“In the sense that a man’s whole heart be habitually directed to God, so that it consent to nothing contrary to the will of God,…this is the perfection of the way.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 93. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.
This little sentence speaks clearly on ‘the perfection of the way’ with very specific directions on how to accomplish this elusive perfection. It speaks of the whole heart, not just parts, being habitually, not occasionally, directed to God, and that it consents to nothing, not one thing, not a few small things, contrary to the Will of God.
The whole heart of man is an interesting concept. Often we say we love someone with our whole hearts, or we feel with our whole hearts that something is true or right. What does this mean? Does it perhaps stand to reason that if we give our whole hearts to something, that there is no room left in it for anything else? Well, perhaps a better way to look at it is that if something has the love and the entirety of our hearts, that there is no room left in our heart for the opposite of that thing. So, if we direct our whole hearts to God, there is no room left for directing it to the opposite of God, to evil and those things which displease Him.
The heart, along with being wholly directed to God, must be habitually directed to God. This has a different sense than the word ‘occasionally’, but it is also different than ‘constantly.’ So where does ‘habitually’ fall on the scale? If we take the word apart, we find ‘habit’ at its root. We all know what a habit is–those things which come to us like second nature, which we have either spent time forming or have formed naturally from our inclinations. So, directing our hearts habitually to God, according to the root word ‘habit’, means to direct our hearts in such a way that we do not have to think too much about it–that we should do it so often and so consistently that it becomes a habit for us, and we all know how hard habits are to break. Forming this habit, however, is quite possibly the best thing we could do for ourselves, as it leads to ‘the perfection of the way,’ as our Saint puts it.
Along with directing our whole hearts habitually to God, we must take that one step further. It is one thing to say our prayers well and with the solidifying force of habit, but we must also act. When we pray in this way, we can be quite sure that God will hear us and grant us the graces to act upon our prayers and desires to be united to the Will of God. But if and when He gives us graces, it is up to us to act on them. If we are praying well and with a true desire to avoid those things which are contrary to God’s will, He will help us to carry out that prayer. Therefore, we should not rest content with only doing a few things in union with the will of God, or of only slipping up and demanding our own will once or twice, but we must strive for a perfect union with His will, doing nothing contrary to the Will of God. That is, we must avoid those things which we know to avoid because they are displeasing to God, and accept with resignation whatever God may see fit to bring us.
Let us strive for ‘the perfection of the way’ by ever striving for union with God’s will, and during the remainder of this Holy Season of Lent, detaching ourselves from our own will and fleshly desires in order to be more attached to the sweet and good will of God.