So when it comes to discerning God’s will, where do we start? Well, whether it makes us uncomfortable or not, it starts with obedience. If we’re not humble enough to be obedient, we’re not going to be able to accurately discern God’s will for us.
Discerning God’s will has 2 major components: the objective and the subjective. The objective component is the one we all have in common. It applies to all of us, and there are no exceptions. We can’t really talk about the subjective element unless the objective component is in place. God is never going to ask any of us to violate His objective standards.
The objective components of God’s will are comprised of 2 elements: the Bible and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. We’ll start with the Bible.
God’s revelation to humanity, as captured in the Bible, is binding on all of us. The demands of the Bible, which we should see as freeing rather than restricting, are unchangeable. In other words, we have to ignore those who “re-interpret” the clear language of the Bible to permit behaviors that conform to modern practices but contradict the standards set forth in the text of the Bible. It’s the truth, and nothing less than the truth, that will set us free.
In Matthew 16, Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom to St. Peter and said that heaven would honor the decisions made by the Church which was entrusted to Peter and his successors. There are lots of criticisms that can be made about the Catholic Church. However, the Catholic Church, despite some scandalous behavior of some of its human members, has for over 2,000 years kept intact the original teachings of Jesus Christ. It is a principle of the Catholic Church that no teaching of the Church can be contrary to the Bible. The way decisions in the Catholic Church are made, the decisions of the Catholic Church on faith and morals do not depend on a popular vote.
What this means, even to non-Catholic Christians, is that God is not going to ask anyone to violate the teachings of the Bible or of the Catholic Church. I know this is challenging for Catholics and especially for non-Catholics. This principle applies even to what we consider difficult, controversial issues, like sex outside marriage and birth control.
To help us discern God’s will, then, we have 2 books to follow: the Bible and what is called the “Catechism” of the Catholic Church. This Catechism contains all of the basic teachings of the Catholic Church and is a tremendous resource for any Christian. It is cross-referenced to the Bible and to respected leaders in the Church going back to the earliest days of Christianity.
We often hear people who are seeking God’s will say something like they prayed and received a sense of “peace” about a particular decision. A sense of peace does not supersede the Bible and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
That’s the objective part of discerning God’s will. Following this objective principle is a huge challenge to modern people who are used to making up their own mind about almost any issue. We have to keep in mind the invitation in Acts 5:32: “God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him.”
Next, we’ll talk about the subjective aspects of God’s will. That’s a lot more fun, but no more binding on us than the Bible and Church teachings.