By studying the life of Christ we can understand ourselves better because He had a perfect human nature, the true, natural Son of God. By grace we are the adopted children of God. When I read St. Thomas’ writing on the Incarnation I understood something profoundly personal about human will.
People today don’t talk a lot about the soul, our intellect and will, but we can’t really understand ourselves without understanding our soul’s powers. St. Thomas explains how we have a sensitive will, an animal appetite based on senses, and a rational will guided by reason, something animals do not have.
Remember this prayer of agony that Christ prayed? “Father, if you will, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but yours be done.” Christ, true man and true God united in the soul of the Son of God, has two wills, a human will that is both sensitive and rational, naturally united to God’s will. When He prayed the first part of the prayer, He showed the sensitive will of His human nature – the very natural desire to avoid pain and suffering. Yet He shows us in the very next thought that His rational will can subject the sensitive appetite and make the reasoned choice to let God’s will prevail. In Christ that is all He could have done since He is God, and His human nature is the fullness of grace.
Now, I know that sounds didactically theological, but this was a flame of truth for a mother who often prays: “Father, if you will, remove these screaming kids from my presence or I am going to chase them out of the kitchen with the vacuum cleaner.” In my prayers, I complain a lot about the pain and suffering I am expected to endure. I do not like it.
So when I feel my motherly sanity threatened, I have learned that because I am human, I can control my fleshly appetite for ease and comfort with my rational, intelligent desire to trust God. I can release my temporary fears and surrender to eternal Goodness. “Father, your will be done.” And, it works! Grace is sufficient, and sometimes we must endure difficulty to mature in grace. Our power of reason will subdue our lesser appetites if we demand it. And the more I think about that, the more I understand how Christ’s prayer in His Agony teaches us how to really exercise true, dignified freedom of choice.