22 January 2006

Good Works and God's Will

For many of us, the thought of leaving a work unfinished is intolerable or, at least uncomfortable. Today's readings cast light on the (albeit admirable) attitude of "I need to finish what I started." In the first reading, Jonah prophesies destruction for the city of Ninevah if the people do not repent. They listen; they repent; God spares them destruction. What we do not hear in the first reading is how Jonah reacts to God's mercy. Jonah is bitter and angry that God did not carry out the destruction he planned. In Jonah's mind, this was a work left "unfinished." St. Francis de Sales suggests that "Jonah did God's will in proclaiming the destruction of Ninevah, but he mingled his own interests and will with those of God."

The disciples in today's Gospel serve as a contrast to Jonah. They do not mix their will and their interests with the Lord's will. When Jesus asks them to follow him they abandon their nets without hesitation. The four fisherman left their "day jobs" --so to speak-- to become Jesus' disciples. This willingness to respond to the Lord's will is a great mark of faithful disciple. St. Francis de Sales has much to say about situations where we must leave off one good work for another: "How blessed are such souls, bold and strong in undertakings that God proposes to them and yet ready and humble to give them up when God so disposes!" He also describes the mark of a perfect disciple, one who is ready "to leave of doing some good work when to do so pleases God, and to return after going halfway when it is so ordained by God's will, which is our guide."

Situations where we are challenged to leave one "good work" for another one can be complicated by the question, "is this really God's will?" In addition to the discomfort of leaving one project or job, etc., unfinished, we are often uncertain about whether it is really God's will. This is where we are asked to trust that the Lord does not abandon us -- just as he did not abandon his faithful disciples, to whom he sent the Holy Spirit. Let us pray, in these moments of discernment, for the light of the Holy Spirit so that we may know and carry out his holy will.

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