“All that is done by obedience is meritorious . . . It is obedience, which, by the light of Faith, puts self-will to death, and causes the obedient man to despise his own will and throw himself into the arms of his superior . . . Placed in the bark of obedience, he passes happily through the stormy sea of this life, in peace of soul and tranquility of heart. Obedience and faith disperse darkness; he is strong because he has no longer any weakness or fears, for self-will, which is the cause of inordinate fear and weakness, has been destroyed.”
-Saint Catherine of Siena
As Holy Week comes to an end with the great culmination of Christ’s crucifixion and ultimate resurrection, I am reminded of His greatest gift to each of us, and the underlying reason for His death - obedience. As the Catechism teaches, Jesus' whole life was motivated by His desire to embrace His Father's plan of redeeming love (No. 607). Truly, He “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2; 8-9). And so we are also called to drink of the cup our Father gives us, and be made perfect ourselves. (See generally John 18 and Hebrews 4). I’m amazed by the gentleness of His gaze upon the cross, the treasure of Heaven upon Him. By embracing His Father’s will and making it His own, the whole earth became His.
One of the greatest battles, if not the greatest, is quieting our own desires in favor of God’s will. Real obedience to God means discerning His will, in both the small and large moments, and learning to lean into it, regardless of our current feelings about it. One of my favorite prayers is, “God, tell me what you want me to do, and then command me to do it.” To follow God’s will, and ultimately, to desire His will and nothing more, is the foundation for true discipleship, which can only be done once we truly fall in love with Him for who He is and not for what He does for us.
All too often, we shudder at the thought of being told what to do; we fear the unknown and what we cannot predict. We make our own plans, because we are too impatient to wait. But by surrendering our will to His, and as a result, learning obedience, we acquire the virtues which promise freedom. Love leads to obedience which leads to truth which leads to freedom…and finally, joy.
There are many reasons for our disobedience (or, delayed obedience). These can include fear, apathy, discomfort, temptation, selfishness, and misguidance. We often think that God just doesn’t care what we do, that He isn’t really that involved in the intricate details of our lives; that He isn’t present or concerned about everything we do. I have heard so many times over the years that God has bigger fish to fry than to care about certain “small” details in our lives. But herein lies a problem in our thinking - if we believe that God was able to come to this Earth fully divine and fully man, subject Himself to death on a cross, and was able to raise Himself from the dead, do we think that it is outside of the realm of His power to know and care about every single thing in our human lives? Or are we so blinded by ourselves to think it doesn’t matter? Or, even worse, are we so arrogant to think we are greater than Him?
What little faith we have sometimes! When we pause to think of how we were created, Who breathed life into us, and for Whom are we desiring eternity, how could we even fathom to ask if He cares about the little things? Our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and our souls - our creation is written into them; and His plans for them include unconditional perfection. What does this say about our thoughts, our behaviors, our conscious desires? Do we strive to be virtuous, or do we continue to pretend He doesn’t see or, worse, even care?
Pope Benedict XVI once said, “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say…: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life...”
This week, I was reminded of my wretchedness when God gave me a glimpse of what I look like when He’s not fully on my mind and in my heart. I was impatient, prideful, selfish, and just overall annoyed at many of the people God placed in my life this week; people to love and serve. It was as if He said, “Betsey, this is who you would be without me. Open your eyes, and see what my love and mercy provide.” How grateful I am for moments that humble me.
There is something beautiful to behold in Truth. It’s constancy, it’s predictability, it’s certainty; but most importantly, Truth stands for Him, who is unchanging and unwavering in His goodness and mercy. It’s a real challenge in our lives, and a real blow to our pride, to surrender our smallness to His greatness; to embrace what He commands, rather than to follow our own desires.
St. Francis de Sales said, “We all have a natural inclination to command, and a great aversion to obey; and yet, it is certain that it is more to our advantage to obey than to command. It is for this reason that perfect souls have so great an affection for obedience, and find in it all their delight.”
Each of us wants to do what we want when we want. When He doesn’t answer how we like (or in the manner or timing that we like), we pretend He doesn’t care. When He wants more for us, we convince ourselves that He’s stifling. When life gets challenging, we turn away from Him, rather than run to Him. All the while, He’s had (and continues to have) our best interest at heart.
When we look at Christ on the cross, we are reminded of true obedience and ultimate freedom. And as a result, we are each called to surrender and obey, to make His will ours. His life was perfected in His surrender; thus, our surrenders lead to our final perfection. And while this calls for patience and endurance on our part, we cannot fathom the sweetness of life and the goodness of His mercy and love without it.
At some point today, place yourself in front of the cross and ask Him what more He wants of you…from you. Where does He want you to be healed, to accept and know the love He wants you to experience as His disciple? And how does He want you to obey, to let go, to surrender to the calls He has for you? “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.” — St. Ignatius of Loyola.
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Betsey Sawyer is an attorney and adjunct professor in Mississippi, and works for Women of Grace as the Mission Advancement Coordinator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Kennard Photography)