The fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer is: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What is heaven like? Popular culture often depicts it as a dreadfully boring place filled with clouds and angels quietly playing harps. When we think of heaven, we know it to be the place where God’s will is always done and always done perfectly. Those popular depictions of heaven as eternal tedium are probably the result of thinking that heaven is a place without freedom. Having finished their time on earth and no longer capable of sinning, they conclude that the creatures who live in heaven – the angels and the saints – must simply move about as glorified automatons, mindlessly going about their business, blissful but unfree. The reality, however, couldn’t be more different. The angels and saints who do the will of God perfectly in heaven enjoy far greater freedom than we do. They are unencumbered by the effects of original sin which cloud our judgment and weaken our willpower, making it difficult to know and to do what is truly good. Sin diminishes our freedom. It makes us less free. Just as a normal person feels no desire, as he walks through his yard, to stoop down and start eating handfuls of grass, the angels and saints, as they enjoy the light of God’s glory, feel no desire to do anything but the will of God. The man who has to exercise restraint as he walks across his lawn lacks perfect freedom because he feels compelled to eat grass. We, for whom doing the will of God is difficult, lack perfect freedom because we continue to struggle with sin.
This petition of the Lord’s Prayer is fulfilled perfectly in the One who gives us this prayer to pray – Christ Jesus Himself. In Christ we find the One who always does the will of the Father. Thus, we can say that in Christ we encounter heaven, where the will of the Father is always done. Pope Benedict XVI says that, “looking at [Christ], we realize that left to ourselves we can never be completely just: the gravitational pull of our own will constantly draws us away from God’s will and turns us into mere ‘earth.’ But He accepts us, He draws us up to Himself, into Himself, and in communion with Him we too learn God’s will.”
The Lord is the Creator, the Maker of all things. The effect of Original Sin is our tendency to rebel against the way God willed to create the world, including the way He willed to create us. We crave mastery of all things according to our will, just as the madman craves grass to fill his hungry belly. Gently, Our Lord enters His fallen creation in order to redeem it and open up the way for us to be saved from the madness of sin and to know, as St. Paul calls it, “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” This freedom comes from learning to do God’s will, and willing to do His will. By praying this petition, Pope Benedict explains, we express the desire to “come closer and closer to [Jesus], so that God’s will can conquer the downward pull of our selfishness and make us capable of the lofty height to which we are called.”