St. Ignatius of Loyola describes the task assigned to those who preach and receive the Spiritual Exercises thus: “To seek and to find the divine will in the orientation of your life for the sake of the salvation of your soul.” After disposing yourself to desire the purification of your heart, in doing the exercises you must fight to realize this supreme aim. This is the goal of the Christian life itself.
What does it mean to seek and to find the will of God? In God there is a will which is his very essence. To desire the will of God is, therefore, to desire God himself. And since the holiness of God consists in the fact that he himself desires or loves, to desire the divine will means participating in the holiness of God. To be a saint means to feel and to act in conformity with the will of God. “Thy will be done” (Matt 6:10). Christian spirituality has always transmitted this desire of Jesus, and the asceticism that this inspires and recommends hinges on this fundamental stance. As a biblical formula, this expression continuously resounds upon the lips of the faithful. But do we truly understand it in all its fullness?
Modern civilization, that great promoter of critical unrest and questioning, certainly does not favor a convinced recitation of this formula. Can the will of God be reconciled with human autonomy? If we already possess in our conscience a norm of conduct and in our intellect a criterion of truth, why would we need the will of God, a criterion exterior to us, to regulate ourselves according to truth and morality? Is invoking this will not a form of irrational fanaticism? And that is not all.