Today, Palm Sunday, we begin Holy Week. Jesus’ solemn entrance into Jerusalem is not a chance event with an unexpected outcome. That things seemingly worked out well caught the attention of the apostles who felt proud of being with Jesus at a time when everybody was acclaiming him. Jesus knew better. For him the entrance into Jerusalem is a manifestation of his strong determination to fulfill his mission of redeeming humankind from sin, clearing the path so that we might attain communion with God.
Holy week is a time to dedicate ourselves to deeply contemplate the saving mysteries of Christ’s passion, death, and Resurrection. It should not be a mere remembering, but a commitment to appropriate the mystery in our spiritual life. That is, to live according to that mystery; to apply in the measure in which this is possible, Christ’s mystery to our own life.
I would like to reflect on Christ during his agony in the garden because it is a lesson for us on how to use our will properly, on how to achieve genuine freedom. Because Christ is true God and true man he has two wills, the divine and the human. In the garden we see him submitting his human will to his divine will. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states: “At the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 681, the Church confessed that Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human. They are not opposed to each other, but cooperate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation. Christ’s human will “does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will” (n. 475).
Roch Kereszty in his book, Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, states that “if the earthly Jesus had no active human will he would not have been a true human being. Without the exercise of his human will, his life would have been merely a show, a stage production. Moreover, the Son needed to assume human freedom in order to redeem it.”
God created us in order to love him. The highest form of this love is communion with Him. A communion of similarity which occurs when we unite our will to God’s will.
Quoting the Roman historian, Sallust, Pope Benedict shows us what the authentic content of love is: “To want the same thing, and to reject the same thing was recognized by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to community of will and thought” (Deus Caritas Est, n.17). This quote helps us understand that love is to identify our will with God’s will. This takes us to be similar to God. This fact corrects the error of our first parents who disobeyed God.
Regarding our communion with God through freely doing God’s will there are two aspects we have to take into account: (1) the main obstacle is our inclination, due to sin, to do what is not good for us; (2) Christ is our model of how we can unite our will to God’s.
A divided will
Original sin wounded our will bringing about a division. Our will, created by God to naturally tend towards the good, because of sin, now has an inclination to what does not correspond to our nature. Sin has impaired the proper use of our will. The following example can be fitting to illustrate the effect of this inclination. When someone is drunk he still has his capacity to walk, but he does not walk straight. He hasn’t lost his capacity, but he doesn’t use it properly.
Kereszty stresses the meaning of true human freedom: “The object of free will is what is truly good. That person has perfect freedom of the will who freely determines himself –rather than is compelled by external and internal forces –to choose always what is truly good. The fact that the human will often chooses what is only apparently good (sin), does not derive from the perfection of the will, but is the sign of its imperfection. This notion of human freedom differs from the one that is commonly accepted today. People think they are free if they “can do whatever they want.” However, this view ignores the fact that the human will is a value-oriented faculty –it is oriented to goodness (just as the intellect is oriented to the truth). The more my free will is able to choose freely what is truly good, the more my freedom is perfect. If I freely choose sin, it is only a sign that my freedom is defective.”
Forming our will with the help of grace, therefore, becomes a necessary task if we are to overcome sin in our life and reach true communion with God. That is why we need to follow Christ’s example.
Jesus our model
Jesus’ interior battle to overcome the natural fear of death is the epitome of identifying one’s will with God’s will: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). However, Christ’s attitude in this difficult moment reflects the attitude he always had regarding the Father’s will.
The Gospel according to St. John is rich in expressions that help us see how much Jesus Christ loves the will of his father. In chapter 5, we find Jesus showing us that he doesn’t allow himself to do anything that doesn’t coincide with his Father’s will: “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 5:30; see also Jn 8:28). The Father is his only model and criterion of action.
It is the awareness of his mission that pushes him on to do everything in the light of it: “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 6:38). Our Lord was well aware that his time on earth would be brief, and therefore he had to dedicate himself fully to fulfilling his mission: “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” (Jn 9:4). That is why the Father’s will is for him what food is to the body: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” (Jn 4:34).
Perhaps the phrase that most sums up Jesus’ total dedication to the Father’s will is when he tells the Jews: “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” (Jn 8:29). It is not easy for us to live up to this ideal, but that doesn’t allow us not to try. We can’t with our own strength, but we can with God’s grace.
It is in the measure in which we come closer to God that we will be more ourselves. This is the meaning of the fact that grace does not destroy nature, but rather brings it to perfection, that is, it makes it more itself. Pope Benedict XVI, when still a cardinal, stressed the fact that our free will can only benefit from closeness to God:
“On the one hand, it [Constantinople III] teaches that the unity of God and man in Christ involves no amputation or reduction in any way of human nature. In conjoining himself to man, his creature, God does not violate or diminish him; in doing so, he brings him for the first time to his real fullness. On the other hand (and this is no less important), it abolishes all dualism or parallelism of the two natures, such as had always seemed necessary in order to safeguard Jesus’ human freedom. In such attempts it had been forgotten that when the human will is taken up into the will of God, freedom is not destroyed; indeed, only then does genuine freedom come into its own. The Council of Constantinople III analyzed the question of the two-ness and the one-ness in Christ by reference to the concrete issue of the will of Jesus. It resolutely maintains that, as man, Jesus has a human will which is not absorbed by the divine will. But this human will follows the divine will and thus becomes one will with it, not in a natural manner but along the path of freedom” (J. Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One, pp.38-39).