THE THIRD PETITION OF THE LORD’S PRAYER: “THY WILL BE DONE“
The Relation Of This Petition To The Previous One
Whoever desires to enter into the kingdom of heaven should ask of God that His will may be done. For Christ the Lord has said: Not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Consequently this Petition follows immediately after the one which prays for the kingdom of heaven.
Necessity Of This Petition
In order that the faithful may know the necessity of this Petition and the numerous and salutary gifts which we obtain through it, the pastor should direct their attention to the misery and wretchedness in which the sin of Adam has involved mankind.
Man’s Proneness To Act Against God’s Will
From the beginning God implanted in all creatures an inborn desire of pursuing their own happiness that, by a sort of natural impulse, they may seek and desire their own end, from which they never deviate, unless impeded by some external obstacle.� This impulse of seeking God, the author and father of his happiness, was in the beginning all the more noble and exalted in man because of the fact that he was endowed with reason and judgment. But, while irrational creatures, which, at their creation were by nature Food, continued, and still continue in that original state and�condition, unhappy man went astray, and lost not only original justice, with which he had been supernaturally gifted and adorned by God, but also obscured that singular inclination toward virtue which had been implanted in his soul. All, He says, have gone aside, they are become unprofitable together; there is none that doth good, no, not one. For the imagination and thought of man’s heart are prone to evil from his youth. Hence it is not difficult to perceive that of himself no man is wise unto salvation; that all are prone to evil; and that man has innumerable corrupt propensities, since he tends downwards and is carried with ardent precipitancy to anger, hatred, pride. ambition, and to almost every species of evil.
Man’s Blindness Concerning God’s Will
Although man is continually beset by these evils, yet his greatest misery is that many of these appear to him not to be evils at all. It is a proof of the most calamitous condition of man, that he is so blinded by passion and cupidity as not to see that what he deems salutary generally contains a deadly poison, that he rushes headlong after those pernicious evils as if they were good and desirable, while those things which are really good and virtuous are shunned as the contrary. Of this false estimate and corrupt judgment of man God thus expresses His detestation: Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.
In order, therefore, to delineate in vivid coloring the misery of our condition, the Sacred Scripture compares us to those who have lost their sense of taste and who, in consequence, loathe wholesome food, and prefer that which is unwholesome.
Man’s Weakness In Fulfilling God’s Will
It also compares us to sick persons who, as long as their malady lasts, are incapable of fulfilling the duties and offices proper to persons of sound and vigorous health. In the same way neither can we, without the assistance of divine grace, undertake actions such as are acceptable to God. Even should we, while in this condition, succeed in doing anything good, it will be of little or no avail towards attaining the bliss of heaven. But to love and serve God as we ought is something too noble and too sublime for us to accomplish by human powers in our present lowly and feeble condition, unless we are assisted by the grace of God.
Another very apt comparison to denote the miserable condition of mankind is that wherein we are likened to children who, if left to go their own way, are thoughtlessly attracted by everything that presents itself. Truly we are children, thoughtless children, wholly devoted to vain conversations and frivolous actions, once we become destitute of divine assistance; and hence the reproof which divine wisdom directs against us: O children, how long will you love childishness, and fools covet those things which are hurtful to themselves? while the Apostle thus exhorts us: Do not become children in sense.
Not only this, but our folly and blindness are even greater than those of children; for they are merely destitute of human prudence which they can of themselves acquire in course of time; whereas, if not assisted by God’s help and grace, we can never aspire to that divine prudence which is so necessary to salvation. And if God’s assistance should fail us, we at once cast aside those things that are truly good and rush headlong to voluntary ruin.
Remedy For These Evils
But should this darkness of spirit be removed with God’s help; should we but perceive these our miseries; and, shaking off our insensibility, should we take account of the presence of the law of the members and recognise the struggle of the senses against the law of the spirit; and were we aware of every inclination of our nature to evil; how in that event could we fail to seek with earnest endeavour a suitable remedy for the great evils with which our nature is oppressed, and how fail to sigh for that salutary rule in accordance with which every Christian’s life should be modelled and guided?
