The Awakening of the Will ~ Rev. Edward Barrett

Painting by Alfredo Rodriguez

Strength of Will by Rev. Edward John Boyd Barrett, 1915, Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur


It is not an easy matter to explain precisely what the “Awakening of the Will” means, and yet it is something very real and very important. It is not, of course, that first dawn of willfulness which occurs at a certain moment in child-life, and which ushers in manhood.

It is not a first but a second spring. It is the sudden acquisition at a later period of life of the sense of willing. It comes to some but not to all, and it is fully intelligible to none, save to those to whom it comes.

The “Awakening of the Will” resembles to some extent the dawn of the aesthetic sense. All men have, beyond doubt, a native sense of art. In few, however, is this sense wooed into actuality and developed.

Very few ever become true aesthetes, but these few find themselves at some time of their lives, and suddenly, in possession of the “sense.”

It bursts like a blossom. Thereafter, they taste, and feel and understand. Around them, and at their elbows throng the many, who never have tasted, and never will taste or feel or understand. The sense of willing is however in many ways different from the aesthetic sense.

It is in the first place a consciousness of a power to do rather than of a power to enjoy. It is accompanied by a feeling of achieving, rather than by a feeling of appreciating. It is a sense-thrill, springing from a knowledge of one’s power to act and to control.

It is not a keen delight in received impressions of symmetry, variety and beauty. It is rather the recognition of one’s self in possession of one’s own self-force. The phenomenon most closely connected with the sense of willing, is the will-feeling which has already been referred to.

Will-feeling accompanies every true will-act. When we make determined efforts to achieve a certain task, and when, so to speak, we are conscious of the steady heaving of the will in its straight, single purpose, we shall always find the will-feeling present.

As we grow accustomed to making will-efforts, and to guiding in this or that direction the force of our will, we become aware of a certain atmosphere of willing. It is unlike the atmosphere of thinking or imagining. It is an atmosphere which seems to be pregnant with energy, activity and control. It braces and tones one up. We feel more virile and more self-confident for having been in it.

It is the mental state of a brave soldier resolutely and undauntedly charging the enemy, or of an intrepid discoverer facing onward towards his goal—as did Columbus or Captain Scott.

When the will-feeling grows habitual, and when we live more and more in the atmosphere of willing which we have described, the coming of the will-sense, or the “Awakening of the Will,” is at hand.

The improved condition of the will seems to react on the whole body. We grow more alert, more strenuous and more energetic. Courage and power to achieve seem to be more firmly established within.

The pleasure we experience in exercising our will grows. We delight in making efforts. To control our actions has now a strange fascination for us. To accomplish a difficult task by sheer will-force now causes as a thrill of manly satisfaction. We feel ourselves more and more in possession of will-force, and at last, sooner or later, the “sense of willing” dawns upon us—and we experience the “Awakening of the Will.”

It is hard to put in words or even to lead people to suspect by mere description what this sudden grasping of the reality of the will means. It is intensely reassuring and vivifying to know and grasp the fact of the will willing within us. It resembles the joy we feel at suddenly coming to know that one has done something great, or has inherited some valuable possession. The treasure hidden within has been discovered by us, and we know that nobody can steal it, and that it is in our power to use it profitably.

We have said that few men use their will. By that we mean that few men act as if realizing the powers and limitations of their will and the best manner of putting it to work.

They use their will as a Dervish would use a baseball bat or a Malay would use a pair of skates. They misuse their will and break and wreck it. They handle the most perfect and delicate of all instruments with the crude roughness of ignorance. Or else they allow their will to lie dormant, “to rust unburnished, not to shine in use.” They live the lives of animals and their will is never awakened. And yet this “awakening of the will” is the very first task to which they should set themselves.

They should call into life and activity this all-powerful force, if they have any ideal in life or any high ambition. The “Awakening of the Will” must, however, come from within. It cannot come from without. No external treatment or influence can awaken a man’s will. He must do it himself, and for himself. His will by willing most stir itself to life.

It must be self-awakened, and it must keep itself awake by constant exercise. Such exercise will win health and vigor for the will.

Sometimes in a will-contest when things are going rather doubtfully and when we are in fear of giving in, a light suddenly breaks on us, and a new strength vibrates through us. We realize suddenly that we have a will and that it is there at work. “The will is there and the will can do it.”

The unknown mysterious something is at work and we confide in it. We feel and know that it is there and we pin our hopes to it. We have of a sudden become aware of the power and force of the will. Beyond question it is there. Beyond question it can achieve the task. Beyond question it is at work.

The “Awakening of the Will” means something very real. It marks the beginning of a new reign—the reign of the will. Spiritual vigor, will-force, energy and self-control characterize the new epoch. The will, always arbitrary and tyrannical, now rules with absolute sway. The sense of willing pervades one’s life and its course is guided by purpose. We are no longer like withered leaves “carried hither and thither by every wind that blows.” We guide through our will our destiny. We purpose and we achieve.

The “Awakening of the Will” is the outcome of long-continued effort. It is not won in a moment. It costs much. It means that a most powerful instrument for good or for evil is placed in our hands.

Henceforth there will be more intensity and earnestness in all that we do. Our resolutions will be deep and strong.

To summarize the foregoing explanation of the “Awakening of the Will,” it means three things:

(1) Consciousness of a new power. (2) Acquisition of a new habit. (3) Development of new resources.

It means, firstly, that we come to recognize ourselves as “forces” capable of achieving and controlling. It means, secondly, that we are now in a position to use our force, habitually directing and employing it with confidence and ease. It means, thirdly, that we come into possession of a mine, from which, if we work and develop it aright, we can draw untold riches.

You, mothers, must awaken them, foster them, direct them, raise them up to Him who will sanctify them, to Jesus; to Jesus, and to Mary, their heavenly Mother, who will open the child’s heart to piety, will teach it by prayer to offer its pure sacrifices and innocent victories to the divine Lover of little ones.-Pope Pius XII

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