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September 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – What does it mean to “accept God’s will”? Every time we pray the Our Father, we ask for God’s will to “be done.” It’s easy to accept God’s will when things are going our way, but what about when they’re not? In St. Alphonsus Liguori’s book, Uniformity With God’s Will, St. Alphonsus explains this concept as follows:
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 for 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.”
How can we “embrace the will of God” during times of adversity? Our current circumstances present many opportunities for sanctification and submission to the will of God. In addition to the pandemic, there is also considerable economic uncertainty, civil unrest, and loss of liberty and freedoms. We can gain a practical understanding of submission to the will of God by learning from the lives of the saints. We have a rare, and rather vivid, glimpse of how St. Thomas More responded to a time of grave economic crisis during his life.
According to “A Thomas More Source Book,” by Gerard Wegemer and Stephen Smith, More wrote a letter to his wife, Lady Alice, after a fire destroyed all of More’s barns, part of his home, and several of his neighbors’ barns as well. The loss was so significant that More indicates in the letter that he might even have to sell his estate. More had been accompanying the King when this occurred, so Lady Alice had to send her son-in-law, Giles Heron, to inform her husband. More wrote this letter while Heron was waiting. As explained in “A Thomas More Source Book,” “[g]iven the spontaneity of its composition, this letter has special value in revealing More’s true character when faced with a crippling loss.” Additionally, More wrote this letter the month before he was appointed Lord Chancellor – and the fire occurred just after the harvest at More’s estate had been completed. This harvest was very much anticipated as there had been a severe famine the year before. The famine was so bad that More had been feeding one hundred people a day at his home. Here is the letter:
3 September 1529
Lady Alice, in my most hearty way, I commend me to you.
And as I am informed by our son Heron of the loss of our barns and our neighbors’ also with all the corn that was in them, except if it were not God’s pleasure, it would be a great pity that so much good corn was lost. Yet since it has pleased him to send us such a chance, we must, and are bound, not only to be content, but also to be glad of his visitation. He sent us all that we have lost, and since he has by such a chance taken it away again, his pleasure be fulfilled; let us never grudge at it, but take it in good worth, and heartily thank him as well for adversity as for prosperity.
And perhaps we have more cause to thank him for our loss than for our winning, for his wisdom better sees what is good for us than we do ourselves. Therefore, I pray you, be of good cheer and take all the household with you to church; and there thank God both for what he has given us, and for what he has taken from us, and for what he has left us, which if it please him, he can increase when he will, and if it please him to leave us yet less, at his pleasure so be it.
I pray you to make some good inquiry into what my poor neighbors have lost, and bid them take no thought of it for, even if I should not leave myself a spoon, there shall be no poor neighbor of mine who bears any loss because of an accident that happened in my house.
I pray you, be merry in God with my children and your household, and consider with your friends what way would be the best to make provision for corn for our household, and for seed this year coming. If you think it good that we keep the land still in our hands or not, yet I think it would not be best, whether you think it good that we shall do so or not, suddenly thus to give it all up and to put away our folk off our farm till we have advised ourselves somewhat on that; however, if we have more servants now than you shall need, and who can get themselves other masters, you may then discharge them, but I would not that any man were suddenly sent away he knows not where.
At my coming here, I thought it necessary that I should remain with the King’s Grace, but now I shall, I think, because of this accident get leave this next week to come home and see you, and then we shall further consider together all things about what steps shall be best to take.
And thus, as heartfelt as you can wish, farewell to you with all our children. At Woodstock the third day of September by the hand of
Your loving husband,
Thomas More, Knight
St. Thomas More lost a considerable amount of wealth, yet he immediately (and nearly perfectly) submitted to the will of God. He actually thanked God for the adversity. He told his wife to take the household to church – to thank God for what he has given, what he has taken, and what he has left them. St. Thomas More recognized God’s infinite wisdom and realized that God “better sees what is good for us than we do ourselves.” More shows love and concern not only for his family, but for his neighbors affected by the fire. Ultimately, as we know, More gave his life for the Church and died a martyr. Despite his prominence and material wealth, he was detached from the world. He was “in the world, but not of the world.”
St. Alphonsus also teaches that a soul that is well-grounded in virtue and resigned to God’s will responds to sickness in a unique way:
Sickness is the acid test of spirituality, because it discloses whether our virtue is real or sham. If the soul is not agitated, does not break out in lamentations, is not feverishly restless in seeking a cure, but instead is submissive to the doctors and to superiors, is serene and tranquil, completely resigned to God’s will, it is a sign that that soul is well-grounded in virtue.
We are called to be perfect like our Heavenly Father. As St. Alphonsus teaches, “Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God . . . and perfect love of God means complete union of our will with God’s.” Living in this way will not only help us increase our holiness, but it will also help us enjoy “perpetual serenity” in this life, according to St. Alphonsus:
Acting according to this pattern, one not only becomes holy but also enjoys perpetual serenity in this life. Alphonsus the Great, King of Aragon, being asked one day whom he considered the happiest person in the world, answered: “He who abandons himself to the will of God and accepts all things, prosperous and adverse, as coming from his hands.'' “To those that love God, all things work together unto good.” Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God. Afflictions do not mar their serenity, because by accepting misfortune, they know they give pleasure to their beloved Lord.
Therefore, as we work to remedy the many problems in our nation and in our communities, let us aim to do so with a perfect surrender to the will of God. Let us remember to praise Him in times of adversity as well as prosperity.
Paul M. Jonna is a partner with LiMandri & Jonna LLP, a civil litigation practice based in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, and Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society. Mr. Jonna handles high profile constitutional litigation, defending religious liberty and First Amendment rights, including current cases representing Pastor John MacArthur, David Daleiden, Cathy Miller of Tastries Bakery, Stephen Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful, and Timothy Gordon, among many others.