The Mind of God is not an open book to us — the finite cannot comprehend the infinite — yet I have noticed that people (including this correspondent) sometimes speak as if it were. Having thoughtlessly omitted from our intentions the rather crucial “nevertheless, according to Thy will,” we presume to know precisely what God wants. Prudence itself, queen of the cardinal virtues, is undermined by this habit of thinking too quickly, of rushing to judgment, of jumping to conclusions.
Or to put it another way, there is no peace in us. For peace is not shallow.
“Thy will be done.” Of all the things I own, I find my will is the hardest to let go of. It provides a comforting if false confidence; it puts me in control; it masquerades as divine authority. My will is my pleasure. But what of a Will that may command my redemption through unavoidable suffering, and of a kind I feel least able to endure?
True love — for, let us say, another human being — does not show in the pleasure we take from it, except indirectly; it shows more directly in the sacrifices we are willing to make for the good of that person, even at the expense of our own pleasure. It does not come from pursuing pleasure; the pleasure comes from pursuing love.
We are discussing love here, not something cheap like “altruism,” which even the Darwinists think they can explain. In the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “I would not touch a leper for a million dollars” — but added that, for the love of God, she would gladly work in the lepers’ colony, touching and cleaning and trying to cure.
And we are discussing peace, which cannot be segregated from love.
My Easter Vigil was spoiled for me this year, in the moment just after, as I walked from the church, when I was suddenly seized by the memory of a wrong done to me, and of its huge consequences in my life. A great wall of blind, bitter resentment enclosed me, with the thought:
“My Lent goes on forever.” Worse, I was aware this thought in itself reeked of selfishness and sin, and reminded me that, by my own efforts, I only dig my hole deeper. Why would God not do something to lift a burden that I have not the strength to carry? Why does He allow evil to triumph in this world?
In other words, I was asking rhetorical questions, neither intelligent nor Christian.
On Easter Monday, I awoke to the same practical problems as before, yet mysteriously at peace with them; and more than that, a joy in being alive — an unreasonable happiness. Who knows how long this peace will last? I cannot know, because it doesn’t come from me.
I am just barely intelligent enough to answer questions like, “Why does God allow it?” with the help of my Catechism and Bible, and by suggesting a few appropriate Psalms. But this reasoning is no use in the face of real affliction. Anyone with some prolonged exposure to Catholicism will recall his irritation at being told to “offer it up” by a person who is suffering no pain. Again: Glibness is the great enemy here, and specifically the glibness that announces a confident knowledge of what God wills.
Glib remarks are not false — at least, not necessarily false — in themselves. Yes, one should “offer it up.” Yes, Macduff (in Macbeth) should “dispute it like a man,” making worldly amends for the surprise of his castle and the slaughter of his wife and children therein. There are times when “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” and in this case some effective revenge might be indicated. So, at least, Malcolm glibly reasons, in telling Macduff not to waste his time moping.
“He has no children,” Macduff observes, with savage wryness; for Shakespeare can put all the grief in the world into four passing words. And to “dispute it as a man,” Macduff replies, “I shall do so; but first I must also feel it as a man.”
The sort of peace that may ultimately arise over this world’s field of carnage is not a glib and immortally casual thing, like some modern, liturgical kiss of Judas. And the angelic grace that bears the peace, finally, into our hearts, is in itself a bottomless mystery that no human words or gestures can define. To see redemption, but not through the cross, is to see an illusion of the human will.
Our Lord is not a “smiley face,” and when He says, to Thomas for instance, “No man cometh to the Father, but by me,” He is not saying something that can be easily comprehended, although the words are plain enough. He is instead saying something that is as bottomless as the Hell that was opening at His feet.
“How can I find peace?” I have often heard asked, in the face of some very real sorrows. I do not even know how to ask for it; only that it is there.