Obedience is an incredibly merciful virtue.
It is one that everyone, especially Millenials, need to learn how to embrace again.
I say Millennials specifically in part because I am one, and in part because our generation tends to take a condescending and patronizing tone, especially towards those we disagree with or those in authority over us. When Millenials are told to do something, we spend more time explaining why we think we shouldn’t be required to do that rather than just shutting our mouths and doing it.
More astoundingly, I find those Catholic Millenials who preach the most about the importance of reverence, sanctity, and tradition often have the greatest offenses against obedience.
Today’s Catholic youth long for Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and a rightly ordered life – all good things. Yet, they become overly suspicious when something doesn’t seem to align with their specific form of Catholic aestheticism. Whether it be a change in the annulment process, a Bishop moving tabernacles to the middle of the Church, or a call to integrate divorced Catholics more fully, the Millenial’s first reaction is regularly one of suspicion and skepticism, critiquing the actions of the Holy Spirit on Earth, rather than embracing all the ways the Church makes Christ’s love and mercy known.
Indeed, the youth, in their desire and search for the Truth, are often not merciful or charitable at all to the very institution that holds the Truth they so desire – the Church. Too often, in their vigor for objective Truth and morality, Millenials rail against that which provides them avenues for the spiritual growth they long for. A priest who dislikes communion rails because he feels that they distance him from his congregation, a Bishop who encourages openness to refugees, and a pope who works to encourage proper respect for the environment all become fair game for dissent and disrespect by the Objective-Morality Millennial.
Yet, in his haste to prove that the Tridentine Mass is the only Mass that can possibly create Saints in this day and age, the Millennial looks right past all of the opportunities that Christ is presenting him in his local parish down the street. The Catholic faith is an uncomfortable faith, and it doesn’t matter how much you know about it or how much in line with doctrine you are – or think you are. If you are truly engaging with the Catholic faith, eventually it will make you uncomfortable. Liberal Catholics may have to deal with the discomfort of rightly ordered sexuality, but conservative Catholics will have to deal with the discomfort of Mercy and the discomfort of being corrected. Simply because conservative Catholics understand the pro-life argument, doesn’t somehow make them the “good kids,” who never get corrected or chastised. Indeed, all Catholics must learn an openness to all the ways the Church works, else they risk becoming the modern day Pharisee: calling out our priests and bishops for “not doing it right,” while they pat their own backs and congratulate themselves for knowing more than those silly priests!
“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Luke 18:11-14
The lost virtue of obedience allows us to embrace the fullness of Church teaching because it forces us to be uncomfortable and wrestle with what the Lord is asking of us right now in the challenging request of this certain priest/bishop/Pope. What good would it do us if we could recite the whole Summa, yet found ourselves incapable of saying to our spiritual Father “I will do as you ask.” Without submission to those in persona Christe, how can we expect to grow in obedience to Christ Himself? What good is it to man if he gains the world, but loses his soul? Growing in knowledge of those doctrines we find discomforting becomes Christ’s means of challenging us to becoming better, wiser people.
Obedience is a virtue of mercy, and one that should be practiced now more than ever in this Year of Mercy. To be obedient to a priest or bishop (or pope!) you find frustrating, you must have mercy toward him. If we grow in mercy towards our leaders, we necessarily grow in humility as we begin to understand our right place in the grand order of things. In the book Roses Among Thorns St. Francis De Sales states that the virtue of humility “sees to it that we are neither troubled by our imperfections, nor in the habit of recalling those of others, for why should we be more perfect than our brothers? Why should we find it strange that others have imperfections since we ourselves have so many? Humility gives us a soft heart for the perfect and the imperfect: for the former out of reverence and for the latter out of compassion. Humility makes us accept pains with meekness, knowing that we deserve them, and good things with gratitude, knowing that we do not.” Does this not sound like mercy, especially as Pope Francis has discussed it? Yet how can we expect to grow in humility if we do not first humble ourselves to be obedient to the Magisterium out of reverence for the Lord, His work, and His Church?
There may be a time for challenging corrupt orders. Certainly there have been – and continue to be – bad priests and bad times in the Church. There is certainly room for discussion and dissent of opinion. However, all and any dissent must be undertaken after serious prayer and in true humility. We must never challenge the Magisterium rashly out of pride or discomfort. When we are confronted with a teaching to which our immediate reaction is to dissent, we ought to check ourselves. Our first response should not be the prideful approach of “he is wrong!” but rather the humble and reverent approach of “I am wrong.” Let us look into these teachings and ask ourselves how the Lord may be calling us to grow through them. We have no need to fear because the pope declared that we should serve the poor better! “Be not afraid!” for the pope is Peter, the rock, upon whom the Church is built and against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail. Fear is from the Devil, who desires us to sew discord in Christ’s institution. Don’t let him get the better of you, but rebuke him and his fear mongering and embrace those teachings which scare you, thanking the Lord for His goodness and mercy all the while!
In this Year of Mercy, let us focus on building up the kingdom of God on earth so that others may come to know, love, and serve Him. Let us embrace the forgotten virtue of obedience, the lack of which separated Adam and Eve from God, lead Martin Luther to destruction, and brought the world to its current divided and confused state. Truly, we need obedience to remain one with the Church, learn proper humility, and open ourselves to the graces that flow from God’s merciful heart.