The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
January 15, 2017
There’s a story that has been told by some that, during the Civil War, a group of ministers had invited Abraham Lincoln to join them at a prayer breakfast. Of course the realities of the war were weighing on everyone’s minds, and so it happened during the course of the event that one of the ministers purportedly said to him, “Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side.” The President was silent for a moment...perhaps to think, perhaps caught up in the seriousness of the situation, perhaps even to pray...but then, breaking his silence, he said candidly, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side...my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”
Whether or not this conversation actually took place is neither here nor there, but it certainly puts into words one of the great struggles that does plague the human soul: how do we know if we’re actually serving God or really just serving ourselves? How do we know if we’re on “God’s side” as opposed to just setting up a side of our own? How do we know if what we will is truly what God wills? The temptation for us here, as people of faith, is to spend our whole lives trying to figure out what’s going on in the divine mind of God, trying to figure out His will as if it were some cosmic puzzle for us to put together. 99.9999% of the time this will prove to be fruitless...we will just end up frustrated and discouraged, and our spiritual lives will become stagnant as we hesitate to do anything unless we know for sure that God’s wills it: I won’t go to the seminary unless I know for sure God wants me to be a priest; I won’t marry this man unless I know for sure God’s wills it to be; I won’t go on that mission trip, or take that new job, or do anything of importance unless God makes it perfectly and abundantly clear that it’s His will. Certainly the goal of the Christian life is to place ourselves before the presence of God in radical openness and cry out as we did in our Psalm today, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will!” but how can we do what so easily evades or is unknown to us?
It was St. Augustine who, in my opinion, gave the best piece of advice to those struggling with knowing and doing the will of God. In one of his great sermons, he said: “Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and then do what you will.” It seems like a reckless thing to say, doesn’t it? It’s as if Augustine is giving permission for us to shirk the will of God and to simply run off into the sunset doing whatever we want. But far from doing this, Augustine is bringing us to understand that knowledge of God’s will doesn’t come from trying to get into His mind, but rather by allowing Him to get into our hearts. Jesus Christ boiled down the whole of God’s law to two commandments: that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Now of course there is a lot contained in these commandments – our adherence to the natural moral law, the teachings of the Church, the avoidance of sin, living a life of virtue, etc. – but what Augustine is getting at here is that if we have fulfilled these commandments, if we have loved, then it follows necessarily that we have both known and accomplished the will of God. God’s absolute and perfect will has been made known to us by means of revelation – through Holy Scripture and though Sacred Tradition – and thus if we can live our lives in accordance with these realities and thus enter into true love for God and neighbor, God’s will for us – a will that ultimately is ordered towards our salvation – has been accomplished. And it is from this, and only from this, that Augustine can tell us, “and then do what you will.” Think of the amazing freedom we have here: so long as our lives are conformed to these two commandments and all they contain, you and I are radically free to choose how we will live! Thus discerning God’s will has less to do with trying to figure out His plan, and more about figuring out whether we are truly living in the freedom that comes from loving Him. And that’s where the real work of the Christian life is to be found: getting very serious about true and real love.
God created us in freedom and He created us with a will that is free, and His permissive will allows us to exercise this freedom for good or for evil. And He wants us to exercise our free will to grow closer to Him, to love and know what is true, and good, and beautiful...but He doesn’t want us to do so according to some master plan He’s mapped out that we’ve somehow figured out. He wants us to be radically free, and as long as we have truly loved Him and our neighbor, we can indeed do whatever else we will. We can climb Mt. Everest, open a business, become a priest, marry the person of our dreams, and on and on and on. “Let the root of love be in you,” Augustine goes on to say, “nothing can spring from it but good.”
God cares about every second of your life, and every little detail of it. And He knows perfectly and absolutely the best way for you to spend every moment. His particular plan for you, the only plan He has, is that you will take every moment as an opportunity to love Him and your neighbor as fully as possible. The best decisions in life for us, the right way to go, fulfilling God’s plan for us, will always be those things that lead us to deeper and greater love. That’s where the work of discernment takes place...and this is how we know if we’re doing the will of God. Let us pray at this Holy Mass for the grace to see how very free we are and then for the strength to use this freedom to become one of will with our good God.