How Can a Married Man Truly Love the Lord with ALL his Strength?
Fr John, if one is a married man with family to support, how can he truly love the Lord with ALL of his strength, when what bugs him most is raising his family? Is taking full care of the home reason enough to decline service in the parish or some religious organization where there certainly would be an equal demand for his time?
This is a great question. The bottom line of the answer I will offer is this: God will never contradict himself. Let me explain.
The Role of God’s Will
Loving God with all our heart translates into seeking to discover and fulfill God’s will in our lives: “Thy Kingdom come – thy will be done!” as Jesus taught us to pray. Love is communion between persons, union of wills, wanting and pursuing the same thing together. As Jesus put it: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In our communion with God, our loving him, obedience is key. Because God is the Lord, and his wisdom and goodness are superior to ours, we obey him as part of our relationship with him. We also know him, enjoy him, open our hearts to him, ask him for things, offer him things… Obedience isn’t the only dimension of our love for God, but it is an essential dimension.
What Is “God’s Will”?
Okay, so what is “God’s will” for us? On the most basic level, it is his commandments and the commandments of the Church. The next level has to do with what our spiritual tradition calls “the duties of your state in life.” A priest, for instance, has certain basic duties that comprise God’s will for him: celebrating the sacraments for the people entrusted to his care, preaching the Gospel, counseling and guiding his faith-community, etc. God may also give him some inspirations to engage in additional activities, additional ways of building up the Kingdom – teaching a course at the local college, for example, or starting a new ministry for widows, or writing a book. These types of activities are in harmony with following the commandments and fulfilling the duties of his state in life, but they are additions to those basic manifestations of God’s will.
Good or Bad Inspirations?
So what would happen if a priest felt that God was inspiring him to train to become an astronaut? That kind of training would require him to abandon the duties of his state in life. And so, unless it were some kind of special mission entrusted to him by his bishop, it would be incompatible with those most basic duties. This “inspiration”, therefore, could hardly be from the Holy Spirit. It may be a distraction coming from the evil spirit, or a product of his own vanity, or something coming from his subconscious (in which case he should try to figure out what it is really saying to him), or it may just be a random whim. God will not contradict himself. He will not give us his commandments, and call us to a particular state in life, and then give us inspirations that go against those things.
God Will Never Contradict Himself
I am sure you are already seeing the application of this principle to the situation you describe. A husband and father needs to seek God’s will in his life, and seek to embrace and fulfill it with love, excellence, and devotion. The first manifestations of God’s will for him are the commandments (which includes developing his spiritual life) and the duties of his state in life, which includes being a present and devoted husband and father. That includes providing for the family – usually this means some kind of employment or career. Depending on the particular combination of circumstances, one man may be able to combine involvement in an apostolate or ministry at the parish with those duties, and he may feel God inspiring him to do so. Another man may not feel that inspiration, or may feel a desire to do it but be unable to without neglecting his primary duties. The key is to identify not just “what I would like to do,” or “what everyone else would like me to do”, but “what is God really asking of me?” And God will never contradict himself.
How to Discern?
It is not always easy to discern where a particular desire or inspiration is coming from. A steady and growing life of prayer, good advice from trustworthy sources, and personal reflection all go into good discernment. For a husband and father, open conversations with his wife would be part of that process as well. I have known some cases in which a strong desire to be more directly involved in apostolic activity led men to change careers, putting their professional skills directly at the service of the Church. So you can see that there are many paths which the Lord may lead us.
I would encourage you to take some time to read, listen to, or watch one of my online retreats called “Unleashing the Power of Pentecost.” In that retreat I discuss, in the conference, some criteria about how we can discern whether certain inspirations come from the Holy Spirit. You may find it helpful: http://rcspirituality.org/unleashing-the-power-of-pentecost-a-retreat-guide-on-the-holy-spirit/.
God bless you!
Art: Family eating lunch, Bill Branson for the National Cancer Institute, 26 July 2007, PD-Worldwide; Deacon at a Mass, McN1316, 21 June 2009, Free Art License Copyleft, Wikimedia Commons.