Saturday, April 11, 2015

After a Long Dry Spell

Okay, so much for daily posts through Lent. My apologies.

I was asked to deliver a prepared reflection for a lay prayer group that meets monthly for rosary, Mass, confession, reflection, prayer, and fellowship. I agreed because I figured it would be good for me even though the very thought of it was intimidating and I was nervous for the two weeks leading up to it all the way through until about ten minutes or so after I had finished and sat back down.

I can take no real credit for what I have written here, as it has all been said many times before and I still find myself learning from what I put together. Since my lack of discipline makes it difficult for me to persevere in a task for weeks on end, this is something that I need to work on myself.

Hopefully, this will help me to remember why I want to choose to do the right thing each day and to actually follow through with doing the right thing every day.

Without further ado, I share with you my personal reflection on obedience:

Two years ago, April 11th fell on the second Thursday of Easter. The first reading for that day came from the Acts of the Apostles: chapter 5, verses 27-33.

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

In his homily that day, Pope Francis focused upon the word obey as it appears more than once in this passage. He explained that the word “obey” comes from the Latin word that most literally means to listen and attend… that is what it means to obey. We often use the word listen in the same way. ‘Listen to your mother’ means much more than to register the sound of her words as she speaks. If we truly listen, we take in what we are told. We understand and absorb the truth of it. We make a determination that will build upon what we are. When we truly listen, we must make an action of the will to either accept or reject what we have heard. This acceptance or rejection is the heart of obedience or disobedience.

It is of the utmost importance, at this point to reflect upon one of the defining characteristics of our human nature: our free will.

The will is one of our insubstantial parts. It cannot be forced. Any action of our will is truly ours alone. Obedience is a free action of the will. Greek, the original language of the New Testament, went even further than Latin in how it expressed the concept that we call obedience. The Greek word that we would translate as obedience is actually a form of the verb that means to persuade. A slight change in the ending of the verb points it back to oneself so that obedience is the idea of persuading yourself. We should always be mindful that we have chosen to submit to any rules that govern us, whether they be human or divine.

The Apostles show us, in the passage above, that we must constantly and freely choose which rule will govern us.

God gave Adam and Eve only one command while they were in the Garden of Eden. While there are many levels of meaning that can be explored in the story of the fall of man, in one respect it does not matter so much what had been forbidden them so much as it matters that there was but one thing that was forbidden. In the Garden, there were no mitigating circumstances; there was no option “C”; there was no moral sophistry before they ate of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. That one command given by God required Adam and Eve to make the free choice between obedience to God solely for the love of Him who had given the command or disobedience because their own desires mattered more.

Our choices would never be so simple again. Now, mankind is able to understand the right and wrong of an action in a very different way. We balance consequences and foreseeable outcomes with conflicting desires. Utility and pleasure influence our choices as much or more than love.

Many generations after the fall of man, God showed mercy to His chosen people by giving them more commands. This time, there was not the single test but the revelation of the way to live well in the sight of God. There are three commands that tell us how to know and honor God and seven commands that tell us how to live amongst each other.

When the Chosen People found that ten simple commands left a great deal of room for temptation and justification, they had recourse to God, through Moses, for further instructions so that they might know when and how to obey the commandments properly. Deuteronomy is not a popular part of the Old Testament to read, but the multitude of minute rules comes at our request. Careful and explicit laws give us the opportunity to know when we are obedient to God’s law. We know when and how to obey the commandments and by obeying the commandments, we know how to properly live out our love for God and for our neighbor.

As Easter people, we have Christ’s instruction that takes us back to the simple choice of obedience for the sake of love. Jesus affirmed that obedience to the commandments was the path to heaven, but he also taught us why. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind and because we cannot truly love in thought without loving in deed, that command cannot be separated from the second, that you should love your neighbor as yourself.

We are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. God is love itself. When we love, we live out God’s perfection. We put our love into action when we obey God’s law that has been revealed to us.

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