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The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God’s will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God. St. John of Avila used to say: “One ‘Blessed be God’ in times of adversity, is worth more than a thousand acts of gratitude in times of prosperity (St. John Avil. Letters 41.). ” Furthermore, we must unite ourselves to God’s will not only in things that come to us directly from his hands, such as sickness, desolation, poverty, death of relatives, but likewise in those we suffer from man — for example, contempt, injustice, loss of reputation, loss of temporal goods and all kinds of persecution. On these occasions we must remember that whilst God does not will the sin, he does will our humiliation, our poverty, or our mortification, as the case may be. It is certain and of faith, that whatever happens, happens by the will of God: “I am the Lord forming the light and creating the darkness, making peace and creating evil ( Isaiah 45:6,7).”
From God come all things, good as well as evil. We call adversities evil; actually they are good and meritorious, when we receive them as coming from God’s hands: “Shall there be evil in a city which the Lord hath not done ( Amos 3:6)?” “Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches are from God ( Ecclesiastes 11:14).”
It is true, when one offends us unjustly, God does not will his sin, nor does he concur in the sinner’s bad will; but God does, in a general way, concur in the material action by which such a one strikes us, robs us or does us an injury, so that God certainly wills the offense we suffer and it comes to us from his hands. Thus the Lord told David he would be the author of those things he would suffer at the hands of Absalom: “I will raise up evils against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy face and give them to thy neighbor ( 2 Kings 12:11).”
Hence too God told the Jews that in punishment for their sins, he would send the Assyrians to plunder them and spread destruction among them: “The Assyrian is the rod and staff of my anger . . . I will send him to take away the spoils ( Isaiah 10:5,6).” “Assyrian wickedness served as God’s scourge for the Hebrews (St. Aug. in Psalm 73)” is St. Augustine’s comment on this text. And our Lord himself told St. Peter that his sacred passion came not so much from man as from his Father: “The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it (St. John 18:11)?”
When the messenger came to announce to Job that the Sabeans had plundered his goods and slain his children, he said: “The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away ( Job. 1:21).” He did not say: “The Lord hath given me my children and my possessions, and the Sabeans have taken them away.”
We must not therefore consider the afflictions that come upon us as happening by chance or solely from the malice of men; we should be convinced that what happens, happens by the will of God. Apropos of this it is related that two martyrs, Epictetus and Atho, being put to the torture by having their bodies raked with iron hooks and burnt with flaming torches, kept repeating: “Work thy will upon us, O Lord.” Arrived at the place of execution, they exclaimed: “Eternal God, be thou blessed in that thy will has been entirely accomplished in us (ML (Vitae Patrum) 73-402, etc.).”
Cesarius points up what we have been saying by offering this incident in the life of a certain monk: Externally his religious observance was the same as that of the other monks, but he had attained such sanctity that the mere touch of his garments healed the sick. Marveling at these deeds, since his life was no more exemplary than the lives of the other monks, the superior asked him one day what was the cause of these miracles.
He replied that he too was mystified and was at a loss how to account for such happenings. “What devotions do you practice?” asked the abbot. He answered that there was little or nothing special that he did beyond making a great deal of willing only what God willed, and that God had given him the grace of abandoning his will totally to the will of God. “Prosperity does not lift me up, nor adversity cast me down,” added the monk. “I direct all my prayers to the end that God’s will may be done fully in me and by me.” “That raid that our enemies made against the monastery the other day, in which our stores were plundered, our granaries put to the torch and our cattle driven off — did not this misfortune cause you any resentment?” queried the abbot. “No, Father,” came the reply. “On the contrary, I returned thanks to God — as is my custom in such circumstances — fully persuaded that God does all things, or permits all that happens, for his glory and for our greater good; thus I am always at peace, no matter what happens.” Seeing such uniformity with the will of God, the abbot no longer wondered why the monk worked so many miracles (Caesarius: Dial. distin. 10: cap. 9.).