Arts and Culture

Cooperating with God

by Father Robert Lauder

Fourth in a series

I am having an interesting experience as I am re-reading Evelyn Underhill’s wonderful little book “The Spiritual Life” (Morehouse Press, 1937, pp. 128). Though I am enjoying re-reading the book immensely, occasionally I am not sure whether Underhill is telling me something I never knew, reminding me of something I knew but have not reflected on recently or helping me to see some mystery in a deeper way because of her intelligence and insight.

Whatever the experience is, I feel I am profiting a great deal from Underhill’s reflections. In fact, I am so enthusiastic about her book that when I finish writing this column, I am going to order some copies to give to friends.

The Human Vocation

One section of Underhill’s book that spoke to me in a special way was the section on cooperating with God. It sums up the vocation of a human person. We are not called to be inactive. We are called to action. Once we have accepted God’s love, we should be motivated to translate that experience of love into action. Insisting that our relationship with God should influence our entire life, Underhill writes the following:

“It is far easier, though not very easy, to develop and preserve a spiritual outlook on life, than it is to make our everyday actions harmonise with that spiritual outlook. That means trying to see things, persons and choices from the angle of eternity; and dealing with them as part of the material in which the Spirit works. This will be decisive for the way we behave as to our personal, social, and national obligations. It will decide the papers we read, the movements we support, the kind of administrators we vote for, our attitude to social and international justice … Therefore the prevalent notion that spirituality and politics have nothing to do with one another is the exact opposite of the truth. Once it is accepted in a realistic sense, the Spiritual Life has everything to do with politics.” (p. 80)

I am reminded of a statement which I heard many years ago. It was attributed to the great German theologian Romano Guardini. He supposedly said, “A Christian climbs a tree differently than everyone else.” He meant, of course, that a person’s Christian faith should influence the person’s entire life.

I am also reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ wonderful poem – my favorite poem – “No. 34,” or sometimes referred to by its opening line “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame.” In the poem, Hopkins points out that each being speaks itself by its action. What makes the person in grace so radically different from every other being is that the person in grace, by his or her actions, speaks Christ.

Person in Grace

I deeply believe that a person’s spiritual life influences everything in the person’s life. The way that I imagine the person in grace is that the risen Christ lives within that person, influencing the person’s outlook and free choices. Christ’s presence can influence the person’s outlook on everything, on what we usually consider related to religion and also on what we may not think of as related to religion, for example, our leisure time.

Emphasizing that the person in grace should be active and cooperate with God’s active presence in the world, Underhill offers a very insightful reflection on the Our Father. She writes the following:

“Thy Will be done – Thy Kingdom come! There is energy, drive, purpose in those words; an intensity of desire for the coming of perfection into life.”

Call to Action

How many hundreds of thousands of times have I said the Our Father? Whatever else the prayer means, it is a call to action. If I want God’s will to be done, then I should look for God’s will as I try to direct my life. If I want God’s kingdom to come, then I should cooperate in building that kingdom.

Underhill points out that it is useless to pray that God’s kingdom come unless we are willing to do something about cooperating in building that kingdom. She views us as agents of God, who is Creative Love, and stresses that we should accept this vocation with all that it involves.

There may be times in our lives when we feel that cooperating with God in building the kingdom is a great burden. There is so much to be done, and at times we may feel that we are accomplishing little. This can be a real temptation to stop trying. That would be a tremendous mistake. We do what we can, and we place our trust and confidence in the Holy Spirit.

Cooperating with God may not always be easy, but it is always a blessing.[hr]

Next week, Father Lauder presents the fifth and final installment of his series on “The Spiritual Life.”[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.

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