Finding our path to holiness by listening to God's call
E-Column by Bishop Robert Vasa
Several weeks ago, in writing about the shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life I opined that "the shortage rests not in the number being called but only in the number responding to the invitation."
This raised the very important question of God's will. There are some who maintain that "if it is God's will" then no matter what a young man or woman does then they will end up being what God wants them to be. The obvious conclusion that one would have to draw from this kind of reasoning is that God is not calling very many young men in America to the Priesthood nor young women to Religious Life despite the great need in the Church. Some time ago in a discussion with someone defending the use of artificial contraception, I was told that "if it is God's will" then a pregnancy will occur even if the couple does not desire or intend additional children and uses artificial contraception to help ensure that a pregnancy does not occur.
While it does happen that pregnancy can occur even under these adverse conditions I would hardly describe such a couple as being positively open to God's will. Fortunately God's will is not coercive; He respects our own free will choices and He allows consequences. I read a very insightful reflection on the will of God in Slawomir Biela's book, "Open Wide the Door to Christ." I believe his views are worth considering. I will cite extensively from a couple of pages because I think what he has to say is significant.
He writes: "Even if we intellectually accept that God's will is the best, we often strive to convince not only ourselves and others, but also God Himself, that our own wants coincide with His will. Because God respects our freedom and our choices, we can impose our desires upon God and compel Him to change His holy plans." Thus, rather than God coercing us to change our plans He only graces and invites despite the fact that He knows that His will is the best for us. He knows us best and He loves us best but He still respects our freedom.
I have often questioned what happens when God's will, shall we call it His primary will, is thwarted. Mr. Biela considers this: "The Lord consents to this (the change of His holy plans) even though each modification of His will means only greater suffering for us." Parents love their children and want the best for them but when they are adults these same parents are not able to coerce their children to do that which they, as parents, know, believe or understand to be the best for their children. Parents often see that the choices made contrary to the desire they have for their children will mean greater suffering for their children and often for the parents as well. Nevertheless they recognize that they cannot restrain or constrain their adult children and passively permit them to go their own path, to follow their own will. This is comparable to God's "permissive will." He allows choices contrary to His primary will.
Mr. Biela continues his consideration making an application to Religious Life: "If, for example, someone who is called to consecrate his life to the Lord God through priesthood or religious life rejects this vocation, then God will permit this person's decision and provide another solution, another path to holiness, such as in marriage."
Clearly there is more than one path to holiness and life is not a maze with only one path which winds through to paradise. There are many paths to holiness and to heaven and God's global will is that we be saved. It is His will and plan that the path to salvation be rather direct and unencumbered but our intervening willful choices often render the straight very crooked.
According to Mr. Biela: "This path, however, will be more difficult and longer because it is not according to the initial, merciful plan of God. On this path there is a multitude of unnecessary torment, suffering and pain because God's initial plan was different, better, and gentler. Therefore, for someone who opposes God's will, the burden becomes heavier and the yoke becomes bitterer." This certainly applies to major life choices such as Marriage, Priesthood, Religious Life, but it also applies, perhaps in a more readily recognizable way, to the day-to-day minor life choices which are made throughout the course of each day. It certainly applies to every weak and sinful action which is, however slight, a rejection of God's will, a rejection of God's holy plan for us.
Fortunately, this heavier burden and bitterer yoke is not at all permanent. God is too merciful for that. The resolution, however, according to Mr. Biela, is not automatic: "The only way to improve the situation is to return as soon as possible to fulfilling God's will on this new path of life. Even if a person willingly crucified God's initial plans, His new plan can become that which is the best and the easiest. Some additional and unnecessary suffering that cannot be avoided will remain: the consequences of despising God and His will."
Once again this is perhaps more easily seen in the consequences of sin and the reward of a return to God's grace. It often happens with sin, such as missing Mass on Sunday, that one can make a good and holy confession, be restored to grace and begin again to follow the path of God's will more faithfully. When one rejects or refuses to consider God's will relative to a religious vocation one does not necessarily sin and separate oneself from God's love but one has chosen a more difficult path. At the same time one who refuses to consider the possibility of a religious vocation despite strong signs that this is God's primary plan, will only very rarely find his way back to that primary plan in the future.
Mr. Biela offers a bit of very sound advice: "Do not reject that which has been prepared for you by the One who loves you. Do not refuse the will of the One who wants to give you everything that is best - best, however, in the broader scope of your entire life. This perspective keeps in mind that which is most important."
In considering a vocation to the Priesthood or the Religious Life, in considering day to day holiness, do not reject that which has been prepared for you by the One who loves you. Do not refuse the will of the One who wants to give you everything that is best
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