Tag Archives: obedience

Let It Be Done!

25 Mar

our lady of graceToday when we use the word “fiat,” we typically refer to an arbitrary, capricious, or self-assertive act of the will. In today’s solemnity of the Annunciation we encounter an entirely different sort of “fiat.” Mary’s “fiat” (Latin, meaning “let it be done,” from Lk. 1:38) was a completely self-giving act of the will. The Annunciation was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer (Lk. 1:26-38). She then faithfully devoted the rest of her life as “the handmaid of the Lord”–to the Person and saving work of her Son.

She was in a real sense the first disciple of Jesus, pondering the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51).

Our Lady’s faithfulness was not a one-time occurrence, but rather part of an ongoing pilgrimage that constantly called her to empty herself, to give of herself, in imitation of her divine Son. In the Presentation at the Temple (Lk. 2:22-38), she learned that her beloved Son would be opposed in fulfilling His mission, and that a sword would pierce through her own soul. From the beginning, there was no mistaking that her fidelity would involve suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8).

Mary continued unswervingly in her pilgrimage of faith as the years quietly passed by. At some point, she encountered the natural human suffering of having St. Joseph, her loving husband, pass from this life. She was there at the beginning of her Son’s public ministry. At the Marriage of Cana, where Christ worked His first “sign,” she became a “spokesperson” for her Son’s will: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:6). Not only does she hear the Word of God and keep it, but she exhorts others to do the same.

Vatican II (1962-65) beautifully summarized the climax of our Blessed Mother’s mission:

“[T]he Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium, no. 58).

Mary’s motherhood did not end with bearing the Son of God. Rather, that’s only the beginning. Nor did it end with Jesus’ death on the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted Mary’s motherhood to St. John, the beloved disciple and, by extension, to the entire Church. She became the “New Eve,” the mother of all who are alive in Christ (cf. Jn. 19:26-27; Catechism, nos. 501, 511, and 969). Undoubtedly our Blessed Mother never tires of telling us to do whatever Jesus tells us. May we have “ears to hear” (Lk. 8:8) such wise motherly counsel!

Obedience, the Love Language of Jesus

19 May

discipleshipIn today’s Gospel, we hear these words of Jesus: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Our Lord emphasizes in this passage the close connection between love and obedience.

I think there is some parallel here to faith and works. Faith without works is dead (James 3:17), while works without faith are futile. We need both. More specifically, an authentic, living faith should lead to actions that reflect our upward calling in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:14). If the faith isn’t affecting how we live, then it is for all intents and purposes lifeless.

Love without works is also dead. Ask any married person if he or she would feel loved if their spouse on occasion said “I love you” but never backed it up with meaningful action. Learning to love one’s spouse well  involves discerning what actions make each feel loved (i.e., their “love language”) and making a habit of those loving actions.

Our Lord wants those who love Him to follow Him every day. He wants us to be close to Him. We certainly do this by setting aside time for public and liturgical prayer. But following Him as His disciple goes beyond these moments of prayer to how we live 24/7. We can’t sit at Jesus’ feet during Mass or a Holy Hour and then disregard His Word to us the rest of the time!  He expects our obedience–our not only hearing His Word but also putting it into action out of love for Him.

Obeying the commandments without love is not possible and, even if it were, it wouldn’t be what saves us. At the other extreme, saying we love the Lord but not doing what He teaches us through His Church doesn’t work, either. As Jesus says, not everyone who calls out “I love you, Jesus” will be saved, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

It’s clear, then, that a significant way we manifest our love for God is by obeying Him. In this regard, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for us. Our Lord says that she is blessed not so much because she gave birth to Him, but because she heard the Word of God and kept it (Luke 8:21; 11:27-28). Not surprisingly, one of her simplest yet most profound messages for all of us is that we ‘do whatever Jesus tells us’ (cf. John 2:5).

Christ has told us and Mary has shown us that obedience is Jesus’s love language. If we truly love Jesus as Our Lord and Savior, we can’t help but strive to keep His commandments.