Now this is what we ask when we address to God these words: Thy will be done. We fell into this state of misery by disobeying and despising the divine will. God vouchsafes to propose to us, as the sole corrective of such great evils, a conformity to His will, which by sinning we despised; He commands us to regulate all our thoughts and actions by this standard. Now it is precisely His help to accomplish this that we ask when we suppliantly address to God the prayer, Thy will be done.
Man’s Passions Rebel Against God’s Will
The same should also be the fervent prayer of those in whose souls God�already reigns; who have been already illumined with the divine light, which enables them to obey the will of God. Although thus prepared, they have still to struggle against their own passions on account of the tendency to evil implanted in man’s sensual appetite. Hence even though we are of the number of the just, we are still exposed to great danger from our own frailty, and should always fear lest, drawn aside and allured by our concupiscences, which war in our members, we should again stray from the path of salvation. Of this danger Christ the Lord admonishes us in these words: Watch ye and pray that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.
It is not in the power of man, not even of him who has been justified by the grace of God, to reduce the irregular desires of the flesh to such a state of utter subjection that they may never afterwards rebel. By justifying grace God no doubt heals the wounds of the soul; but not those also of the flesh concerning which the Apostle wrote: J know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good.
The moment the first man forfeited original justice, which enabled him to bridle the passions, reason was no longer able to restrain them within the bounds of duty, or to repress those inordinate desires which are repugnant to reason. This is why the Apostle tells us that sin, that is to say, the incentive to sin, dwells in the flesh, thus giving us to understand that it does not make a mere temporary stay within us as a passing guest, but that as long as we live it maintains its abode in our members as a permanent inhabitant of the body.
Continually beset as we are by our domestic and interior enemies, it is easy for us to understand that we must fly to God’s help and beg of Him that His will may be done in us.
Though the faithful are not to be left in ignorance of the import of this Petition, yet in this connection many questions concerning the will of God may be passed over which are discussed at great length and with much utility by scholastic doctors. Accordingly we shall content ourselves with saying that by the will of God is here meant that will which is commonly called the will of sign; that is to say, whatever God has commanded or counselled us to do or to avoid.
Hence, under the word will are here comprised all things that have been proposed to us as a means of securing the happiness of heaven, whether they regard faith or whether they regard morals, all, in a word, that Christ the Lord has commanded or forbidden either directly or through His Church. It is of this will that the Apostle thus writes: Become not unwise, but understand what is the will of God.
“Be Done”We Ask That We May Fulfil What God Desires Of Us
When, therefore, we pray, Thy will be done, we first of all ask our heavenly Father to give us the strength to obey His Commandments, and to serve Him in holiness and justice all our days; to do all things according to His will and pleasure; to discharge all the duties prescribed for us in Sacred Scripture; under His guidance and assistance to perform all that becomes those who are born, not of the will of the flesh but of God, thus following the example of Christ the Lord who was made obedient unto death, even unto the death of the cross; finally, to be ready to bear all things rather than depart from His holy will in even the slightest degree.
Assuredly there is no one who burns with a more ardent desire and anxiety to obtain (the effect of this Petition) than he who has been so blessed as to be able to understand the sublime dignity attaching to those who obey God. For such a one thoroughly understands how true it is to say that to serve God and obey Him is to reign. Whoever, says the Lord, shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother that is to say, to him am I attached by the closest bonds of good will and love.
