Tag Archives: docility

Follow the Leader

27 Sep

Do any of the following quotes sound familiar?

“It’s my way or the highway!”

“You can’t tell him (or her) anything.”

“I don’t care what anyone else says . . .”

Or even, “Honey, please stop and ask for directions.”

These and many similar comments point to how our stubborn pride keeps us from seeking the input of others–usually to our own detriment. How often we lack the humility to realize that we don’t have all the answers, that we can and must learn from others.

There is a virtue that helps us to overcome this false sense of self-sufficiency. That virtue is docility, which is simply the ability to be taught. Even more, as a Christian virtue, docility is what enables us to be formed in the Catholic faith, to grow as disciples of Christ the Teacher.

Doctor Know

Docility comes from the Latin verb docere, which means “to teach.” From docere we get the word “doctrine”–that which is taught. During the era of “doctrine-free” catechesis (now there’s an oxymoron for you!), Church leaders and parents were rightly concerned that their children weren’t being taught, because teaching presupposes content. What was given to that generation–my generation–of young Catholics was many things (e.g., babysitting, sharing, collage-making), but it wasn’t doctrine.

From docere we also get the word “doctor,” which is another word for “teacher.” In the academic world, the most highly educated teachers earn their “doctorate.” In the Church, we have 34 doctors of the Church, from heavyweight philosophers and theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas to amazing spiritual guides like St. Teresa of Avila. The members of this select group are held up to the faithful as eminently reliable teachers of Christian doctrine.

And then finally we have the virtue of docility, which refers to our habitual attitude toward “doctors” who teach us “doctrine.” In other words, it’s about how teachable or coachable we are. As we will see, this virtue has specific applicability to our relationship to the Church, which is our Mother and Teacher. But it also applies to our ability to be taught in every sphere of daily living.

Docility is the mean between the extremes of, on the one hand, an excessive, prideful self-reliance, and on the other hand, a passive, cowering submissiveness. It’s about finding and utilizing wisdom wherever it is found. Mother Teresa famously searched for the “hidden Jesus” in everyone, especially the poorest of the poor. I think it’s fair to say that that the docile person searches for the “hidden wisdom” in others. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Like Noah’s Righteous Sons

24 May

The relation of Christ and the Church is often expressed in marital terms. Christ is the Bridegroom; the Church is His Bride. By extension, the bishop (who acts in the person of Christ) and his flock have a spousal, familial relationship. The bishop’s ring symbolizes his “marriage” to the local Church. Moreover, the bishop typically wears a pectoral cross, not a crucifix. There is no corpus on his cross because the bishop himself is to be the corpus, laying down his life for his bride in imitation of our Savior (cf. John 15:13; Eph. 5:25).

Spousal, covenantal relationships do not involve a quid pro quo. My responsibility to be faithful to my marriage covenant is not dependant on my wife’s fidelity. I don’t assess my wife’s performance each day in order to decide whether she deserves my love. Rather, my commitment–and hers–must be total and unconditional.

This principle also applies to our relationship with bishops. And it should be noted that bishops’ obligations are weightier than our own. Yet the bishop may never say, “These people are a pain in the neck and oppose me at every turn; I will not love and serve them.” He will be judged ultimately on his fidelity to Christ played out through the exercise of his episcopal ministry, and not on the fidelity of his flock.

Similarly, we have a duty of docile reverence toward our bishops as our spiritual fathers. This duty flows from the Fourth Commandment.

Of course, we must not accept error, but with patience, fortitude, and charity we must always preserve unity in our pursuit of Christ’s truth.

Taking necessary corrective action with respect to one of our Church leaders is not a cause for rejoicing or something to be publicly proclaimed so that we can take “credit” for being some sort of orthodox gunslinger. Rather, like Noah’s righteous sons who covered their father’s nakedness notwithstanding his drunkenness (cf. Gen. 9:23), we should take appropriate action while remaining very conscious of the harm caused by publicly airing our grievances against our spiritual fathers.

If my own father were to do something untoward, it would be wrong for me to ignore it or to cover it up for him so that he can get away with it again. But it would also be wrong, and indeed a violation of the Fourth Commandment, to treat him as anything less than my father and to lead the charge in publicly disgracing him.

The foregoing is an excerpt from my article entitled “How to Talk to (and about) a Bishop,” which appeared in a past issue of This Rock magazine.

Seeing Is Believing

4 Jan

My first few days as a law student in the early 1980s were a little daunting. After all, I had seen the 1973 movie The Paper Chase a couple times and had some idea of the incredible stress involved in being a first-year law student.

My textbooks were so thick that I needed to make two or three trips to carry them from the bookstore to my car. My professors were just as intimidating as John Houseman’s character in the movie. What had I gotten myself into?

Early on, though, the dean of the law school gave the new students a very helpful pep talk. He advised us not to get bogged down with all the specific cases and statutes we would be studying. The goal wasn’t so much that we would memorize everything, but rather that we learn to “think like lawyers.” Once we saw the big picture, we could confidently go and look up particular points of law as needed.

I think this practical wisdom carries over to the spiritual life. Continue reading