Sunday, April 20, 2008

Commentary: Pope Benedict XVI and Obedience

Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily at Yankee Stadium today, brought up the subject of obedience. I don't want to highlight any part of this excerpt, rather I encourage you to read it fully - slowly.

The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church's unity is "apostolic". It is a visible unity, grounded in the Apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; cf. Acts 6:7).

"Authority" … "obedience". To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a "stumbling stone" for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ - "the way and the truth and the life" - we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace".

Real freedom, then, is God's gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the "apostolate" of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God's saving plan.

If you are a loyal, Catholic who comprehends that obedience is a choice that only the free can make, you have probably been on the receiving end of someone suggesting that you should think for yourself rather let the Church think for you. I have experienced it many times and I simply remind people that I'm not being forced to follow the Church, I'm freely choosing to follow her - joyfully!

The next time someone challenges you on obedience, I suggest this:

It is not the obedient who are held captive by the Church, but the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

Jesus died on a cross to teach us to die to self! I would like to recall another scriptural passage, this one from Philippians:

8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9* Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13* for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15* that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

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