The Saints, with scarcely a single exception, failed not to make the principal gift contemplated by this Petition the object of their fervent prayers to God. All, indeed, have in substance made use of this admirable prayer, but not unfrequently in different words. David, whose strains breathe such wondrous sweetness, pours out the same prayer in various aspirations: O ! that my ways may be directed to keep thy justifications; Lead me into the path of thy commandments; Direct my steps according to thy word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me. In the same spirit he says: Give me understanding, and I will learn thy commandments; Teach me thy judgments; Give me understanding that I may know thy testimonies. He often expresses and repeats the same sentiment in other words. These passages should be carefully noticed and explained to the faithful, that all may know and comprehend the greatness and profusion of salutary gifts which are comprehended in the first part of this Petition.
We Ask That We May Not Yield To Our Own Inordinate Desires
In the second place, when we say, Thy will be done, we express our detestation of the works of the flesh, of which the Apostle writes: The works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness immodesty, lust, etc.; if you live according to the flesh you shall die. We also beg of God not to suffer us to yield to the suggestions of sensual appetite, of our lusts, of our infirmities, but to govern our will by His will.
The sensualist, whose every thought and care is absorbed in the transient things of this world, is estranged from the will of God. Borne along by the tide of passion, he indulges his licentious appetites. In this gratification he places all his happiness, and considers that man happy who obtains whatever he desires. We, the contrary, beseech God in the language of the Apostle that we make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence, but that His will be done.
We are not easily induced to entreat God not to satisfy our inordinate desires. This disposition of soul is difficult of attainment, and by offering such a prayer we seem in some sort to hate ourselves. To those who are slaves to the flesh such conduct appears folly; but be it ours cheerfully to incur the imputation of folly for the sake of Christ who has said: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself. This is especially so since we know that it is much better to desire what is right and just, than to obtain what is opposed to reason and religion and to the laws of God. Unquestionably the condition of the man who attains the gratification of his rash and inordinate desires is less enviable than that of him who does not obtain the object of his pious prayers.
We Ask That Our Mistaken Requests Be Not Granted
Our prayers, however, have not solely for object that God should deny us what accords with our desires, when it is clear that they are depraved; but also that He would not grant us those things for which, under the persuasion and impulse of the devil, who transforms himself into an Angel of light, we sometimes pray, believing them to be good.
The desire of the Prince of the Apostles to dissuade the Lord from His determination to meet death, appeared not less reasonable than religious; yet the Lord severely rebuked him, because he was led, not by supernatural motives, but by natural feeling.
What stronger proof of love towards the Lord than that shown by the request of St. James and St. John, who, filled with indignation against the Samaritans for refusing to entertain their Master, besought Him to command fire to descend from heaven and consume those hard�hearted and inhuman men? Yet they were reproved by Christ the Lord in these words: You know not of what spirit you are; the son of man came not to destroy souls but to save them.
We Ask That Even Our Good Requests Be Granted Only When They Are According To God’s Will
We should beseech God that His will be done, not only when our desires are wrong, or have the appearance of wrong. We should ask this even when the object of our desire is not really evil, as when the will, obeying its instinctive impulse, desires what is necessary for our preservation, and rejects what seems to be opposed thereto. When about to pray for such things we should say from our hearts, Thy will be done, in imitation of the example of Him from whom we receive salvation and the science of salvation, who, when agitated by a natural dread of torments and of a cruel death, bowed in that horror of supreme sorrow with meek submission to the will of His heavenly Father: Not my will but thine be done.
We Ask That God May Perfect In Us What His Grace Has Begun
But, such is the degeneracy of our nature that, even when we have done violence to our passions and subjected them to the will of God, we cannot avoid sin without His assistance, by which we are protected from evil and directed in the pursuit of good. To this Petition, therefore, we must have recourse, beseeching God to perfect in us those things which He has begun; to repress the turbulent emotions of passion; to subject our sensual appetites to reason; in a word, to render us entirely conformable to His holy will.
We Ask That All May Know God’s Will
We pray that the whole world may receive the knowledge of God’s will, that the mystery of God, hidden from all ages and generations, may be made known to all.
