“Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. . . . If you loved me you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the father is greater than I. I have told you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe. . . . but the world must recognize that I love the Father and that I act just as the Father commanded.”
John 14:27-9, 31
In the Fundamental Principles we read:
Stand ready to answer God
when He asks you
if you are available for Him
to become more present in your life
and through you to the world
may you willing respond:
Let what you have said be done to me!
What is involved in such a stance? How do we live in such a state of readiness to hear and respond to God’s will and call for us? To think about standing ready and being vigilant is to imagine being in a state of tension. Being “attentive” is related in its very root to being “tense.” We picture a military person standing at attention and note that his or her whole body is tense. To stand before a senior officer is to be at his or her beck and call. It is to experience one’s life as being determined by the will, and even whim, of the superior. Such a stance is inherently anxious and tense for us, for our own well-being depends on our understanding and carrying out the will of the other. This raises our innate anxiety about our own being to a high level, for if we don’t understand the will of the other and do it adequately, all will not be well with us.
Yet, Jesus promises us a peace that nothing in the world can give us, a peace that lies in standing ready and letting what God says be done to us out of love. We can bend our will to that of another out of fear and anxiety, but we can only abandon our will out of love. We stand ready to be moved by God’s will because doing so is our destiny; it is life to the full for us; it is the only way of peace.
Pope Francis has told us that following his election to the Papacy he went aside by himself to pray. As he did so, he experienced a depth of peace the like of which he had never before known and which has never left him. To be asked to take on such a responsibility at this age and in such a critical time for the Church had to be a potential source of great anxiety. And yet, Francis recounts that at this moment he experienced instead a most profound experience of God’s love for him. Love begets love. So, Francis receives and accepts this call as the manifestation of God’s love for him and his way of manifesting that love through his life.
“But the world must recognize that I love the Father and that I act just as the Father has commanded.” Where there is love, there is no fear and anxiety. These are exclusive dispositions of heart. If I “stand ready” in fear of the one calling, then I am anxious. If I “stand ready” in love of the one calling, then I am at peace. When we love what we do and the one for whom we are doing it, we are filled with peace and joy. It is a pleasure to do for one we love. We can never do enough.
This was brought home to me many years ago when I asked a friend who was visiting and who had begun to work in the office underneath a confrere’s bedroom very early in the morning to wait until he had awakened. Later that day she said to me: “I thought you had asked me to do that because you were afraid of him. Now I see you did it because you love him.” When we attend and act out of fear, we shall always be anxious because we are dependent on success, on a good result. When we attend and respond out of love, we are at peace, because it is the gift of the act itself which matters, not its result. To act out of love is to act for no other reason whatsoever.
In Chapter 15:9 of John’s gospel, Jesus tells us to “remain in my love.” Anxiety occurs in us when we forget the love of God, when we cease gazing on the beloved and instead turn our gaze on ourselves. At such times our “attention” to one whom we fear, who is forcing our submission, is torn between the demand of the the one we fear and anxiety for our own being. Niccolo Macchiavelli famously wrote that “it is much safer to be feared than loved.” The reason he gives for this, however, is worth considering. “…love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” Macchiavelli accurately describes the “fickle” nature of human love. There is always about it an element of self-interest. He says that we are prone to break the obligations of love at any opportunity when it is in our self-interest to do so, while fear endures. Thus it is that Jesus calls on us to “remain” in his love. We shall learn by working at remaining in God’s love the true nature of that love for us and for the world. We shall learn, by little and by little, that our true “self-interest” is never different from the summons of God’s love. Thus, we shall begin to experience the peace born of the steadfastness of Divine love.
If we are “standing ready” in love for God’s direction and call, the content of that call is a matter of indifference to us. All we desire is to do what God wants of us. Our own self-interest, ambition, fearfulness, and anxiety have ceased to play a part because “our eyes are on the Lord until he shows us his mercy.” (Psalm 123:2) For most of us, we shall never live totally without anxiety and constantly remaining in God’s love. Yet, what we can do is turn our gaze when we realize we are getting lost in ourselves and our own fears. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains from whence shall come my help? (Psalm 121:1) Jesus tells the disciples that if they loved him, they would be glad and not anxious about his departure. The eyes of love quite often see life and the world quite differently from the eyes of fear. As we try to heed the call to “stand ready,” may we do so looking out at the world not in fear and anxiety, but in love.
It is very difficult to put into exact words this highest indifference of the human will, which is thus reduced to God’s will and has perished in it. It seems to me that we must not say that it acquiesces in God’s will, since acquiescence is an act of the soul declaring its assent. We must not say that it accepts or receives, because to accept and to receive are actions that to a certain extent might be called “passive actions” by which we embrace and take what happens to us. Nor must we say that it permits, since permission is an act of the will, and hence a kind of inert willing. It does not actually will to do a thing, but still it wills to let it be done.
Rather, it seems to me that the soul that is in this state of indifference and wills nothing, but leaves it to God to will what is pleasing to God, must be said to have its will in a simple and general state of waiting. To wait is neither to do nor to act, but only to remain subject to some event. If you will examine the matter, this waiting on the part of the soul is truly voluntary.
Nevertheless, it is not an action but rather a simple disposition to receive whatever shall happen. As soon as the events take place and are received, the waiting changes into consent or acquiescence. But before they occur, the soul is truly in a state of simple waiting, indifferent to all that the divine will is pleased to ordain.
St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Book IX, trans. John K. Ryan