February 20, 2000


by Carlo Carretto

Who Guides the World?

The will of God. That’s what rules the world and moves the stars, what converts the nations, what starts all life and brings triumph out of death.

Night came, and I could not sleep. I left the cave, and walked under the stars above the vast desert.

"My God, I love you. My God, I love you," I shouted to the heavens through the strange silence of the night.

Tired of walking, I stretched out on a sand dune and gazed at the starry vault above. How dear they were to me, those stars; how close to them the desert had brought me.

Beyond the nebula Andromeda are other millions of nebulae, and thousands and thousands of stars which my eyes cannot see, but which God has created.
It is true that Jesus said, "Go, and make disciples of all nations." But He also added, "Without Me you can do nothing." It is true that St. Ignatius said, "Act as though everything depended upon you." But he added, "But pray as though everything depend upon God."

God is the creator of the physical cosmos as well as of the human cosmos. He rules the stars as He rules the Church. And if, in His love, he has wished to make human beings His collaborators in the work of salvation, the limit of their power is very small and clearly defined. It is the limit of the wire compared with the electric current.

We are the wire, God is the current. Our only power is to let the current pass through us. Of course, we have the power to interrupt it and say "NO." But nothing more.

Not, then, the image of the column acting as a support, but that of the wire allowing the current to pass through it. But the wire is one thing, the current is another. They are quite different, and there is certainly no reason for the wire to become self-satisfied, even one which transmits at high tension.

The thought that the affairs of the world, like those of the stars, are in God's hand -- and therefore in good hands -- apart from being actually true, is something that should give great satisfaction to anyone who looks to the future with hope. It should be the source of faith, joyful hope, and above all of deep peace. What have I to fear if everything is guided and sustained by God? Why get so worried, as if the world were in the hands of me and my fellow human beings?

And yet it is so difficult to have genuine faith in God's action in the affairs of the world. To refuse to believe it is one of the gravest temptations to which we are subjected on this earth. The whole Bible is there to testify to this fact. And basically the story of the chosen people is nothing more than that of a handful of people of whom God asks, time and time again:

"Do you believe in Me? I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I have nourished you. And what have you done? You have constructed for yourselves idols of wood and silver, and have abandoned Me, your God."

Instead of worshipping Him who has created you and saved you a thousand times from your enemies, on the hill-tops and in sacred wood, you have burnt incense to strange gods; gods who can do nothing and know nothing; who have hands and cannot touch, feet and cannot walk, and no sound comes from their mouths.

This is true of all time, of the history of Israel and of our history. We, too, believe in God. But then we put our trust in people of power, believe their advice, and in the end think that the affairs of this world are safe in their hands, and that it is to them we must make our petitions. We too believe in God and we pray to Him. But then we convince ourselves that it is the great preachers who convert souls. And if we have this in mind when we pray for the growth of the Kingdom, our prayer will be futile; like making a request which will almost certainly be ignored. And so, under a strange sky, the poor life of our soul goes on, in the light of unreal faith and sentimentalism. Halfway between God and the world there is a confusion of aspirations, contradictions and compromises. Only God is, only God knows, only God can do anything. This is the truth, and with the help of my faith I discover this more deeply every day.

This "waiting," this "not making plans,"
this "searching the heavens," this "being silent" is one
of the most important things we have to learn.

God alone rules the cosmos, only God knows when I shall die, only God can convert China. Why try to take on responsibilities that are not ours, why be amazed if Islam has not yet discovered Christ, or if millions of our brethren adhere to Buddhism, and are spiritually satisfied? The hour will come, but that in no way depends on me.

Does God have a plan for the world, a sacred history for all peoples? Is there an advance in time towards some goal?

Abraham did not know Christ, except in the hope of a promise. But this was no reason for him to be lost, or forgotten by the Father. The moment for the Incarnation had not come; and if Jesus came when He came and not before, it was certainly all part of the Divine Wisdom. God's plans count. Human plans count only in so far as they synchronize with God's.

God comes first, not man. Mary herself could have died without seeing Christ, had God not decided that the moment for the Incarnation had come. The men of Galilee would have gone on fishing in the lake and attending the synagogue of Carpernaeum if He hadn't been there to say, "Come." That is the truth we must learn through faith: to wait on God. And this attitude of mind is not easy. This "waiting," this "not making plans," this "searching the heavens," this "being silent" is one of the most important things we have to learn.

