A huge chapter of my life is involved with all that is Discalced Carmelite. Saint John of the Cross is a hero of mine in that he sticks my face in the reality of who I am before Christ our God. I know more just how far I am from being obedient unto death, obedient in all things but sin. After all, I’m not dead yet! Saint John of the Cross knew something of true obedience, so that when he drew Christ crucified in a few seconds on a scrap piece of paper for a nun who had requested this, this is what he came up with, blood and guts, shreds of bleeding flesh hanging on the cross…
Awesome, that. So very unlike the woundless horror painted by Salvador Dali back in the day when everything was oh just so very nicey nicey nice, so nice that it would make you sick to your stomach…
Nice colors, but just a distraction from the reality of the spiritual life. I’m sure it is that kind of image of Christ I would have if I were to be without the grace of our Lord. Not to judge Salvador. I’m sure he meant something nice by this. He just expressed himself very incorrectly…
Advancing in the spiritual life isn’t about niceness, it’s about being faced with who one really is before Christ our God. Since He is drawing us to Himself while He is lifted up on the Cross, during the Sacrifice part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that means that He is dragging us through hell, for all of hell was broken open upon calvary. While we are being dragged through hell, perhaps kicking and screaming, we realize who we are if we were to be without Christ’s grace, and, in this way, we have a better idea of how much we are to be humbly thankful before him. We can’t be thankful if we don’t know that for which we are to be thankful: being saved amidst hell! Wow!
The only way to agree with Christ drawing us to Himself through hell in this most holy of ways is to be obedient just as He was obedient, right unto death, no matter the cost, obedient out of love, so in love with our dear Heavenly Father, so open to His will for us, that we look to Him eager to do His will, no matter what, no matter the complaints, the accusations, the hell.
The term “obedience” has a Latin form (ob+audire) which speaks to the intensity of the listening being done. This comes from the Greek
γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ. That’s from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2,7 — “becoming obedient unto death, but the death of the Cross!” Yikes! That is such listening to our Heavenly Father that it manifests love unto death for us, taking on what we deserve vicariously so as to have the right in justice to have mercy on us: “Father, forgive them!” He said from the Cross.
That ὑπ-ήκοος is ob-audire, obedience, intensely listening to the point of doing the will of Him to whom one is listening.
Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of obedience, saying that it is the essence of religion. He is right, of course, even if the goofy liberal crowd freeze in panic before such words as obedience. As I’ve always said on this blog, obedience is its own reward. Why? Well, because then we are listening to our dear Heavenly Father with Jesus, united with Him, even if, gloriously, upon the Cross, we are seeing what He sees as He draws us to Himself. It takes being just the littlest child of our Heavenly Father to listen when all hell has broken out in front of you. Yikes! But we look not to the hell (before which we would then be crushed), but rather to our Heavenly Father through, with and in Jesus. And this brings great joy!
Escaping the reality of crucifixion into nicey nicey niceness of a woundless Christ does no favor to oneself or others. It is then that life becomes hell. Otherwise, in the midst of hell with Christ, on the cross, wounds and all, being about the business of pardon and love and being with Jesus, there is a real joy of knowing, of seeing the great majesty of His love for us. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Or should I say, Holy, Holy, Holy!
Obedience involves doing the right thing, keeping the commandments, following the doctrine and morality and prudence of Holy Mother Church, that is, always, even if one is being pushed to do otherwise in whatever situation in which one happens to be right around the world. In short: Obedience in all things but sin. And there is plenty of sin to which one cannot be obedient. One cannot be forced to sin. One can always choose to lay down one’s life, even if one is judged, misunderstood, marginalized, rejected, in short, crucified. One can always be obedient to the Church, to Christ our God.
For instance, as Saint Thomas More said in his short, final speech before getting his head chopped off: “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” In fact, being disobedient to a sinful command is a high form of true obedience. In “disobeying” the King, Saint Thomas More was still being truly obedient to the King and to God at the same time.
A great canon lawyer, Monsignor M.O., whom I had invited to give one lecture to the deacons in my Confession Practicum with them, said this about being obedient to one’s superiors when they ask you to do something sinful, such as, in this case, if a parish priest were to instruct his new assistant priest just to give a general absolution at the beginning of every Mass. The good monsignor said that true obedience demands of us that we have such respect for our superiors, that we assume that they will want to do what the Church wants, that we must have misunderstood their sinful command, so that we will just do what the Church wants, assuming that that is what such superiors truly want. In this case, the assistant priest would not give a general absolution, and would not be disobedient either. Very cool!
In the next class of the Confession Practicum, I instructed the deacons that if they should ever be accused by a penitent, that they were to keep the seal of confession even if this should mean that they would be suspended, and, God forbid, put under interdict or excommunicated, or taken out of the clerical state. I said that it is this for which they were ordained. They are to suffer as Christ did on the Cross. There is no martyrdom more glorious. No matter the vindictiveness of those who hate the doctrine and morality and prudence of the Church, of those who truly hate the love and true pardon of our Lord, one is nevertheless to march forward to heaven in all obedience, unto death, with all the wounds and hell that goes on. No nicey nicey niceness here, just the reality of the glorious majesty of Christ’s love for us being manifested in His martyred priests. Very awesome! The deacons were enthralled by this, and agreed that should this happen to them, they would be faithful unto death, since it is for this reason that they were to be ordained priests. This brought great joy to my soul. The joy of seeing the obedience of others is such a joy!
We thank Jesus for His humble obedience, and ask that we, unworthy as we are, might know some of this in humble thanksgiving. Thank you, Jesus!