Mysteries of Light

5 May

Even though I was raised in a large, Catholic family and received 12 years of Catholic schooling, I left the Church as an undergraduate at the University of California and didn’t come back until I was in my 20s. My newly rediscovered love for Christ not only led me to study His teaching, but also to take a fresh look at traditional prayers and devotions used by Christian disciples for countless generations as aids to growth in the spiritual life.

Continue reading

Avoiding Scandal

20 Aug

scandalOne of the principal ways we demonstrate our fidelity to Christ is how we talk about the priesthood and contemporary issues facing the Church. Is our speech edifying? Does it bring people closer to the Lord? Are we ambassadors of Christ’s mercy and peace? (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20).

Probably the harshest critics of the Church are former Catholics and those who still consider themselves Catholic but who oppose the Church on any number of issues. Surely it’s very easy to find fault in the Church sometimes. We may be rightly upset or disturbed. When we give verbal expression to these feelings, we may be just “letting off steam,” and everything we say may well be true. But having some of the truth and needing to let off steam do not excuse making statements that will harm the faith of other Catholics whose faith perhaps is weaker, provide an unnecessary stumbling block for nonbelievers, and needlessly and perhaps even unfairly harm the reputations of others (cf. Catechism, no. 2477).

In place of the above, Scripture is very clear. We are told to say “only the things men need to hear, things that will help them” (Eph. 4:29). As St. Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Scandal involves inducing others to sin (cf. Catechism, nos. 2284-87). It’s nothing less than spiritual murder. Are our comments regarding the Church being expressed in ways that will actually turn people against the Church? And if giving scandal is like spiritual murder, then taking scandal is akin to spiritual suicide. We must protect our own hearts, that we do not allow our own negative feelings about the real evils we encounter to fester and ultimately to lead us out of the Church.

In the business world, there’s a maxim that may help us take the right approach in this matter. Successful managers are able to “catch their employees doing something right” and in the process provide positive reinforcement for good behavior. In the spiritual realm, we likewise do well to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). There are holy people in the Church. There are many great stories of contemporary Christian heroes, not to mention the lives of saints through the centuries. There is much good going on in the Church on many different fronts, globally, nationally, and right here in Kansas City. We need to acknowledge and publicize this truth.

This does not mean that we ignore the sins of Church members. The Church is at once holy yet always in need of renewal and reform, and charitably correcting a sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. Using an analogy, let us assume that a husband and wife are having marital problems, and the husband wants to do something about it. The first step would be for the husband to honestly acknowledge the nature and extent of the problem. He would try to work things out with his spouse, and no one would criticize him for seeking the help of others–marital counselors, spiritual advisors, friends and confidantes, and above all God Himself–to help remedy the problem.

However, if the husband were to begin to vilify his wife to his children, to neighbors, perhaps even to the press, we can say that regardless of the truth and frustration level behind his statements, he is only hurting the situation. Notice that St. Joseph, when confronted with the apparent infidelity of his wife, determined to “divorce her quietly,” without subjecting her to shame (Mt. 1:19).

As Catholics, we similarly have to distinguish between acknowledging the truth and taking restorative action from mere venting and causing greater division within the Church. Perhaps during this Year of Faith we will trust the Lord, confident that His mercy and justice will ultimately prevail.

Catechesis on the Fourth Commandment

19 Nov

This week we transition from the first three commandments, which set forth our responsibilities to God, to the last seven commandments, which specify how we are to love our neighbor. The first of these commandments is:

Honor your father and your mother.

It’s no accident that our duty to honor our parents comes next. In the first instance, we must honor those to whom we owe our very lives. St. Paul goes so far as to say that human parents are a reflection of God’s fatherhood: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15; cf. Catechism, no. 2197).

The Fourth Commandment is the only commandment dealing with love of neighbor that is not expressed in terms of “Thou shall not.” Rather, the commandment points how we should act to foster life-giving relationships in the home, which has been called a “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature” (cf. Catechism, nos. 2204-06).