“On Earth as it is in Heaven”
We also pray for the standard and model of this obedience, that our conformity to the will of God be regulated according to the rule observed in heaven by the blessed Angels and choirs of heavenly spirits, that, as they willingly and with supreme joy obey God, we too may yield a cheerful obedience to His will in the manner most acceptable to Him.
God requires that in serving Him we be actuated by the greatest love and by the most exalted charity; that although we devote ourselves entirely to Him with the hope of receiving heaven as reward, yet the reason we look forward to that reward should be that the Divine Majesty has commanded us to cherish that hope. Let all our hopes, therefore, be based on the love of God, who promises to reward our love with eternal happiness.
There are some who serve another with love, but who do so solely with a view to some recompense, which is the end and aim of their love; while others, influenced by love and loyalty alone, look to nothing else in the services which they render than the goodness and worth of him whom they serve, and, knowing and admiring his qualities consider themselves happy in being able to render him these services. This is the meaning of the clause On earth as it is in heaven appended (to the Petition).
It is then, our duty to endeavour to the best of our ability to be obedient to God, as we have said the blessed spirits are, whose profound obedience is praised by David in the Psalm in which he sings: Bless the Lord, all ye hosts; ye ministers of his that do his will.
Should anyone, adopting the interpretation of St. Cyprian, understand the words in heaven, to mean in the good and the pious, and the words on earth, in the wicked and the impious, we do not disapprove of the interpretation, by the word heaven understanding the spirit, and by the word earth, the flesh, that every person and every creature may in all things obey the will of God.
This Petition Contains an Act of Thanksgiving
This Petition also includes thanksgiving. We revere the most holy will of God, and in transports of joy celebrate all His works with the highest praise and acknowledgment, being assured that He has done all things well. It is certain that God is omnipotent; and the consequence necessarily forces itself on the mind that all things were created at His command. We also confess the truth that He is the supreme Good. We must, therefore, confess that all His works are good, for to all He imparted His own goodness. But if we cannot fathom in everything the divine plan, let us in all things banish every doubt and hesitation from the mind, and with the Apostle declare that his ways are unsearchable.
But the most powerful incentive to revere the will of God is that He has deigned to illumine by His heavenly light; for, He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.
The Dispositions that should Accompany this PetitionA Sense Of Our Own Weakness Of Will
To close our exposition of this Petition we must revert to a subject at which we glanced in the beginning. It is that the faithful in uttering this Petition should be humble and lowly in spirit: keeping in view the violence of their inborn passions which revolt against the will of God; recollecting that in this duty (of obedience) man is excelled by all other creatures, of whom it is written: All things serve thee; and reflecting, that he who is unable without divine help to undertake, not to say, perform, anything acceptable to God, must be very weak indeed.
Appreciation Of The Dignity Of Doing God’s Will
But as there is nothing greater, nothing more exalted, as we have already said, than to serve God and live in obedience to His law and Commandments, what more desirable to a Christian than to walk in the ways of the Lord, to think nothing, to undertake nothing, at variance with His will? In order that the faithful may adopt this rule of life, and adhere to it with greater fidelity, (the pastor) should borrow from Scripture examples of individuals, who, by not referring their views to the will of God, have failed in all their undertakings.
Resignation To God’s Will
Finally, the faithful are to be admonished to acquiesce in the simple and absolute will of God. Let him, who thinks that he occupies a place in society inferior to his deserts, bear his lot with patient resignation; let him not abandon his proper sphere, but abide in the vocation to which he has been called. Let him subject his own judgment to the will of God, who provides better for our interests than we can even desire ourselves. If troubled by poverty, by sickness, by persecution, or afflictions and anxieties of any sort, let us be convinced that none of these things can happen to us without the permission of God, who is the supreme Arbiter of all things. We should, therefore, not suffer our minds to be too much disturbed by them, but bear up against them with fortitude, having always on our lips the words: The will of the Lord be done; and also those of holy Job, As it hath pleased the Lord, so it is done: blessed be the name of the Lord.