Monday, November 3, 2008

Being obedient doesn't mean doing what the others say

This is a passage that Deacon Scott copied on his blog, Καθολικός διάκονος:

You have been told that one who loves is one who truly aids your destiny, who truly loves the mission of our life, who truly loves your vocation. Yes, it is true, God has chosen me as responsible for your vocation. This is a given fact that cannot leave anyone unmoved. I say this so that you may pray to Our Lady to help me in this great task that she has given me, that her Son has given me, that Jesus has given me.

I do not know if, in the last meditation, a phrase was quoted that has been handed down to us by the history of the Church, Cardinal Baronio’s phrase, 'Oboedientia et pax,' obedience and peace. Obedience to God is given by obedience to the one He has placed as responsible for your life.

He has placed me, He has called me, as responsible for your life—I repeat—with all my faults, with all the weaknesses I may have; but it is His strength, His strength that saves you. His strength returns to you as light on your path. His strength makes your steps sure—not the strength of men, but of God—along the road that He will point out to you through my words, through the cordiality of my heart. Any other solution is very doubtful—it does not avoid ambiguity, because someone can claim to love your destiny and your vocation, while he really loves himself, while he loves his forms of vocation, while he loves the whims of his heart as if they came straight from God.

Let us pray to the Lord, then, with a Glory be to St Joseph, patron of the holy Church, whom no one would ever have dared to think responsible for Christ, if it were not for the fact that he was placed, by Our Lady, as responsible for His life." (Father Giussani, in the English edition of the Italian magazine 30 Days in the Church and in the World)
This passage really moved me, and I'm very grateful to Deacon Scott for bringing it to my attention. The question of obedience seems to be the sword that is piercing my heart and the sign of contradiction that reveals the secret thoughts of many I know these days.

It is one thing to assert that a Catholic ought to be obedient to the teachings of the Church, or to God. It is another to assert that a Christian ought to be obedient to a friendship. This is the sticking point. Because the Incarnation, the continuing Incarnation of Jesus in time, requires human flesh in order to be something other than a theory. Remaining obedient to a set of teachings, remaining obedient to God or Jesus in heaven, allows us to remain in control. Remaining obedient to Someone whom we meet in human flesh is another matter. It is dizzying and disorienting and requires great attention, honesty, and humility. Most of all, it requires flexibility.

Clairity gives us a concrete example, in her recent 4 part series of posts titled, "Reasoning to a Vote" [Part 1 (Reason), Part 2 (Life), Part 3 (Freedom, and Part 4 (Solidarity)]. In Part 4 (Solidarity), she writes:
...this is where I backpedal from my angry third-party vote....

...The third-party vote is attractive as a tool of freedom, as a personal assertion of everything that is wrong with this campaign and the current administration. As a No-No vote it may be mysterious as to exact intent, but at least it registers the discontent.

There's a larger view, though, which I come to see is more human than reaction. It's a view that fortunately doesn't offend my unquenchable thirst for justice because it comes from a place that won't compromise on the dignity of the person, whether of a prisoner, an immigrant, or a fetus. In the interest of building something better, I've been challenged to look at whether is sufficient to act alone (or with a few) in protest, or whether something better can be grown in solidarity with others. There is one consistent voice in the world that is for the human being, no matter how wretched, and I want to join my voice with that one. It goes back to that precious freedom which refers to a community, not just an individual, and for which a great person would offer his or her life.

So I will vote with the judgment of those who believe that, of the two main candidates, McCain is the wiser one to support the dignity and value of the person and the freedom to raise our children, practice our faith and build social initiatives for a more human society.

Anyone who is familiar with Clairity's blogs, knows that she has been adamant about refusing to vote for John McCain. That she changed her mind is a miracle, something amazing; in fact, it is exceptional. It is a clear example of the kind of obedience Father Giussani is speaking about.

There are many examples in my own recent life that are not quite so dramatic to an outside observer, but which have been amazing to me: that I will vote at all in the election is a direct fruit of an obedience to a new companionship. My reason, working alone, leads me to the conclusion that I should not vote at all. But I have come to understand that my reason, working alone, is an impoverished thing. My reason (it's still my own reason!) working within the context of a friendship, a friendship in Christ, can go further, see more, take more factors into account. Being obedient doesn't mean doing what the others say. Being obedient means being obedient to the deeper, richer reasoning that is only possible in this friendship.

It comes down to an essential question: How do I perceive myself? Am I one, alone, working out my salvation in the privacy of my heart? Or am I grafted into this Body, so that without the other members, I am a dead branch that withers?

For so many years of my life I perceived myself as alone, as independent, as "free." This new understanding is difficult to digest. It is very challenging, and it overturns everything, including methods I have used to survive through great difficulties. The old way of perceiving myself is a deeply ingrained habit, but it is one I wish to break because of the beauty I've met.


Dcn Scott Dodge said...


Thank you for your witness.this morning. I simply love these words:

"My reason (it's still my own reason!) working within the context of a friendship, a friendship in Christ, can go further, see more, take more factors into account. Being obedient doesn't mean doing what the others say. Being obedient means being obedient to the deeper, richer reasoning that is only possible in this friendship."

Sharon Mollerus said...


Thank you for your thoughts on this, a very difficult subject for me. Actually taking a step (following) is exactly what we need to be educated. The politics thing cost me less than other calls to obedience in my life, but it is helping me to recognize how isolated I am usually in my thinking and acting.


Suzanne said...

Thanks, guys. It means so much to me that you are with me.

Marie said...

You know, I have this hunch that I know very well what you mean. But I'm not sure.

I think ... it is because there isn't a way to "be obedient to Jesus in heaven" or to the teachings of the Church and turn away from how Christ manifests Himself in real life. I mean, there isn't any other way to be drawn to Christ but by what you are calling "friendship," right? Otherwise, one is just a case of living private morality. Right?

I think I have an "auto-translate" function operating that really can't (any longer) think of following the Church/Christ with that quintessential Protestant property of deciding on a private meaning for oneself.

Do I, in reality, get what you are driving at?

Suzanne said...

I think so, Marie -- but it's not just a something opposed to private morality. It's a communion-oriented way of reasoning that goes beyond "what's right for the whole" or "what's right for the greater good"? And it goes beyond simply following Church teaching when making decisions. It involves opening oneself up to others. I will think more about your question and maybe post more later.

Sharon Mollerus said...

This election morning I am rereading Msgr. Albacete's article for 2004 "Faith, Politics and the Scandal of Christ". It is fantastic and I will post on it, but this part I think pertains directly to some discussion in this combox:

"In his Why the Church, Msgr. Luigi Giussani mentions essentially three possible ways of having an encounter with Christ....

The Third, Catholic way, is the claim that the experience of encounter with Christ is today the experience of belonging to a people who's life is the expression of Christ's victory. The experience of the fact of who he is, and what that implies in terms of our life. And you can judge political proposals, economic proposals, just as you're supposed to judge your own individual life of work, of vocation, of faith, etc., on the guidance that this experience gives you."

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."