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully summarizes the duties of children toward their parents:

“Children owe respect (filial piety), gratitude, docility, and obedience to their parents. In paying them respect and in fostering good relationships with their brothers and sisters, children contribute to the growth in harmony and holiness in family life in general. Adult children should give their parents material and moral support whenever they find themselves in situations of distress, sickness, loneliness, or old age” (no. 459).

Meanwhile, there is a beautiful section of the Catechism (nos. 2221-33) that describes the duties of parents toward their children. I think every Catholic parent would find guidance and even food for meditation in that section. I would only highlight here the parents’ role as the “first heralds” of the Gospel to their children as well as their ongoing responsibility to form their children in the faith and Christian virtue.

When children become adults, parents should welcome and joyfully respect the Lord’s call to one (or more!) of their children to the priesthood and religious life. Sure, parents should also rejoice should their children be called to Christian marriage or the single life, but in today’s social climate calls to the priesthood or religious life are too often opposed or even thwarted by Catholics parents who don’t fully appreciate the beauty and goodness of such vocations.

The Fourth Commandment does not only apply to family relationships.  It calls upon us to honor and respect all who hold positions of lawful authority.  Examples would include our bishop and pastor as our spiritual fathers, as well as our secular leaders. Only God’s authority is absolute, but we are to respect all those with authority in our lives, and obey legitimate exercises of such authority.

Authority should always be exercised as a service, putting the community ahead of one’s own interests.  It should respect:

Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God.  All citizens should collaborate with public authorities for the sake of the common good (see Catechism, nos. 1905-12).  This moral obligation on the part of all citizens includes these duties, among others:

  • Pay taxes
  • Exercise the right to vote
  • Defend one’s country
  • Voice just criticisms in defense of others or the community

While citizens are generally called to submit to lawful authority, a citizen is obliged in conscience not to obey the laws of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral code.  “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

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.

God’s Rescue Mission

4 Apr

As the final stage of God’s “rescue mission” to save sinful humanity, He entered into our suffering and misery. Rather than remain at arm’s length, He stepped right into our dysfunction. He rolled up His sleeves, and got His hands dirty—even to the point of enduring a most degrading form of death.

In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul not only emphasized Christ’s humility, but also His obedience (Phil. 2:8). Christ was ever faithful to His Father’s rescue mission. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s servant would bear our iniquities so as to restore us to right relation with our heavenly Father (cf. Is. 53:10-11; Catechism, no. 623).

Because of Christ’s humility and obedience, His Father raised Him from the dead and “highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:9). As Our Lord Himself foretold, “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 14:11). We who have died with Christ in Baptism have firm hope that we will be exalted with Him (cf. Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). This entails our own embrace of the Cross each day, in whatever form it may take, such as sickness, suffering, or setbacks of any kind (cf. Lk. 9:23).

St. Paul also stresses the “name” of Jesus, a name which is above every other name (Phil. 2:9). For the Jews, the name above every other name is none other than the name of God, YHWH (often rendered “Yahweh, ” or Kyrios in Greek).  This name is generally translated as “Lord” in the Old Testament. Kyrios is the same word that St. Paul uses when he says that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). Therefore, St. Paul is saying that in raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him in heaven, the Father is showing forth the sovereignty of He who is the “Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8; see generally Catechism, nos. 446-51).

St. Paul’s expression that at the name of Jesus “every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:10) is a direct allusion to Isaiah 45:23, and it reflects his conviction that the Lordship of Christ must extend over all creation (cf. Eph. 1:15-23). This point is solidified by the reference to the three levels of the universe according to ancient thought: “in heaven,” “on earth,” and “under the earth” (cf. Ex. 20:4).

And so we add our voice to that of all creation when we proclaim the good news that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11).

Mary’s “Obedience of Faith”

10 Feb

The Church calls the act of hearing God’s Word and taking it to heart the obedience of faith. St. Paul bookends his Letter to the Romans with that expression (1:5, 16:26; see also Catechism, nos. 144, 2087).

