Whose Will Be Done?
by Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
We might pray it every day, but how often do we reflect on what it means for us and the larger community?
Most of us know that it is a petition to the Father to send his Spirit so that we do his will rather than ours. It is, however, that and much more.
If Christ’s death and resurrection mean anything, they mean that everything changed at that point in time. Nothing is and nothing need be what it was. We are no longer slaves to the ways of old.
One of the “old ways” was an erroneous belief in human will. Throughout history humans have governed themselves and their groups by power, domination, and revenge, whether in politics, business, family affairs, and even marriage. Christ showed us another way, a way where the first shall be last. The devil, however, still attempts to keep us from Christ’s victory by tricking us into asserting our will and praising the will of others.
Pope Francis writes about this dangerous use of will in his new exhortation about holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate. The pope warns that new forms of two old heresies, gnosticism and pelagianism, are appearing in new forms, both of which put our will before God’s.
One example of this error is asserting a will or desire separate from biological reality and creation itself. We can see this error in “gender ideologies” that deny the body and place self-identity solely in how a person views or imagines their own identity. We could easily dismiss this error as a private eccentricity if it stopped there. However, in public settings, the workplace, and even the law, the rest of us are pressured or mandated to accept the individual’s concept of self-identity as true.
The same assertion of self-will lurks behind the ever-increasing acceptance of unethical and dangerous manipulations of human reproduction. We should discover and respect the beauty of human reproduction with an eye toward healing and assisting. Instead, people want children created on their terms, on their timetable, and with the traits that they desire. In vitro fertilization, cloning, genetic manipulation, three-parent reproduction, and surrogacy have at their roots an assertion of individual will over what is right, just, and the common good. Like gender ideology, there exists societal and legal pressure for the rest of us to accept and support these errors.
The most absurd and horrifying example of the acceptance of will over objective reality is our nation’s approach to abortion. If an unborn child is wanted, it becomes a “baby.” If the child is unwanted, inconvenient, or not perfect or perfectly timed, he or she magically becomes something not human, no matter what science and objective reason tells us.
The same problem arises at the end of life. Both the insistence on keeping someone artificially alive and assisted suicide are, at their core, the same problem. Both result from a refusal to accept God’s will manifested in the natural body. They are last attempts to have “my way” rather than God’s way.
Pope Francis often reminds us that the same type of thinking can lead to destruction of the environment. The earth is the Lord’s and we are charged to be good stewards. When, however, we manipulate creation without respect for its integrity or the impact on others we become destroyers, not stewards. This can occur not just in the acquisition and use of raw materials, but also in the development and application of all forms of technology.
Eventually, people justify their assertion of self-will with consequentialism. This occurs when someone feels that the outcome will be better than whatever harm is done in the process. Common examples include abortion, torture, the targeting of civilians in combat, unjust deportation, the disregard of legal processes. It is also used to justify and poor working conditions, unjust wages, and environmental destruction in developing countries.
Throughout history, but particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, the will of the individual transformed into the will of the nation, creating a nationalism which still threatens us today. This also is a perversion of will. States and nations are not exempt from the commands of the gospel. The pursuit of national greatness can never take precedence over compassion, the common good, or even the Beatitudes.
Finally, we must guard against unduly praising the triumph of will in others. Well-meaning Christians can act according to God’s will in their personal affairs but support, promote, and admire others who assert their will rather than God’s. We too often vote for, defend on Facebook, and give financial support to politicians, pop stars, tech leaders, and entrepreneurs solely because they “break new ground,” act as the “strongman,” or embody rugged individualism.
Our heroes should be those who strive to be saints. Saints pray and act that “thy will be done.”
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.