Commentary by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold you have given to me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by Your will. Give me only Your grace and Your love, having but these I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.
The Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola comes in three parts. This is the crowning point, not just of the Spiritual Exercises; this is the acme of the spiritual life.
“Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding and my entire will.”
What are we telling God? We are telling God to take back what He gave us, but notice where we begin, ‘Receive, O Lord, all my liberty’ and the key word is all, all my liberty. It is the only faculty that God has given human beings which and we have to use the vocabulary, we can call our own. It all depends on our liberty whether we shall reach heaven or not in eternity. Everything in our lives depends on our use of that precious gift of liberty. But notice, ‘take, O Lord, all my liberty’, others are to sacrifice their freedom to God, I have mine.
Then surprisingly, ‘take my memory, my understanding and my entire will’. You have three faculties of memory, understanding and will depend on freedom. My mind will understand; I will learn what my freedom chooses to learn. Again, my mind will remember what I want to remember. In other words, everything in our lives depends on how totally we have surrendered our freedom to God. Hear it, our free will has two kinds of power, it has the power of giving itself, give the freewill itself to God. But this same freedom has the power to command all the other powers of body and soul. If I want to open my mouth, I will, if I don’t I won’t, if I lift my hand, I will, if I don’t I won’t, if I want to bend my knee, I will, if I don’t want to bend it I won’t.
I cannot tell you how critically important in the spiritual life is the power of human freedom to command all the other faculties of body and soul. In other words, this is the first part of the Suscipe with which the Spiritual Exercises close. Where we sacrifice our freedom to God because by sacrificing our freedom we are in effect sacrificing what our freedom has power to give up. We go on.
“Whatsoever I have or hold you have given to me; I give it all back to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by Your will.”
What are we saying here? In the first part of this prayer, notice we surrender our free will and by doing that we implicitly surrender everything else. However, in part two of the Suscipe, what are we offering God? Everything that I have, which is not only my faculties, but the knowledge that my mind has acquired.
I cannot tell you how important it is to be ready and willing to give and if need be to give back to God everything, in Ignatian language, to be governed by God’s will. Having taught some of the finest minds of the Society of Jesus could provide, I can tell you it makes a large difference whether the one who is making the exercises is surrendering to God not only the faculties but the use of the faculties.
I remember for years having been put into the physical sciences, my heart was in philosophy and theology, but for years, because obedience told me to concentrate on the physical sciences, what did I do? I surrendered the satisfaction of my mind and gave up what I would have much have preferred.
And this let me tell you, we are called upon by God to give Him, not just our faculties generically, but the contents of our minds, memories and wills according to His divine will. Finally, what do I ask? What alone do I ask from God?
“Give me only Your grace and Your love, having but these I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.”
Let me be as open as I can with you, it is here especially here, that our true love for God is manifest. It is one thing to tell God, Lord, I’m giving You everything, it is something else to close the Suscipe by telling God, ‘all I want from You is Your love and Your grace, having but these I am rich enough and ask for nothing more’.
In all of our lives, God will both deprive us of things we had, remove from our lives precious possessions, persons, objects we’ve enjoyed. God may send us the last thing on earth, if we had our choice, we would choose. But if we are really, really, I’ll read once more, really in love with God, then all we want from Him is His love, which we cannot see and His grace which we can’t experience, but let’s be clear, God’s grace can be costly. God’s grace can be painful. But whoever said that what is painful cannot be and I mean it, ecstatically enjoyable.
All of this is locked up in the closing words of the Suscipe. How many times over the years I’ve used this phrase, Proverbs 8:17, it is God speaking, “Those who love me I also love”. All that God wants from us is our love. Which means our wills surrendered to His divine will and what can we expect in return, His will with all the infinite generosity that only God can confer on us.
St. Augustine in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer tells us, ‘when we pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, the heaven we are speaking of is first the heaven on earth. The heaven reserved for those who love God with their whole heart and whom God in turn loves with His whole heart and they in turn have a foretaste of heavenly beatitude here on earth.’ Amen.
Excerpted from Contemplation for Obtaining Divine Love - a Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.