What follows is based on a homily I gave on March 2. The Gospel was Jesus teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. I chose to focus on the words, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
When we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” what is God’s will? Perhaps it is simply another way of trying to express God’s deep desire for us, for our good, and through us, the good of others. In this prayer we ask for a congruence between our own desires and those of God: a harmony of wills, of desiring.
A beautiful thought, but not always easy. For it seems that God’s desire for our good, and even our desire for God’s desire, does not always result in consolation. Just the opposite. Consider Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he faces the suffering that will lead to his death: “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” The ways of God as they play out in this mortal coil can be fraught, especially as we are asked to yield what is most precious, all that we have lived for and loved, all the love we have received, all that makes us ourselves: to hand it all over. The real test of these words, “thy will be done,” is how ready we are to face death, the relinquishment of all that we love.
I am afraid that this is where we will encounter our own deep resistance to God. For in the distance there stands the Cross, an emblem of death. As we grow closer to the Cross through age and suffering, it looms ever larger. We know that we have to go there ourselves one day. Our resistance to it is impossible to overcome by our own will; the only recourse is surrender, even through tears, to the sufficiency of God’s love and grace: “not my will, but yours be done.” There is something of the “Suscipe” in this prayer. The “Suscipe,” or prayer of God’s receiving, comes at the end of the Spiritual Exercises::
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
This prayer is almost incomprehensible or at best naïve if viewed as some heroic act of self-sacrifice. But it begins to make sense when seen as a reverential opening of ourselves to the uncontrollable power of divine love, inviting God to take from us, little by little—as if we were sharing—all that we are; and to receive it, to receive us. This is the other side of the agony in the garden, or where that agony leads: to an encounter with God that brings an end to agony—the God who invites us to enter into a season of ultimate intimacy. “Take, receive.” And thus, in love:, “O God, not my will, but yours be done,” “on earth as it is in heaven.”