Book Review: Uniformity with God’s Will by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri
One spiritual book that I read often, is St Alphonsus de Ligouri’s Uniformity with God’s Will. Sometimes the title of this book translates to Conformity with God’s Will. I have another copy named simply The Will of God. However, essentially they are all one and the same work.
The first thing to note about this book is that it is a relatively short read. Most editions, depending obviously on the font used by the publisher, only run to around 40 pages or so. In fact one of the editions I have, is printed in pocket sized pamphlet form.
But don’t let that put you off, this work by St Alphonsus certainly packs a punch and it is one of those books you will find tucked inside the cover of my St Andrew missal as well as being found on my bedside bookshelf.
Like many good books, we first stumble upon them by accident. In my particular case, my first introduction to this book came during an online sermon by a priest. I can’t recall the exact context but the name of the book stuck in my head and I intended to look it up and read it.
Shortly afterwards, I was speaking to my parish priest and I mentioned the book recommendation. Providentially, he had a little copy which he gave me, and from that point, this little work has been a favourite ever since.
St Alphonsus first wrote the work in 1755, probably as a result of the profound effect the death of his Spiritual Director and Confessor, had upon him. The saint wrote a poem about his sentiments around the priest’s death, exploring the subject of the Will of God. It received widespread appeal and no doubt encouraged St Alphonsus to write this fuller tract on God’s Will.
Some editions have a contents page whilst others don’t. My little pocket sized edition which I carry around with me, translated in 1939 by T.A. Murphy CSSR, gives the contents as follows.
- Excellence of conformity to the will of God.
- Conformity in all things.
- Happiness in perfect conformity to the Will of God.
- God desires only our good.
- Special practices of conformity
- Ordinary accidents of life
- Natural defects
- The loss of persons helpful to us
- Spiritual troubles
- Spiritual rewards
My larger edition, the one I use when at home, is a 1952 translation by T.W. Tobin CSSR. It omits a contents page. However the chapters run as follows…
- Excellence of this Virtue
- Uniformity in all things
- Happiness deriving from perfect uniformity
- God wills our good
- Special practices of uniformity
- Spiritual desolation
Some people prefer pocket editions whilst others prefer standard sizes. Some even preference eBook editions that they can read on their mobile device or kindle. It depends on what your own situation dictates I suppose.
I wouldn’t really want to do without either of my printed editions. Although I have taken up the use of a kindle in the past few years, I still like the feel and use of a physical book best. Of my two editions, the edition that stays in our house is not one that would fit in my pocket, so it’s ideal for home and I like the larger font employed.
However, the pocket edition is a beautiful companion to carry around with you, which encourages you to dip into it at those times when you have a moment of spiritual reflection.
More than anything, I have come to understand this work as a way to speak to and listen to God, to meditate about the good and bad things that happen to me and my family. When I first read this book I was profoundly affected by it.
Little things like complaining about the weather or not getting something you asked for, I began to see them as expressing opposition to God’s will. This was an important moment in my inner growth as a Catholic. St Alphonsus says the following on this point…
“We should will everything to be as it is, since God arranged all things.” (trans. T.A. Murphy CSSR)
And I recognise that this is not easy to do. When you have a family member you are worried about or there is something going on in your life that is causing you pain, grief, anxiety or distress, it is easy to forget that it is all in God’s plan.
St Alphonsus reminds us that in the spiritual life it is important to be united to the Divine Will not only in things that are pleasant to us, but in those things that are repugnant as well.
In things which are pleasant even sinners find no difficulty in accepting the Divine Will; but saints accept it even in things displeasing to self-love. Herein lies the proof that our love of God is perfect. The venerable John of Avila used to say: “A single ‘Blessed be God’ when things go wrong, is worth a thousand thanksgivings when things are to our liking.” (trans. T.A. Murphy CSSR)
I particularly find the chapter on ‘Special practices of conformity’ useful. St Alphonsus covers those things that we will perhaps all face at some point in our lives which, if we are honest, not many of us can be said to be looking forward to with relish: loss of a loved one, natural calamities, sickness and death, spiritual desolation.
“Sickness is the acid test of spirituality, because it discloses whether our virtue is real or sham. If the soul is not agitated, does not break out in lamentations, is not feverishly restless in seeking a cure, but instead is submissive to the doctors and to superiors, is serene and tranquil, completely resigned to God’s will, it is a sign that that soul is well-grounded in virtue.” (trans. T.W. Tobin CSSR)
In effect, Uniformity with God’s Will is a spiritual manual that prepares you how to cope with the inevitable dark moments of your life. I often wonder how much of a difference this book would have comforted folk in desperate times, if only they had read it.
It is a book I have no hesitation in recommending. There are plenty of editions out there and in different formats: some publishers combine this work with others in a single volume, whilst other publishers print it individually.
More than anything this little spiritual gem is brief and practical, which means it’s accessible to all of us, even to those who are averse to reading lengthier works.