Christian Obedience Is a Virtue

Dec 31, 2017: Feast of the Holy Family

Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3
Ps 105:1-9
Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
Lk 2:22-40
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Christian Obedience Is a Virtue.

We all like to give orders, but obeying orders is another story. Ever since that conversation in the Garden of Eden when the Devil made Eve think that disobedience was more fun than obedience, the human race has been a race of rebels. In our day, democracy has helped create a mentality wherein the only person we should obey is ourselves. We make the laws, and therefore we will obey them.

However, for Mary and Joseph, the situation was different. They were obliged to follow the Jewish law regarding their firstborn son — a law not man-made, but God-made. Because children are a gift from God, ultimately they belong to God; the Jewish law prescribed a ritual by which parents acknowledged this truth: they would offer God a gift in symbolic exchange for their child. This is what today’s Gospel means when it says that Mary and Joseph “consecrated” Jesus to the Lord.

This insight into the nature of human life — that it comes from God and belongs to God — is the reason behind the Christian virtue of obedience. In politics, democracy makes sense, because all citizens are on the same level. However, in our relationship with God we are not equals. We are just little children relative to God, like grains of sand at the foot of a mountain in comparison with God the all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving. For this reason, our relationship with Him should be characterized by obedience, by letting Him guide us with His commandments and inspirations along a path that He sees better than we do. Today’s Second Reading praises Abraham and Sarah precisely because their faith, unlike Adam and Eve’s, was strong enough to feed the virtue of obedience.

For a Christian, obedience to God is a virtue that leads to spiritual maturity, not a vice that betrays human dignity.

Imagine a tree that got tired of being rooted in the soil. Imagine that it decides to uproot itself so that it can have more freedom to move. By uprooting itself, it contradicts its very nature and destroys itself. That’s what Adam and Eve did when they disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. That’s what we do every time we sin, every time we rebel against our Creator and Savior, the One who gives us our existence and wants to lead us to eternal life.

A little known chapter in the history of World War II illustrates the importance of this virtue. On October 14, 1943, Jewish slave laborers in Sobibor concentration camp, on the border of Poland and Russia, executed a well-planned revolt. Of the 700 prisoners who took part in the escape, 300 made it through the minefield between the barbed wire fence of the prison and the dense forest beyond. Of those, less than 100 are known to have survived the Nazi search parties. One of them, Thomas Blatt, was 15 years old when his family was herded into Sobibor. His parents were executed in the gas chamber, but Thomas, young and healthy, was sent to slave labor. Thomas and two companions made it out and started their long journey through the dense woods after navigating the minefield. At daybreak, they buried themselves in the woods to sleep. At night, they made their way through the trees and thick brush. After four nights of wandering through the cold forest, they saw a building silhouetted against the dark sky in the distance. With smiles on their faces, they eagerly approached it, hoping for sanctuary from their enemies. As they got closer, they noticed that the building they had seen was a tower — specifically, the east tower of the Sobibor concentration camp! They had made one giant circle through the woods and ended up exactly where they started. Terrified, the three boys plunged back into the forest. Only Thomas lived to tell about their awful experience.

When we reject the guidance of God’s commandments and the teaching of His Church, we are like those boys wandering through the woods at night without a guide, and we make no lasting progress to the happiness we long for.

Most religions don’t know for certain what God’s will is, because they don’t have Jesus Christ. Believers in these religions have to obey what they think God’s will is by following their conscience. However, the voice of conscience, like human nature in general, was damaged by original sin. That’s why so many horrible errors and terrible crimes are committing by people who say that it was “God’s will.”

As Christians, God has given us two gifts to heal our conscience and help us know God’s will.

First, the Bible. The Ten Commandments, the four Gospels, and all the other biblical writings open up God’s mind and heart. The better we know the Bible, the better we will understand God’s plan for our lives.

But the Bible alone can be misinterpreted.

And so Jesus also left us the Magisterium, the teaching authority of His Church exercised by the pope and the bishops in communion with the pope. Jesus promised to guide the Magisterium to give us the true interpretation of the Bible. When the pope and bishops make personal comments about how to win football games or how to adjust financial stimulus packages, it’s just normal advice; we can take it or leave it. However, when the Magisterium speaks officially about faith and moral principles, it is revealing God’s will and should be obeyed. This is why it is a contradiction, for example, for people to say that they believe adultery is a sin, but abortion is not. The Magisterium teaches both things with the same divine authority, precisely because God knows that our conscience needs help.

In a few minutes, God will renew His loving commitment to us through the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

When He does, let’s thank Him for all these gifts, and let’s renew our commitment to seeking lasting happiness by obeying His most holy will.

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