absolutely speaking we have to, then we put away, we avoid, we shun, we run away from, not because it would be a sin if we didnt, but it is more pleasing to God if we did not. We must avoid the ease, the leisure, the relaxation, the so many things that we naturally like, even when there is no sin if we did it, if we want to worship God with our whole heart (and in biblical language heart stands for the will). This is so true regarding worshiping God by our fears that Sacred Scripture tells us that "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom."
Meaning what? The fear of offending God, the fear of displeasing God, even the fear of not pleasing God as much as we could is the foundation of all true worship of God in wisdom.
We worship God by our choices. This is the center of our worshiping God with our wills. He gave us a free will so we might choose to do what pleases him and choose not to do what displeases him. This covers everything in our lives: our days and our nights, out work and our leisure, our eating and our abstaining from food, our sleeping and our keeping silence, our imagination and our impulses, all the interior movements of our soul, our solitude and our dealings with others. There is nothing in any twenty-four hour day that we are not called upon to make choices in our lives; everything inside of us and outside of us which is subject to our free will is meant by God to be choices we make with our free wills by which we can worship the God whom made us. That is why God made us rational human beings.
God might have made us the sun, moon and stars; they worship God too, but they worship him necessarily: they must do what they are doing and in this way, by doing what they must do, they are glorifying God. Flowers, trees and animals, they also worship God. The psalms tell us the sun, moon, and stars, everything in the world glorifies God's name, everything worships the Lord. Everything else quantitatively, numerically, most of the universe that God made must worship God. We, a small, tiny particle of the huge cosmos that God brought into being out of nothing, we and we alone are free. We are not water or stones, we are not the air or fishes or birds or creeping things, we are human beings. We, unlike the whole rest of the world, can and we must choose to do what we do, and we, unlike the whole rest of the universe, we are worshiping God when our choices are conformed to the mind and will of God. Nothing else, no one else in the whole universe that we see or cannot see but that we know that God created, all the rest of creation has no choice: it worships God just by being what it is. But not we.
The revealing example of what this means occurred during the agony of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Olives. Christ foresaw the passion that lay ahead of him; he also foresaw the passion that lay ahead for his followers; nevertheless he prayed: "Father, if thou are willingly, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but thine be done." Most of the choices that we are called upon to make in life are not agonizing choices, but some are. No matter. We worship God by our choices when our choices are what God wants us to choose, even when we find the choice painful. The only question I should ask myself is not whether it is pleasant or painful, the only real choice I should make is: Does God want it?
The key, therefore, to glorifying God with our wills is to worship him with our wills, meaning we choose what we know he wants us to choose - that's why we've got a will - even though the choice, if we had our natural choice, would be the last thing we would choose.
We are to worship God by our sacrifices. Sacrifice is the surrender, or giving up of what we like out of love for God. God will put persons, places and things into our lives that we like, that we may be enchanted by; indeed, there are creatures in our lives that are not only pleasing but precious. Leave it to God. He takes these pleasant, even precious creatures out of our lives. Or, if he doesn't take them, he will tell us to remove them, to give them up. This is deeper than it seems at first sight. Is everything that God removes from our lives a sacrifice? No. It becomes a sacrifice only when our wills give it up.
The hardest thing in life for human beings to do is to sacrifice their wills. This demands, as we know, much more generosity than, I'm afraid, most people are willing to recognize. There are some persons, places and things that God tells us we must sacrifice if we are going to avoid sin and save our souls. However, there are persons, places and things that God tells us he would be pleased if we want to go the whole way: that we give up because we want to please God. On both levels it is by giving up to God that we honor his holy name and give him the only fitting worship that his divine majesty deserves. Let us examine our conscience everyday and ask ourselves: what things during the past day would God have been pleased if I gave up, if I let go. The essence of being truly generous with God is not only giving up uncomplainingly, but, and how demanding this is, giving up cheerfully, enjoying sacrifice. But that enjoyment may be so sacrificial that the only joy we'll have is the joy of knowing that our wills are doing the will of God while the rest of our being may be in pain.
We are to worship God by our love. This is the capstone to the worship that God deserves and wants with our wills; it consists in giving him our love. While God is certainly pleased and wants us to conform our desires and our fears and our choices and our sacrifices to his divine will, he is most pleased when we love what he wants us to love out of love for him. What or whom does God mainly, primarily, fundamentally, constantly want us to love? He wants us to love him. It is therefore especially in our love for hire we worship God by our wills. This is most consoling.
We've all lived with our wills long enough; from the first time that we asserted our self-will as infants, we have not always been worshiping God by desiring or fearing, or choosing, or sacrificing what would please God. What is our one joy that we can always, provided we do it, have in our lives? We can tell him, "Lord, you know me and you probe me; you know how weak I am and how unfaithful I have been; but, dear Lord, I mean this with all my heart, I mean it with all my will, in spite of all my failure and infidelity, I do, I really do love you. This is both the first and the final reason that God gave us a will: to give back to him the will that he gave us. In the last analysis that is why he made us, as we are told by him: "Son or daughter, give me your heart."
"Receive, O Lord, all my liberty; take my memory, my understanding and my entire will. Whatever I have or hold you have given me; I give it all back to you and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more. Amen."
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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