The moment will then follow when we are called, when we must speak out, when our hands will have grown tired from baptizing: the moment of the harvest. But even then we will be blind if we think of ourselves as the sole agents in bringing it about. The extraordinary thing is that God uses us, who are so insignificant and unworthy.

Love is the fulfillment of the law and should be
everyone's rule of life; in the end it’s the solution
to every problem, the motive for all good.

I didn't want to reach this point, because there is a question I am loathe to tackle. Even to ask the question seems impertinent, and lacking in faith.

Pray or act? Stay or opt out? Go out into the world or use the Church as a refuge?" And there we are at the beginning again, where we persist in posing irrelevant questions. Our hankering curiosity is so much stronger than our desire to obey the word of God.

But now I'm tired of arguing. I don't want to go on disputing anymore. My belief in the ability to convince by works alone has gone. I am silent under these African stars, and I prefer to worship my God and Savior.

But I must react in some way to the insistence of the young people who have written to me here; they do put their finger on an important point, and what is more they have suffered. I can reply only that in the world everything is problematic except one thing: charity, love. Love alone is not a problem for him who lives it.

I can only say, "Live love, let love invade you. It must never fail to teach you what you must do." Charity, which is God in us, will point to the way ahead. It will say to you "Now kneel," or "Now leave."

It is love that gives things their value. It makes sense of the difficulty of spending hours and hours on one's knees praying while so many people need looking after in the world; and in the context of love we must view our inability to change the world, to wipe out evil and suffering.

It is love which must determine our actions, love which must give unity to what is divided. Love is the synthesis of contemplation and action, the meeting-point between heaven and earth, between God and us.

I have known the satisfaction of unrestrained action, and the joy of the contemplative life in the dazzling peace of the desert, and I repeat again St. Augustine's words: "Love and do as you will."

"Love and do as you will." This is the crux.
When I love I can no longer do as I will.

Don't worry about what you ought to do. Worry about loving. Don't interrogate heaven repeatedly and uselessly saying, "What course of action should I pursue?" Concentrate on loving instead.And by loving you will find out what is for you. Loving, you will listen to the Voice. Loving, you will find peace.

Love is the fulfillment of the law and should be everyone's rule of life; in the end it's the solution to every problem, the motive for all good. "Love and do as you will." This is the crux. When I love, I can no longer do as I will.

When I love, I am love's prisoner; and love is tremendous in its demands when it has God as its object; especially a crucified God. I can no longer do my own will. I must do the will of Jesus, which is the will of the Father.

And when I have learned to do His will, I shall have fully realized my vocation on earth and I shall have achieved the highest stage a person can reach.

The will of God. That's what rules the world and moves the stars, what converts the nations, what starts all life and brings triumph out of death.

The will of God raised up Abraham, our father in the faith; it called Moses, inspired David, prepared Mary, sustained Joseph, made Christ incarnate and demanded His sacrifice; this it was that founded the Church. And it is God's will still to continue the work of redemption until the end of time.

It will call people to enter, one by one, into the visible body of the Church when the time is ripe -- after having belonged to His invisible soul through their good intentions and good will. Whether you are on the sand worshipping, or at the teacher's desk in a classroom, what does it matter as long as you are doing the will of God?

And if the will of God urges you to seek out the poor, to give up all you possess, or to leave for distant lands, what does the rest matter? Or if it calls you to found a family, or take a job in a city, why should you have any doubts?

"His will is our peace," says Dante. Perhaps that is the expression which best brings into focus our deep dependence on God.

Taken from Chapter Four -- "Who Guides the World?" -- of the book, Letters from the Desert, by Carlo Carretto. © Copyright 1972 Orbis Books. Published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York. Used with permission. First reprinted in the September/October, 1992, issue of Union Life.

Carlo Carretto was born in Italy in 1910. At the age of 44, he was called by God into the desert. He left Italy for North Africa, where he joined the Little Brothers of Jesus, an order started by Charles de Foucauld. He wrote many books during his life of solitude and contemplation. He died in 1988 at the age of 78.