The Spiritual Combat, Chapter 10: Of the Exercise of the Will and the end to which all our actions, whether Interior or Exterior, should tend
(text below) (click for full book)
GOAL OF LIFE: TO DO WHAT PLEASES GOD! (This book is awesome!)
In our teacher’s words: ‘to regulate the will so that in all things it is conformed to the Divine pleasure’. How often do we think about what pleases God? And this is to be the intention of all of our choices.
Dom Scupoli goes on to clarify that this is much more than simply saying that I want to live for God, but it must be much more intentional:
– To will His pleasure
– To do His pleasure
– To be moved by His pleasure
– For His pleasure alone
Then our teacher cuts again. (This is the wisdom of Dom Scupoli: he recognizes that it is not enough to present the good, but that we must also identify those things which get in the way, and root them out.) We must be very careful not to do the will of God for our own pleasure. He warns that many people begin to do the will of God “for the sake of the satisfaction and benefit to be derived.” How true!
– I love going to church because I feel so good afterwards. My empty tank is filled.
– I like to pray because it is consoling to know that God is with me.
– I try to fast every once in a while; who doesn’t want to lose some weight?
– I read the Bible everyday; and it’s so nice to be able to quote Scripture to people.
– and on and on and on…
Going to church, praying, fasting, reading the Bible… all good things. The purity of the intention is what our teacher is getting at. The purified list:
– I go to church because I desire His pleasure.
– I pray because it is His pleasure.
– I fast because it is His pleasure.
– I read the Bible everyday because it is His pleasure.
It may appear slavish in written form, but this is a purification of our intention. This teaching is to protect from us selfishly doing God’s will.
The way to practice this purity of intention is to slow down and talk to God before we act and ask these 3 questions to HIM:
1: Do You will this for me? (to find out what I am to do)
2: Am I going to do this because You will this for me? (to purify my desire)
3: Am I going to do this to please You? (to purify my intention)
We should also use this technique to refuse things that are contrary to God’s will, by the same process.
– Do You will this for me? (presuming the answer is no)
– Am I refusing this because You will me to refuse this? (or because I simply don’t like it)
– Am I refusing this to pleases You? (again, purification of my intention)
An old principle of motivation is found lacking in comparison to this chapter. Many people choose things because of two possible realities: I do this because I want to go to Heaven, or, I do this because I don’t want to go to Hell. Dom Scupoli challenges us to raise our intentions above even these things, even if they be noble in themselves and helpful for our training. More than for a fear of Hell or a desire of Heaven, act to please God!
Chapter 10 text:
Besides this necessary exercise of the understanding, you must so regulate your will that it may not be left to follow its own desires, but may be in all things conformed to the Divine pleasure.
And remember, that it is not enough only to strive after those things which are most pleasing to God; but you must so will them, and so do them, as moved thereto by Him, and with a view to please Him alone.
In this exercise of the will, even more than in that of the understanding, we shall meet with strong opposition from nature, which seeks itself and its own ease and pleasure in all things; but especially in such as are holy and spiritual. It delights itself in these, feeding greedily upon them as upon wholesome food.
As soon, therefore, as they are presented to us we look wistfully upon them, and desire them, not because such is the will of God, nor with the sole view to please Him, but for the sake of the satisfaction and benefit to be derived from willing those things which God wills.
This delusion is the more subtle from the very excellence of the thing desired. Hence, even in the desire after God Himself, we are exposed to the delusions of self-love, which often leads us to look more to our own interests, and to the benefits we expect from God, than to His will, which is, that we should love, and desire and obey Him for His own glory alone.
I will now show you a way to avoid this way, which would impede you in the path of perfection, and to accustom yourself to will and to do all things as moved by the Spirit of God, and with the pure intention of honoring and pleasing Him alone, Who desires to be the one End and Principle of our every word and action. When any thing presents itself to you as if willed by God, do not permit yourself to will it till you have first raised your thoughts to Him to discover whether He wills you to will it, and because He so wills it, and to please Him alone.
