Photo: Felix Carroll
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Dec 28, 2009)
A woman named Alexa was bewildered about something in the Diary of St. Faustina, so she wrote to me:
I am confused with the saying of Jesus [in Diary entry 586]: "Fear nothing, I am always with you. And know this, too, My daughter: all creatures, whether they know it or not, and whether they want to or not, always fulfill My will." I am particularly confused by the last sentence: So is God's will always fulfilled on us creatures, whether we know it or not?
Well, Alexa, that is indeed what Jesus said to St. Faustina. But it might help to know that the phrase "God's will" can mean more than one thing. It has several meanings, and in one sense we know that God's will is not always done, simply because we do not always do it! Sometimes we sin and rebel against His will. Jesus also taught us to pray: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done," which certainly implies that His Father's will is not always done at every moment (otherwise, why would we need to pray that it might be done).
There is a deep mystery here. Let's do the best we can to explore it.
On the one hand there is what the theologians call God's "antecedent" or "absolute" will. This means the full attainment of His loving purposes for all created things. Saint Paul alludes to this in Ephesians 1:9-10: "For He has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth." God's antecedent will is obviously not fully accomplished, because some of His creatures (both angels and human beings) misuse the freewill He gave to them, and reject the loving plan that He had originally laid out for them.
This brings us to the second and third meanings of the phrase "God's will."
First, His "moral" will or commandments. Again, God's moral will is obviously not always done. As a result, God's "consequent will" (in the light of the rebellion against His will by the fallen angels and by human beings) is to defeat Satan and the demons in the end. In the meantime, He sends His Son to earth to redeem us on the Cross from our moral debt due to God for our sins and to merit for us by His perfect life and death all the sanctifying graces that we need to overcome the power of sin in our hearts and to prepare us for everlasting life with Him in heaven.
In a sense, then, God's "consequent will" is fully done when human beings freely respond to and cooperate with His grace: when they repent, are converted, and live out their faith in works of loving service, on the road to heaven. But God's consequent will, in this sense, is not always done either, because some people refuse to repent and cooperate with the merciful love of Jesus Christ. Some remain cold-hearted to the bitter end and are lost forever by their own choice.
What, then, could Jesus have meant by telling St. Faustina that "all creatures, whether they know it or not, and whether they want to or not, always fulfill My will"? I think He was referring to God's will in a fourth and final sense: what theologians sometimes call God's "permissive will," or His "providential will." God certainly does not want to see His antecedent and consequent will obstructed or rejected by his creatures. But it is not as if the world is "out of control" and God doesn't have a "plan B" just because His "plan A" will is not always done! In fact, He would never permit any evils to occur in His world unless it were possible for Him to bring good out of them — sometimes a greater good than if He had not permitted those evils to happen in the first place.
Think of God as the greatest chess player of all time: No matter what move we may choose to make, He always knows how to respond in such a way that will bring about His ultimate plan to rescue as many of His children as possible from eternal loss. For example, it was not God's will (antecedent, moral, or consequent) that Judas betray Jesus. But He foresaw it and permitted it and used it as part of His providential plan to bring about the salvation of the whole world (and, of course, He permitted it even out of His love for Judas, giving him the dignity to choose his own destiny). The same is true of so many evils, misfortunes, and sufferings that befall us. We cannot always see why God permits them, but we can know by faith that He would never do so unless it was possible for Him (often with our cooperation) to bring good out of them — maybe even a good purpose that we could never have imagined before hand!
When Jesus was crucified, the apostles never dreamed that Jesus had thereby redeemed the whole world from sin. They were dejected and downcast and huddled together behind the locked doors of the cenacle, wondering what would befall them next. It was only later, after the Resurrection, that they came to appreciate that all this was part of God's permissive will to rescue mankind from sin, Satan, and death. In this sense, God's permissive and providential will is always done, and always leads to the fulfillment of His loving plan. I think this is what Jesus was referring to in that quote from the Diary that perplexed you, Alexa.
In fact, the Diary of St. Faustina is full to overflowing with her reflections and prayers about these various forms of the will of God. On the one hand, she dedicated herself to actively carrying out the moral will of God in every aspect of her life:
In spite of the profound peace my soul is enjoying, I am struggling continuously, and it is often a hard-fought battle for me to walk faithfully along my path; that is, the path which the Lord Jesus wants me to follow. And my path is to be faithful to the will of God in all things and at all times, especially by being faithful to inner inspirations in order to be a receptive instrument in God's hands for the carrying out of the work of His fathomless mercy.... Before each important action, I will stop to consider for a moment what relationship it has to eternal life and what may be the main reason for my undertaking it: is it for the glory of God, or for the good of my own soul, or for the good of the souls of others? If my heart says yes, then I will not swerve from carrying out the given action (Diary, 1173 and 1549).
On the other hand, fairly early in her Diary, one of her confessors tells St. Faustina that simply "doing" God's will, either in the sense of obeying His external commandments or of following His interior inspirations, is only the first and second degree of accomplishing the will of God. "In the third degree," he told her, "the soul abandoned to the will of God, allows Him to dispose of it freely, and God does with it as He pleases, and it is a docile tool in His hands" (444). Saint Faustina came to realize that this surrender to God's permissive and providential will was by far the hardest of the three degrees to attain:
There are times when He Himself allows terrible sufferings, and then again there are times when He does not let me suffer and removes everything that might afflict my soul. These are His ways, unfathomable and incomprehensible to us. It is for us to submit ourselves completely to His holy will. These are mysteries that the human mind will never fathom here on earth; eternity will reveal them (1656).
What brought St. Faustina comfort, light, and strength whenever she just had to "close her eyes," so to speak, and trust in God's permissive will, was her faith that Jesus is Divine Mercy Himself, and must be working out His loving plan, His "providential will," in all that He permitted her to suffer:
Today the Lord Jesus is giving me an awareness of Himself and of His most tender love and care for me. He is bringing me to understand deeply how everything depends on His will, and how He allows certain difficulties precisely for our merit, so that our fidelity might be clearly manifest. And through this, I have been given strength for suffering and self-denial. ... I want to live in the spirit of faith. I accept everything that comes my way as given me by the loving will of God, who sincerely desires my happiness. And so I will accept with submission and gratitude everything that God sends me. I pay no attention to the voice of nature and the promptings of self-love. ... Jesus gave me to know that even the smallest thing does not happen on earth without His will. After having seen this, my soul entered into an unusual repose; I found myself completely at peace as to the work [of mercy] in its full extent. God can deal with me as He pleases, and I will bless Him for everything (1409, 1549, and 1262).
Alexa, when you have the chance, read St. Faustina's wonderful "Act of Oblation" in her Diary, entry 1264, which she calls "an act of total abandonment to the will of God, which is for me, love and mercy itself." Here St. Faustina surrenders her own will to both the moral and providential will of the Lord in a way that encompasses every aspect of her life. It is a matchless expression of what living out the words of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done," really means. And then, who can forget her beautiful prayer from entry 950, which is customary to recite now after every Divine Mercy Chaplet, and sums up her trustful surrender to the will of God so well:
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless, ands the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us, and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.