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Supernatural Will Power: A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson | IgnatiusInsight.com

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We Americans admire people with strong will power. We talk with respect about those special people who have "the will to succeed" and we often hear the optimistic saying: "Where there’s a will, there’s a way."

It’s not that the will is bad, of course. We all have a will, given to us by God. It is that faculty by which we choose a course of action and make decisions. As we all know from experience, the will can choose good or it can choose evil. And not only can we will to sin, we can completely forget–or ignore, as is usually the case–that our will is not the most important one in existence.

Which is one reason the third petition of the Our Father–"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"–is so helpful during Lent, a time that continually challenges us to choose between the perfect will of the Father and our imperfect will.

It’s not by coincidence that Lent begins with a cross on Ash Wednesday and leads to the Cross of Good Friday. The cross is all about the will. Not about a will to succeed, or about exerting our own will power, but of surrendering our will to the Father. After all, no one gets up on a cross because they feel like it. No, they have to willfully choose to do so.

Jesus is the perfect model of the surrender and trust required; He epitomizes the humility demanded. Although the Son "existed in the form of God," Paul explains in his epistle to the Philippians, "he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." Instead, he "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

At the beginning of his ministry, during His forty days in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptations of Satan. Three years later at the end of His ministry, on the evening He would be betrayed in a garden, He again rejected the temptation to turn away from the Father’s will: "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done."

What was the Father’s will for Jesus and what is it for us today? When we pray for the Father’s will to "be done on earth as it is in heaven," what exactly are we asking for? Put simply, the redemption of creation and the salvation of man. In reciting the Our Father, the Church is praying that God will bring about the final completion of His plan of salvation. The Father’s will is that "all men be saved" and "come to the knowledge of the truth."

God desires that no one should perish, but that all will know Him. This doesn’t mean that man cannot reject God, or that there is no hell. It does make clear, however, the depths of God’s love for His wayward children and the lengths He will go to in order to save them.

The immeasurably deep and wide plan of the Father has been initiated through the Son, who in turn has entrusted its message to His Body, the Church. "To carry out the will of the Father," stated the Second Vatican Council, "Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of that kingdom."

Mankind now has access to the Father, through the crucified and resurrected Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are now able to enter into God’s will and, Peter states, become "partakers of the divine nature." Heaven and earth were once separated by sin, they are now joined by the Redeemer who is both God and man.

This wondrous plan of salvation is not just for us and a select group of friends, but is meant for the entire world. St. Augustine states that we must pray that God’s will is accomplished in sinners also, not just in the saints. One way this happens, he explains, is by our prayers for our enemies. That’s a truly Lenten task: How many of us naturally desire to pray for our enemies and hope for their salvation? How many of us, by our own strength, love those who annoy, irritate, anger, and frustrate us?

Lent is a call to love; love is the heart of God and of His will. The Catechism remarks that the commandment to love one another as ourselves summarizes all the other commandments "and expresses [God’s] entire will."

To the world, the Cross is an embarrassment and a scandal. To Christians, it is love in action. The world sees a dying, bloody man; we see the Son of God with open arms, reaching out to embrace the entire world in love–"on earth as it is in heaven."

By gazing on the Cross, our Lenten journey stays on course. By contemplating the sacrifice of our Savior, we begin to comprehend the will of the Father and how to choose it. "United with Jesus and with the power of the Holy Spirit," the Catechism states, "we can surrender our will to him and decide to choose what his Son has always chosen: to do what is pleasing to the Father."

Any reflection on doing the Father’s will would be lacking without considering Mary, the Mother of God. "Let it be to me according to your word," she said in complete obedience to the Father. She knows His will; she happily accepted her vital role in His plan of salvation, a perfect model for each of us. "By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her."

C. S. Lewis once wrote, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’; and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’"

Those are the choices. We can either thrive in the Lenten desert by embracing the Father’s will, or we can destroy ourselves by pursuing mirages and dust devils. "The world is passing away, and also its lusts," the Apostle John observes, "but the one who does the will of God abides forever."

Now that is true will power.

(This article was originally published in the March 14, 2004 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

Why God is Father and Not Mother | Mark Brumley
The "End Times" Are Here! A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson
Knowing and Sanctifying His Name: A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson
Lent and "Our Father": The Path of Prayer | Carl E. Olson
Seeking Deep Conversion | From Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
"Lord, teach us to pray" | From Earthen Vessels | Gabriel Bunge, O.S.B.
Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John | Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Encountering Christ in the Gospel | Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL

Carl E. Olson
is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.

He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers.

He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


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