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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 1 - "Thy Will Be Done"

Preface - I am going to be posting here for the next several weeks a series of studies I am doing at our parish church on Sunday mornings, and the first is an in-depth study of the Lord's Prayer using Romano Guardini's 1932 classic The Lord's Prayer (New York: Random House, 1958; republished by Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, NH - this is the English edition). When the parish embraced the idea of a weekly Bible study, I felt the need to "go back to the basics," and felt this book was a good place to start.

Romano Guardini (1885-1968) is one of the premiere theological masters of the Roman Catholic tradition, and as a theologian and philosopher, he has exerted a great deal of influence over many, including the late Pope John Paul II (then Karol Wojtyla) who actually wrote a graduate thesis in his younger years on Guardini's personalist philosophical position.  I was personally introduced to Guardini's material in a graduate Theology class at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and his orthodoxy, as well as his ability to bridge theology and philosophy, drew me to his work.  I now use it extensively in my own research.  

The material presented here is based on an outline of the chapter, which I will expound upon, much as I did when I taught this material to our parish class.  

The "Lord's Prayer," as it is often called, is a very integral part of our devotional and liturgical tradition as Anglo-Catholic Christians, and it is also viewed by the author of the text, Fr. Guardini, as a 55-word catechism.  In this series of studies on Guardini's classic text, we will be taking a phrase at a time from this essential petition, and examining it in detail for its theological richness.  The way the text is set up, Guardini felt it best when he wrote the book to start with the phrase "Thy will be done," as he calls it a "gateway phrase" to the rest of the prayer.  It is that now which we will talk about at length.

On page 4, Guardini says that we are exhorted to ask that God's will be done due to the fact it is something worth asking for.  It is precious for which we have to ask, as well as holy and salutary (meaning giving all due respect to Him of which we ask).  With that being said, it is important now to discern what God's will is, and in following pages Guardini states five things:

1. His holy intention - both for the world in general and for us in particular.
2. His eternal counsel.
3. The fruit of his wisdom.
4. The force of his stern decrees
5. The loving desire of his heart.

God's will, therefore, is the epitome of the divine glory and perfection, and our very existence is dependant on whether God's will is accomplished in our own life.  And, that leads to the evident tension which our own sinful nature ensnared us with at the time of the Fall.

On page 5, Guardini says that although the Christian prays that God's will be done, it therefore must be possible that his will may not be done.  What does that mean??  It is really quite simple - God gave humanity free will, and therefore at times human free will can come into conflict with God's will.  At this point, I want to reference a later Catholic theologian, Cardinal Jean Danielou, who in his classic 1965 text Prayer as a Political Problem (New York:  Sheed and Ward, 1965) notes on page 102 that Christianity doesn't merely consist of just "knowing" God, as any religion can have that as its objective, but rather that men know God truly.  This means discerning the will of God and following it.  As such then, Guardini continues, God's will is rightly called a "should," a probability rather than a promise.  In other words, here is what Guardini is saying - God's will is there, and it is the way God intended man to live, but the free will factor must be considered when dealing with humanity as persons in themselves.  Some things are God's will and don't require petitioning, for instance - the sun rises, the sun sets, and the natural laws of the universe are in operation because God willed them to be so - Descartes had it right when he said God is a God of science, for true scientific principle is part of God's creation.  What Guardini calls on page 6 the "character of inevitability" applies to this as well, and as far as the teaching of the Church goes, it is affirmed in the fact that what is called in metaphysics the Principle of Sufficient Reason, a dynamic principle, is formulated as saying that "every being has sufficient reason for its existence." (Clarke, W. Norris.  The One and the Many. Notre Dame, IN:  the University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. p. 21).  What that means is that God will is the sufficient reason for our existence, and God has spoken that will through two great "books:"  One is called by Fr. Norris Clarke "The Book of Nature," which has created things speaking to us directly, and the other is "The Book of Revelation," which is where God, through Scripture and the Holy Tradition of the Church's teaching (together called the Deposit of Faith, or Fidei Depositum) himself reveals to us his own inner nature and his free gifts and special plans for humanity (Clarke, p. 7).  It must be understood that Revelation perfects nature, but can only do so when this petition, "Thy Will Be Done," becomes the prayer of the heart, which is the whole premise of Guardini's point on this subject.  Also, Nature will never be opposed to Revelation (this is called philosophically the Principle of Non-Contradiction) because again, God created Nature, and it always bears evidence of his creative will.  Therefore, as Guardini notes, in the cases of the sun rising and setting, the seasons changing, etc., God's will is entrusted to the course of nature he created.  This is also affirmed in Scripture in several places, notably Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and Matthew 5;45.

