3 Lessons for Cultivating Obedience This Lent
As a parent we expect obedience. We are disappointed, frustrated, and even angered when we don’t get it from our children. But, obedience is not just a virtue for children. It is so important that it is one of the three “evangelical” counsels which many religious pledge: poverty, chastity and obedience.
Obedience: A Virtue of Freedom
Obedience is not a virtue of slavery. Like all the evangelical counsels it is a virtue designed to promote freedom. The virtue of poverty frees us from slavery to material goods. It brings freedom from fear and anxiety of material loss. It also frees us to bless others generously, sharing what we have for the common good. The virtue of chastity frees us of slavery to bodily desires. It gives us the ability to love others truly and deeply for their own good. They can trust that our love is not for self-gain. In the case of the married, chastity allows the spouses to love one another in a selfless manner with no concern for being taken advantage of. In the case of the celibate, chastity allows them to love God and all their fellow men in a selfless manner.
Obedience: A Particularly Relevant Virtue for Today
Likewise, the virtue of obedience is a virtue of freedom. The goal of obedience is to be free to act in good conscience even in uncertain times. In some ways, obedience has always been one of my favorite virtues (not that I have always lived it perfectly). You see, I have a sensitive and even somewhat scrupulous soul.
This I believe is a problem for many in modern American culture which is somewhat legalistic. Yet, we live in a world in which the right and wrong are not always so simple. We can easily grow burdened with worry. Was this the right or wrong course of action? At times, the church has already given clear guidance on a matter. In these cases, I can undertake freely a course of action even when my emotions or personal inclinations may make this difficult. At other times, I take great comfort in the ability to take counsel from my parish priest and then move forward through difficult circumstances with a clear conscience. While I still may not always know for certain the right course of action, I am able to act with a sense of peace. The virtue of obedience frees us from guilt.
Three Lessons for Cultivating Obedience We Can Learn This Lent
#1 Obedience is Sustaining
He said in reply, “It is written ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
Jesus uttered these words in the desert following 40 days of fasting. It is obedience to the word of God which sustains life. Obedience allows us to live freely and fully because we can move beyond guilt and doubt. Living in this manner gives a vibrant and full life which can withstand trials and hard times.
#2 Our Hearts Will Follow Our Minds
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
This advice comes from St. Paul. We are formed by the things upon which we let our minds rest. Therefore, dwell on things that are good, holy, and draw us to God.
If we spend our time dwelling on frivolous items, we will soon become attached to them. These items do not necessarily have to be bad. The problem is they simply distract us from pursuing who we were meant to be. In the end, we all pursue what we love, so it is important to love the right things.
#3 Obedience is Not Always Easy
After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:41-42)
Jesus is in such agony that just two verses later He sweats blood (Luke 22:44). Luke, a doctor, is keen to report this small detail. The sweating of blood is a rare condition that can occur when an individual is under great stress and it results from the rupture of capillaries around the sweat glands.
In any case, it demonstrates just how difficult the decision was for Jesus to carry out. Obedience, no matter our state of life is not always easy. Sometimes it will require us to fight our emotions with all our strength. In these cases, obedience requires us to surrender.
Throughout your Lent (and especially Holy Week), we encourage you to ponder how you can cultivate obedience in your life. May God grant you the peace and freedom of this virtue.