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.
To speak to people today about the divine will means evoking ideas of authority and providence that modern culture does not accept without a fight. In any talk of authority one suspects authoritarianism, and in talk of a governing and protective providence over human existence many see the rancid dregs of the philosophies of a pre-established harmony and a betrayal of historicist philosophies. If then from the concept of divine will one passes to the connected concept of abandoning oneself to this will, other difficulties arise. Does this not foster a spiritual childishness? Does this not compromise the greatest achievement of modernity, the freedom of the human person who constructs an earthly destiny without recourse to the supernatural? Have we not been warned by psychology that often one projects onto the fatherhood of God the deformed image of the earthly father? And is not the current sociocultural environment characterized by the absence of the figure of the father?