BY ELIZABETH McKENZIE
The phrase ‘the will of God’ has been popping in and out of general conversation in recent weeks. One of the guidelines for sainthood, for example, requires a commitment to do ‘the will of God’ in one’s life.
It invariably seems to involve some form of heroic self-sacrifice. It sometimes requires a literally following of the gospel injunctions to sell everything you own and give the proceeds to the poor and/or leave your entire family, including your parents, to found a religious order devoted to alleviating the lot and saving the souls of the poverty stricken.
People who take this path to sanctity are admirable, heroic, courageous, inspiring. They are rightly presented as models to be emulated. Without their input, their ability to challenge the conscience and compassion of their fellow human beings, including influential business, political and religious leaders, many social justice reforms in health, education and civil liberties would not have seen the light of day.
It has often seemed to me that the Saints are the lucky ones. They are blessed with a certitude about their vocation and God’s will for them which enables them to tackle all obstacles in their path. Their zeal for their mission in life is so strong that suffering, even death, is a small price to pay for its accomplishment.
The problem with this model of doing ‘the will of God’ is that it doesn’t suit everyone. It is not necessarily the most suitable for the circumstances for one’s own life.
For most of us, discerning, never mind actually doing the ‘will of God’ is something of a struggle.
Following the biological imperative, getting married and having children is not seen as the optimum path to holiness. There is an unwritten, unspoken implication that if you had the grace of God about you, you would have hied yourself off to a religious nunnery or monastery or even a parish.
The marriage vows of loving, honouring and occasionally obeying one’s spouse somehow don’t carry the same clout as taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. (The irony is that married people are equally constrained by these vows. Most marrieds I know are living lives of genteel poverty, coping with mortgages, school fees, iPods for the children/grandchildren. Chastity is the bottom line of faithfulness in marriage.
As a liberated feminist, I sometimes wish I just had to do as I was told and not worry about making the ‘right decision’!) Even for those who have embraced the religious celibate life, discerning the will of God and doing is just the beginning not the end of the story.
With the benefit of age, experience, a modicum of wisdom and 20/20 hindsight, I now realise that what I decide is the will of God for me might not necessarily be God’s idea. (Well not one of His better ones!) I am now a bit more wary about presuming to know the mind of God.
Nowadays my mantra ‘not my will but Thine be done’ is accompanied by the fervent request that the ‘grace of God’ be made abundantly available in whatever situation I find myself. And now I know that the path to holiness takes some strange twists and turns regardless of one’s status as saint or sinner.
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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