Let your will, then, being thus moved and attracted by His, be impelled to will it because He wills it, and solely to please and honor Him.
In like manner, if you would refuse things which are contrary to God’s will, refuse them not till you have first fixed the eye of your mind upon His divine will, Who wills that you should refuse them solely to please Him.
Know, however that the frauds and deceits of wily nature are but little suspected; for, ever secretly seeking self, it often leads us to fancy that our end and motive is to please God when in reality it is far otherwise.
Thus, when we choose or refuse any thing for our own interest and satisfaction, we often imagine that we are choosing or refusing it in the hope of pleasing, or in the fear of displeasing, God.
The true and effectual remedy for this delusion is purity of heart, which consists in this – which is indeed the aim and object of all this spiritual warfare – the putting off the old man, and the putting on the new.
And to this end, seeing you are full of self, take care in the beginning of every action to free yourself as much as possible from all admixture of any thing which seems to be your own. Choose nothing, do nothing, refuse nothing, unless you first feel yourself moved and drawn thereto by the pure and simple will of God.
If you do not always feel thus actuated in the inward workings of the mind, and in outward actions, which are but transient, you must be content to have this motive ever virtually present, always maintaining a pure intention to please your God alone in all things. But in actions of longer duration it is well not only to excite this motive within yourself at the beginning, but also to renew it frequently, and to keep it alive till the end. Otherwise you will be in danger of falling into another snare of our natural self-love, which, as it is always inclined to yield rather to self than to God, often causes us unconsciously, in the course of time to change our objects and our aims.
The servant of God who is not on his guard against this danger, often begins a work with the single thought of pleasing his Lord alone; but soon, gradually and almost imperceptibly, he begins to take such pleasure in his work, that he loses sight of the Divine Will and follows his own. He dwells so much on the satisfaction he feels in what he is doing, and on the honor and benefit to be derived therefrom, that should God Himself place any impediment in the way, either by sickness or accident or through the agency of man, he is immediately troubled and disquieted, and often falls to murmuring against the impediment, whatever it may be, or rather, against God Himself. A clear proof that his intention was not wholly from God, but sprang from an evil root and a corrupted source.
For he who acts only as moved by God, and with a view to please Him alone, desires not one thing above another. He wishes only to have what it pleases God he should have, and at the time and in the way which may be most agreeable to Him; and whether he have it or not, he is equally tranquil and content; because in either case he obtains his wish, and fulfills his intention, which is nothing else but simply to please God.
Therefore recollect yourself seriously, and be careful always to direct every action to this perfect end.
And although the bent of your natural disposition should move you to do good through fear of the pains of hell or hope of the joys of paradise, you may even here set before you, as your ultimate end, the will and pleasure of God, Who is pleased that you should enter into His kingdom and not into hell. It is not in man fully to apprehend the force and virtue of this motive; for the most insignificant action, done with a view to please God alone, and for His sole glory, is (if we may so speak) of infinitely greater value than many others of the greatest dignity and importance done without this motive. Hence a single penny given to a poor man with the sole desire to please His Divine Majesty, is more acceptable to God than the entire renunciation of all earthly goods for any other end, even for the attainment of the bliss of heaven; an end in itself not only good, but supremely to be desired.
This exercise of doing all things with the single aim to please God alone seems hard at first, but will become plain and easy by practice, if, with the warmest affections of the heart, we desire God alone, and long for Him as our only and most perfect good; Who deserves that all creatures should seek Him for Himself, and serve Him and love Him above all things.
The deeper and more continual our meditations are upon His infinite excellence, the more fervent and the more frequent will be these exercises of the will; and we shall thus acquire more easily and more speedily the habit of performing every action from pure love to that gracious Lord, Who alone is worthy of our reverence and love.
Lastly, in order to the attainment of this divine motive, I advise you to seek it of God by importunate prayer, and to meditate frequently upon the innumerable benefits which He, of His pure and disinterested love, has bestowed upon us.
Chapter 11: Of some considerations which may incline the Will to seek to please God in all things