However, there is a difference when it comes to higher and exalted things, and none is more higher and exalted on the earth and in God's created order than man himself - God created us in his image (Genesis 1:27) and man was given dominion by God over the earth as part of God's intended will (Genesis 1:28-30).  However, when man fell and the sting of sin infected humanity, it became a possibility that man could actually obstruct God's will.  Therefore, in order to bring God's will to fruition, it cannot come through the compelling force of nature, but rather through something that arises in man's inner being - the origin of that must be in faith and revelation, and come from the heart, and intellect, is rooted in love, and must be freely accepted by man's free will.  The only thing that can make this work is a purity of heart and willful cooperation of man.  It means man has some conditions to meet as well:

1. A recognition of truth
2. Creation of noble works
3. A just order in society, etc.

A pure and willing spirit is not guaranteed by compulsion - as Guardini notes on page 8, providence and destiny don't take the same course with man as the rising sun and falling rain, but are linked to man's active willingness.   However, on the negative, this willingness can also be threatened by indolence, self-seeking, vanity, and apathy, and if it is, man is in rebellion against God's will and can obstruct it in his own life.  The freedom of the human heart and will, therefore, are what produce the nobility of character that allows man to accept God's will.  What this means therefore, is that the human will has both positive and negative:

1.  The human will harbors good, constructive, and elevating powers.
2.  However, it can also entertain corrupting, degrading, and disruptive forces.

Due to man's Fall, he is prone to evil and his free will often counters God's will, hence making God's will in danger of contradiction.   As a principle, the higher the nature of what God wills, the more it is imperiled.  Also, the nobler something is desired by God's will, the less assurance is evident that it will be done and the more frail the divine will appears on earth.  However, God has a plan regardless, and although the desire for his redemptive love on the part of his creation appears singularly ineffective, there is a slight possibility of its fulfillment.  The paradox of the Christian, therefore, is that he knows the way of the world, and although original sin was washed away in the waters of the baptismal font, the propensity to sin makes the Christian have a realization that in his own ways he can do things that can contradict God's will, which is why the grace of salvation is constantly renewed through a spirit that is responsive to God's Holy Spirit.  God doesn't force man to conform to his will, and never has - however, there are consequences we bring on ourselves when we don't follow the will of God.   This is therefore the paradox and struggle of the Christian life.

However, the hope is very encouraging.  For one thing, the self-will of man doesn't substitute for the will of God, and due to that, it is only through divinely-sanctioned grace that the mystery of God's will can be accomplished through (not by!) man.  Therefore, the accomplishment of God's will must be granted by the same God who demands its fulfillment, and only the free will of the Christian who prays the prayer, "Thy will be done."  It is the responsibility of the Christian therefore to understand the mysterious nature of God's will, including the truth that it can only be accomplished by the gracious gift of the same God.  God's will is not sent either as a lifeless force, but rather he infuses it with his power - we are given that when the Holy Spirit indwells us.  And, the power (called the "power from on high" in Acts 1:8) is what brings the salvation of mankind (via the Gospel message of Christ's mission - see Romans 1:16) to those who choose to believe and accept it.  The glory of God and the salvation of mankind, therefore, are one in that they are the same work of the Holy Spirit.  In time, the will of God will be the standard by which mankind will be judged - in the end, in other words, God's will prevails.  Therefore, the petition "Thy will be done," has a significance in that it assures the Christian of that restoration of what God intended us to be, and by bringing our will into harmony and submission to God's, we are assured of his ultimate salvation so long as we walk in that will and don't deviate from it.  Therefore, Guardini calls this petition the "gateway" because everything else rests upon how we respond to God's will, and therefore it is the axis of this prayer.