Thursday, September 6, 2012

All The Way to Heaven

‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Two things are immediately clear from the words of this petition: God has a will for us and it must become the measure of our willing and being; and the essence of ‘heaven’ is that it is where God’s will is unswervingly done. Or to put it is somewhat different terms, where God’s will is done is heaven. The essence of heaven is oneness with God’s will, the oneness of will and truth. Earth becomes ‘heaven’ when and insofar as God’s will is done there; and it is merely ‘earth’, the opposite of heaven, when and insofar as it withdraws from the will of God. This is why we pray that it may be on earth as it is in heaven—that earth may become ‘heaven’.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 147-8

Reflection – When I grew up (in those-lo!-distant days of the 1980s) it was assumed, in Catholic circles at least, that God had a plan for our lives and that the faithful response of the Christian was to find out God’s plan and do it. This was simply understood, not argued for, and it was equally understood that to discern and do the will of God was a good thing. I’m not claiming that God’s will got done all that much (it was the 1980s, after all), but the theory was still in place, anyhow. Sartre and Nietzsche had few takers in the Catholic world of Glengarry County.

I will never forget, then, the first time I was presented with a young Catholic who just did not see and would not accept the idea of God having a plan for his life. It wasn’t a question of God having a plan and him struggling to know or obey it; he flatly denied that God had such a thing or that it would have anything to do with him if He did.

I don’t know if this is widespread, but it did get me thinking. Of course, the missing piece for this young man was the love of the Father. If we don’t know, at least a little bit, that God is truly a loving Father, that we are truly beloved of Him, then the notion of His overriding will being the ‘measure of our willing and being’ is frightening at best, repulsive at worst. Why should someone else’s will determine my life, after all?

This petition of the Our Father then opens up for us a very deep reflection into the nature of God and the nature of mankind. Heaven is to do the will of the Father. ‘Earth’ only exists as a distinct place, a distinct mode of being apart from heaven, insofar as it withdraws from the Father’s will.

And the will of the Father is heaven—it is bliss, peace, joy, delight, happiness. This takes a great act of faith on our part. Of course in the world as it is, broken by sin and filled with conflict and confusion, to do the will of the Father means, often, to accept pain, sacrifice, renunciations, arduous labour. It takes faith to say, with Catherine of Siena, that ‘all the way to heaven is heaven.’

But we really do have to take hold of that and make that little saying our own, best as we can. My life is to do the will of my Father in heaven. Your life today is to do what your Father in heaven desires you to do. And this will today is not some cipher, some deep enigma. It is love, service, prayer, generosity, faithfulness to the duty of the moment today done with as much joy and enthusiasm as you can muster up with His help and grace. It’s not complicated… and not easy.

But it is thus that we make earth into heaven, that heaven comes down to earth now, today, in your life and mine. It is thus that Christ’s life is made one with our life today—He came to do ‘not his will but the will of the one who sent him’ (John 5:30), and this is what He would have us do today, so that His kingdom come and all be set right in that kingdom.

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