The prayer known as the Lorica of St. Patrick is known by most people for this verse:
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.”
While the prayer may not be officially accepted by historians as actually composed by St. Patrick, unlike the Confession of St. Patrick, and his Letter to Coroticus, I think it’s safe to say that St. Patrick would not be opposed to praying it. This particular verse has a lot to do with the mystery of human freedom and God’s will.
There has been a surge of resources out there on discerning one’s vocation to a particular state in life, and naturally, there are a few misconceptions that have developed. Most of these misconceptions don’t even say what exactly a vocation is, but beat around the bush and describe it as a vague and unnecessarily mysterious “feeling”, something “in your heart of hearts”, and the like. But regardless of how many hours you spend trying to “look deep within yourself,” you won’t find God’s will there.
I am not denying that there is some truth in what they’re saying. There is an interior component, but that’s not all there is. A vocation, like prayer, is necessarily the mysterious interaction between two wills, God’s and ours. To pretend there is no mystery at all in a vocation would be the opposite kind of misconception. The mysterious part of our relationship with God, is that you can’t know God’s will directly, as it is, in itself.
Because God is one and undividable, there is no separation between God’s will and His knowledge, or His mercy, or any of His attributes. We are the ones who make these distinctions to make theology a bit more understandable for our limited intellects. If you know God’s will in itself, that would mean that you know God directly, and that can only happens in the Beatific Vision, in Heaven, as the Book of Revelation says:
“they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever” [Revelation 22:5]
But in this life, we can only know “God’s will” through its expressed effects in time, sort of like how you only know what someone thinks from what they’ve said or done.
If you have spent any time at all wondering what God’s will is for you, you have probably struggled with this mystery, and perhaps been disappointed that you can never “know for sure” until you’re actually married, or ordained, or solemnly professed. But rather than being frustrated, we should be thankful, because what we are really asking for when we want to “know for sure” is for God in a way to take away our freedom. What we end up asking for is an instant gratification in place of a lifelong relationship of trust. If God spoke to you in a way you could be 100% sure it was Him, and said “You are called to *this* vocation”, you would not be free anymore, but obliged. Entering this vocation would become something necessary for your salvation, binding under pain of sin. Sure you could choose to disobey God, but you would be knowingly and willingly turning away from Him, and that would be a mortal sin. Your choice would be to enter this vocation, or lose the life of grace in your soul. What kind of choice would that be?
But God in His wisdom does not give us some of the things we ask for because sometimes they are not good for us. God made each creature in the universe as a unique way of manifesting His glory. We were made free, and so our freedom is meant to manifest God’s glory. It would be counterproductive for God, who made us free as part of His plan for the universe, to destroy our freedom in fulfilling His plan for the universe. How much more does the freedom that God gave us manifest His glory? A man and a woman do not get married because God compels them to with a divine command, but because they, first moved by God, and trusting in His promised help, freely choose to give themselves to each other until death. A religious does not enter the religious life because he or she was compelled by a divine command, but because they, first moved by God, and trusting in His promised help, freely choose to give themselves to a state of life approved by the Church, ordered to the perfection of charity, by observing the evangelical counsels poverty, chastity, and obedience absolutely and literally, every day. A priest does not enter the priesthood because he was compelled by a divine command, but because he, first moved by God, and trusting in His promised help, freely chooses to give himself to providing for the supernatural life of souls as a priest of Jesus Christ, every day.
What are we left with? A mystery of two truths that we must always hold, though we will probably never be able to fully explain it this side of the grave:
- God all powerful and absolutely free, involved in every action of every creature for all time
- Creatures have their own proper activities which God gave them to manifest His glory, and in humans, that activity is freedom
So rather than worrying about “knowing for sure” and being frustrated that we can’t make God fit our categories, let us instead embrace what He has given us, this mystery that is freely living in friendship with God, who as the 6th session of the Council of Trent said: “…does not cease to precede, to accompany, and follow our good actions”