First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will” we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews 10: 8-10
Mary said, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it happen to me as you say.”
Luke 1: 38
The life of Jesus, as presented in Luke’s gospel, is framed by profound and total expressions of obedience to God’s will. Today, on the celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation, we read of the extraordinary act of faith by Mary that makes possible our very salvation, redemption, and, as Hebrews puts it, “consecration.” In Chapter 22 (v. 42) of Luke we shall hear Jesus pray in the garden “Father, if you will it, take away this cup from me. Nevertheless, let not my will but yours be done.” Jesus takes flesh through Mary’s willing and absolute obedience to the God’s will as mediated by the angel Gabriel. Humanity is freed from sin and death and given life in God by Jesus’ reversal of our original sin. Where we primordially chose our own will, he freely chooses to abandon his will for that of the Father.
At the very core of his instruction on prayer to his disciples, Jesus teaches them to say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To pray in sincerity and truth is to ask, moment to moment, what is God’s will? What is required of us to live out God’s will and to be an instrument in the world of God’s loving will, of God’s peace?
One of the most basic misunderstandings I have when thinking of submitting my will to God’s, as Mary did, is to think of such moments as extraordinary ones. It is to think that the “fundamental option” of life orientation will happen at a moment of visitation like Mary, or in extremis, like Jesus in the garden. But Jesus has taught us to pray constantly that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. The other day the daily reflection of the spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran was based on the following quote from the late author and literary critic Norman Cousins:
Just as there is no loss of basic energy in the universe, so no thought or action is without its effects, present or ultimate, seen or unseen, felt or unfelt.
Is it true that no thought, or word, or action of ours is without its effects in the universe? How I choose to spend my leisure time, what I choose to think about, how I choose to do my work, to speak of others, direct my love all affect the life and well-being of our world. If, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, there is one impulse of grace for every moment of time, then every moment is a moment of annunciation, visitation, encounter and call. “Not my will but yours be done.”
If we wait for the moment of annunciation, it is likely that we’ll choose wrongly when it comes. From the first moment of each day, we are called to attend to God’s will for that moment. A moment squandered in laziness or self-indulgence is a moment where we have chosen our will over God’s. It is a moment where our thoughts and actions will fail to have the effects on the universe that God intends. This may sound like a recipe for a tense and anxious life. Yet, it is rather the opposite. When we “will one thing” our life becomes simple and joyful. To forget ourselves and to do whatever we do for love allows us, as St. Paul says, to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things” (1 Cor. 13: 7).
Yet, while a life devoted in its every aspect to God’s will is a simple life, it is not an easy one. To appraise God’s will in the moment and to tend to God’s will where it differs from our own takes a lifetime of practice. It well may be that it was by pondering personal experience that the Church came to believe that Mary was born without sin. As a young woman, she was able to offer to God’s will her entire life. She was able to say “Let it happen to me as you say.” For most of us, even after the experience of many years, we realize how difficult it is in the moment to give over our own wills in love to God. We realize our “original” and perhaps continual and perpetuating sin is in our preference for our own self-centered will over God’s. It is what seems a “built in” preference of our imaginary life of God’s reality.
Real love does not come easily to us. What truly matters for us, however, is to keep doing what we can. It is to keep trying and, when we are overcome yet again by our own selfishness and laziness, to always return in humility and truth to the mercy of God. The evil and negative energy in the world is not only the result of the “evildoers” who are other than us. The world is as it is, in so many respects other than God would have it, because of the “ordinary sinfulness” of all of us. Yet, the mercy and forgiveness of God is a reminder that the universe is ever forgiving and resilient. When we awaken to our personal selfishness and willfulness, and seek God’s forgiveness, we are, at least in the moment, once again available and willing to serve God’s loving and merciful will for creation.
But how will she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love.
Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love of you other than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love. I desire to suffer for love and even to rejoice through love; and in this way I shall strew flowers before Your throne. I shall not come upon one without unpetalling it for You. While I am strewing my flowers, I shall sing, for could one cry while doing such a joyous action? I shall sing even when I must gather my flowers in the midst of thorns, and my song will be all the more melodious in proportion to the length and sharpness of the thorns.
O Jesus, of what use will my flowers be to You? Ah! I know very well that this fragrant shower, these fragile, worthless petals, these songs of love from the littlest of hearts will charm You. Yes, these nothings will please You. They will bring a smile to the Church Triumphant. She will gather up my flowers unpetalled through love and have them pass through Your own divine hands. O Jesus. And this Church in heaven, desirous of playing with her little child, will cast these flowers, which are now infinitely valuable because of Your divine touch, upon the Church Suffering in order to extinguish its flames and upon the Church Militant in order to gain the victory for it.
St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, Chapter IX