The storms of life rise and fall, ebb and flow. Some we see brewing on the horizon, while some come all too unexpectedly.
When we find ourselves in the midst of a storm, we can do one of two things, according to Dan Burke, author of Finding Peace in the Storm: Reflections on St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Uniformity with God’s Will. We can either “rise to the challenges of the storms of life or be overcome by them.”
Yes, we can rage against the storms by resisting them or complaining about them.
Or, we can trust that these storms are part of God’s divine will for us, unite our will with His, and maintain interior peace even in the midst of the tumult.
One response may be our knee-jerk reaction. But the other is worth striving for. And we can learn how to unite our will with God’s through the guidance of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church.
A Brief Overview
Saint Alphonsus was a successful lawyer before being ordained to the priesthood in 1726. In 1732, he founded the Redemptorist order, and in 1762, he became a bishop. Saint Alphonsus wrote more than one hundred books, including Uniformity with God’s Will, which was originally a letter to one of his spiritual daughters.
In Finding Peace in the Storm, Burke revisits the Saint’s famous work, because the truths within Uniformity with God’s Will are truths we still need to hear. However, since it was written and translated in the 18th century, some of the language is difficult to understand. So, Burke updates the translation where helpful, intersperses his own insights throughout, and offers reflection questions for further contemplation at the end of each chapter.
Conformity to God’s Will Begins With Love
Saint Alphonsus begins his treatise by stating that “perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s [ . . . ] the more one unites his will with the divine will, the greater will be his love of God.”
We achieve this by asking for God’s help. Then, we immerse ourselves in a life of prayer. Through prayer, we grow in our knowledge and love of God, which helps us seek conformity to His will.
Here, Saint Alphonsus quotes another doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila: “Those who give themselves to prayer should concentrate solely on this: the conformity of their wills with the divine will.”
Saint Alphonsus goes on to remind his reader that conformity to God’s will is a direct teaching of Jesus: “Our Lord Himself teaches us to ask to do the will of God on earth as the saints do it in Heaven: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’”
Burke encourages our desire to conform to God’s will by stating that “this kind of prayer—‘Show me Your will, Lord’—is a prayer that He always answers.”
When Love is Tested
When life is going smoothly, it is easy to say “Thy will be done.” It is easy to trust, have faith, and maintain peace.
But Burke writes:
[W]hen circumstances are undesirable, we come to a true test of our willingness to accept what God is allowing or causing. To the degree that we embrace and respond to circumstances in a way that expresses a holy yes to God, we will be united with Him. To the degree that we bristle, brood, complain, or reject what is happening, as if it is outside the purview of God’s loving hand, we are thereby separated from Him.
Saint Alphonsus concurs by quoting Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans: “To those that love God, all things work together unto good” (Romans 8:28). Alphonsus goes on, “Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God. Afflictions do not mar their serenity, because by accepting misfortune, they know they give pleasure to their beloved Lord.”
Later on, Saint Alphonsus continues with the idea that “all things work together unto good” by stressing that “if, then, He sends us sufferings in this life, it is for our own good [ . . . ] Even chastisements come to us not to crush us but to make us mend our ways and save our souls.”
Burke contemplates the invitation to unite fully to the divine Will—even in the midst of adversity—and he invites readers to do the same:
What would it be like to know this complete peace in the midst of any storm? Do we even believe it is possible? How would this reality change the way we think and act? What effect would our change in behavior have on us and on others?
The fruit of this complete union with God’s will is more than peace. It also includes joy.
Jesus promises that “no one will take your joy away from you [ . . . ] so that your joy may be complete.” (John 16:22, 24)
Saint Alphonsus adds that “he who unites his will to God’s experiences a full and lasting joy.”
A Note on Extreme Suffering
Saint Alphonsus notes that in times of extreme suffering, it is good to call upon our friends for prayer and to even petition the Lord to free us from the difficulty. Jesus modeled this in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” But immediately, Jesus adds, “yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
The same can be true for times of spiritual dryness, when we do not feel especially close to God.
Burke notes that it is normal to feel the weight of our trials. “We can and will always feel them,” he writes. “The question is: How will we respond to how we feel? Will our feelings dictate our response? Or will we exercise our will to face the difficulty with God’s help, maintain our resignation to His holy will, and remain in His holy embrace?”
Putting it into Practice
While the content of Finding Peace in the Storm is spiritually deep and at times challenging, practical advice is woven throughout. Scripture verses are interlaced, as are multitudinous quotes from the Saints. There is also an appendix at the end of the book with step-by-step guidance.
On a Personal Note
Reading Finding Peace in the Storm could not have come at a better time for me, as my family was in the midst of a lot of simultaneous hardship—from unemployment and family stress to health issues and the passing of my father-in-law. It all seemed like too much for us to bear.
While reading Finding Peace in the Storm, I realized I was wishing away the pain and suffering we were going through. I recognized myself in those who rage against God, and I accepted that I had a long way to go to truly live in God’s divine will.
Instead of feeling down and discouraged, though, I was given a tremendous amount of hope. For this book filled me with encouragement to “rise at once,” humble myself, and seek greater help from God. It emboldened me to rise above my feelings and deepen my trust in God’s divine will and how it truly desires the very best for me, which is ultimately union with Him in Heaven.