Reflection for the Ascension of the Lord (Cycle C)
To enter heaven, not my will, but the Spirit’s will be done.
The ultimate lesson we may ever learn towards the end of our earthly lives as servants of God’s kingdom of justice and peace, is that we may or may never achieve what we had planned to accomplish for him.
Justice and peace, for all its necessity for the contemporary human condition, may be a cause that will continue to be elusive for our generation as well as the next. In a culture that typically celebrates “the triumph of the human spirit” over seemingly insurmountable adversities, we may often find ourselves questioning a God who is allowing “failure” in what we have committed to do “for his greater glory.”
In a culture that typically boasts about “the triumph of the human spirit,” it is difficult to underestimate the abilities of humanity to pro-actively struggle against obstacles to its desires and wishes.
How many times have we seen zealous ministers of the Church, spending almost half their time in parish or community activities, only to find themselves eventually disgruntled and confused, because they could not “convert as many souls” as they would want to? How many times have we prayed for our Lord’s “lost sheep,” only to discover that many of them are still choosing to remain “lost?” How many times have we donated for charitable causes, and even on some occasions, helped to distribute the donations ourselves, only to realize that the donees are still disappointed, because they think or feel “we have not given enough?” How many times have we heard of ambitious programs of “social transformation,” or lofty new approaches to “spiritual renewal,” only to witness an indifferent and irresponsible society still unwilling to change? Not a few of us will surely exclaim in frustration, “life is so unfair!”
It seems unfortunate that in our eagerness to control our destiny, to obtain or bestow what we want, and to do our will “in his name,” we may end up believing that God has and should have nothing to do with the fate of our faith. It is now a conflict between our will … and his will.
But St. Francis de Sales once remarked, “The trouble with us is that we want to serve God in our own way and not in His, and according to our own will, not His. When He permits that we be ill, we want to be well; when He wills that we serve Him in sufferings, we desire to serve Him with works; when He wants us to exercise charity, we want to exercise humility; when He wants resignation from us, we want devotion, piety or some other virtue. And this, not because the things we want are more pleasing to Him, but because they give us greater satisfaction. This undoubtedly, is the greatest impediment to our perfection, because if we want to become saints, according to our will, we will never become saints. In order really to become a saint, it is best to do so according to God’s will.”
God has and should have everything to do with the fate of our faith. He is its Master, not us. Though he gifted us with the intellect and free will to make conscious decisions about how we wish to live our lives, and about how we intend to serve him through his Church, he is always making it very clear to us that he will never make us proud of and conceited about what we accomplish by those decisions. It is not that we are being asked to be frivolous or careless in reaching for our goals, but we should be detached from the success that can lead to an inordinate self-love.
Every decision has an uncomfortable level of uncertainty, which can “make or break” its success. When we succeed, we claim the credit; when we fail, we blame others or even God. We rarely associate a “good decision” to a conscious combination of our efforts working on the certainty, and of our trust in God to take care of the uncertainty. The presence of uncertainty seems to be a way of reminding us that God very much exists, and that he will accompany us in the brightness or dimness of our choices … only if we can have faith in his will. The presence of uncertainty also seems to be a way of God to tell us that our love for him is of far greater importance than our love for the work we do for him. Every success and failure of every servant of God has a place of significance in the inevitability of the divine design; the only decision that we have to make, which has the fullest certainty of a favorable outcome, is the decision to “take up our cross and follow him.”
Success on the other hand, which belongs only to God, must lead to an even greater love for him, and to a more respectful acceptance of his will for us. A total surrender to the divine will then impels us to do only that which will make us and others better for his sake, and not to do that which will make us better only for our sake. When we can eventually understand that God actually values who we are, and who we are trying to become for him, and not only what we are doing for him, then we are prepared to unite our will to his, not only in this life, but also in the next. When we can finally learn to just simply allow his will to be done, and not ours, then we are definitely prepared to enter the eternity of heaven.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.