In our time, Vatican II says that the obedience of faith “must be given to God as He reveals Himself,” which entails freely committing one’s “entire self to God.”

Interestingly, in both Greek and Latin there is an etymological connection between the word “obedience” and the verb meaning to “hear” or “listen.” We’re familiar with expressions such as “to hear is to obey,” and many an exasperated parent has complained that a disobedient child “just doesn’t listen.”

Not surprisingly, then, there’s a connection between effectively hearing God’s Word and what we call the obedience of faith. For example, St. Paul emphasizes that faith comes from “hearing” the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Our Lord Himself also stresses that merely hearing His words but not acting upon them is as futile as building a house on sand. He calls His followers to build on rock–to hear His words and put them into practice (cf. Lk. 6:46-49).

That, in a nutshell, is the obedience of faith.

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which recalls the Blessed Virgin Mary’s 19th-century appearances to St. Bernadette, in which she identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.” Our Lady gives us profound insights as to what the “obedience of faith” is all about.

Mary’s obedience of faith is anticipated in her Immaculate Conception. “Full of grace” from the womb, and by a singular gift of God preserved from the stain of original sin, she was uniquely prepared to give her free, unflinching consent to God’s will for her.

Today when we use the word “fiat,” we typically refer to an arbitrary, capricious, or self-assertive act of the will. Mary’s “fiat” (Latin, meaning “let it be done”), on the other hand, was completely self-giving. The Annunciation was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer (Lk. 1:26-38). She then faithfully devoted the rest of her life as “the handmaid of the Lord” to the Person and saving work of her Son.

She was in a real sense the first disciple of Jesus, pondering the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51). Continue reading

Laity on the Line

20 Jan

Today’s first reading at Mass, from 1 Samuel 24, provides us some important biblical insights as to how we are to treat our religious leaders. King Saul and his henchmen are hunting down David and his band of followers. Saul has fallen out of favor with the Lord and has unleashed a demonic quest to kill David. Just two chapters earlier, Saul put to death 85 priests simply because they gave comfort and assistance to David!

For his part, David has been a loyal subject. His defeat of Goliath and other military exploits, however, have only fueled Saul’s envy and malice. King Saul continues his relentless pursuit of David amidst rugged terrain.

In this scene, Saul wanders into a cave to “ease nature” (1 Sam. 24:4). David and his men, unbeknownst to Saul, happen to be hiding in another part of the cave. Here is David’s chance to bring down the wicked king who is doing everything in his power to kill him. David sneaks over to where Saul is and cuts off the end of Saul’s mantle, presumably as proof that he did have the opportunity to kill Saul if he had so chosen. But David quickly regrets doing that, and proceeds to give not only his followers, but all of us, some important lessons.

First, David refuses to harm Saul. Why? Because Saul is the “Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:7) and a father to him.

Second, David restrains his men and won’t permit them to harm Saul. This was a matter of principle, not tactics. And this loyalty isn’t merely a ploy to gain others’ esteem. When David later hears of Saul’s demise, he rends his garments, mourns, weeps, and fasts for his fallen king, and he even puts to death the young Amelekite man who gave the final death blow to Saul because he “desecrated the Lord’s anointed” (2 Sam 1:14-16).

Third, David addresses King Saul in a manner that reflects the respect owed to “the Lord’s anointed.” He calls him “my lord the king” (1 Sam. 24:9) and later as his father (1 Sam. 24:11). When he gets Saul’s attention, he bows with his face to the earth and shows him reverence. Saul’s manifest unworthiness does not deter David from showing honor to his lawful king.

Fourth, David speaks directly to the king, stating his case clearly and courageously. He is able to point to his impeccable record of loyalty to Saul as he implores him not to listen to those who seek his life. In the end, he places his trust in the Lord to judge the matter rightly, but reiterates that he will not raise his hand against Saul.

David’s words pierce Saul, who calls David his son and acknowledges that David is more righteous than he. Saul’s repentance is short-lived, and shortly thereafter he dies at the hands of the Philistines. David becomes the great king, from whose line would come the Savior of the world. Continue reading