Obedience in the Divine Plan

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Christ the King of the World - by Hans Memling - from Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

 

God Guides Everything by His All-Powerful Providence. Divine Providence consists of the Dispositions by which God Guides all His Creatures with Wisdom and Love, to their Ultimate End. After our First Parents' Fall, Original Sin, God buoyed them up with the Hope of Salvation, by Promising Redemption; and He has never Ceased to show His Solicitude for the Human Race. For He wishes to give Eternal Life to all those who seek Salvation by Patience in Well-Doing.

Even when Man Disobeyed You and lost Your Friendship You did not Abandon him to the Power of Death . . . Again and again You offered a Covenant to Man. (Roman Missal)

 

Obedience in the Divine Plan

by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

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We are Totally and Ceaselessly dependent on Him
 

The Concept of Obedience implies an 'Authority' with the Right to Command, and a 'Subject' with the Obligation to Obey. It is important to understand both of these Realities: Authority and its Rights, and the Corresponding Obligation on the Part of Subjects to Acknowledge that Authority and to Submit to its Requests.

All True Obedience is Ultimately Directed to God, for all Authority ultimately comes from Him, and Rests on His Absolute Dominion over all He has Created, and on the Total Submission due Him. More than we can ever realize in this life, we are Totally and Ceaselessly Dependent on Him "in Whom we Live and Move and Have our Being" (Acts 17:28).

 

God Rules Through Intermediaries

While all Authority has its Ultimate Source in God, in the Divine Plan, that Authority is Exercised mostly through Intermediaries. Man is a Social Being destined to live in Society on which he is Dependent in many ways for the Necessities and Safeguards of Life. For that reason God, wishing to Communicate a Share in His Authority and Power to Rule, to Creatures, has so arranged Creation that His Will is made known to Men through the Arrangement of Society in which some are Superiors, while the Majority are Subjects. By the very Nature of Society, there must be some who have the Authority to make Laws and to Enforce them, if Humans are to live in Unity and Peace. Many Human Benefits can be achieved only by Joint Effort, which requires Planning and Coordination, all of which cannot be had without a Principle of Unity, a Recognized Authority which Coordinates the Efforts and Talents of its Members toward the Common Good. This is Confirmed by the Words of Saint Paul, who Testifies that it is God’s Will that in Society, there be Superiors, Commissioned with Authority delegated by God, and Subjects, whose Duty it is to Obey.

"Let everyone Obey the Authorities that are over him, for there is no Authority except from God, and all Authority that exists is Established by God. As a Consequence, the Man who Opposes Authority, Rebels against the Ordinance of God; those who Resist thus shall draw Condemnation down upon themselves . . . . You must Obey, then, not only to Escape Punishment, but also for Conscience's Sake" (Romans 13:1,2,5).

 

Sharing God's Authority

There are Different Spheres of Human Society, to each of which (according to their Specific Nature) God delegates to Key Individuals or Groups, Authority to Make Laws and Enforce them, and to Discipline, when needed, for the Common Good. Those Branches of Society include the following:

  1. Domestic Society (the Family) over which God has given to Parents, Authority to require Obedience, and to Discipline when it is lacking, for the Good of the Individual and the Family.
  2. Civil Society - Ruled by those Lawfully Elected or Appointed for Office according to the different Systems of Government, and the different Departments thereof.
  3. Professional Society - which is made up of Employers and Employees, whose Respective Rights and Duties are determined by Agreement or Contract.
  4. Ecclesiastical Society (the Church) in which the Highest Authority resides in the Roman Pontiff (for the Whole Church), and the Bishop (for each Diocese), etc.

Our Life, then, is Governed by a Number of Authorities. All Subjects of all Legitimate Superiors are Obliged to Obey the various Sources of Authority over them, whether that Authority be of one's Parents, the Civil Officials, the Pastor of a Parish, the Teacher in the Classroom, a Military Officer, one's Employer, etc., insofar as they do not Command Contrary to the Law of God, or Beyond the Limits of their Authority.

 

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The Fall of the Rebel Angels - by GIORDANO, Luca -
from Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 

The First Rebellion

To see the Place of Obedience in the Divine Plan, we must look at the very Beginning of Things as Revelation Informs us. We know from the Scriptures that before God Created Man, He Created the Great Multitude of Angels; and just as with Man later on, the Angels were put on Trial in such a way that they had the Freedom to Accept or Reject what God had asked of them. The Majority, it seems, chose God's Will and were Transmitted to Heaven; the others Rejected it and were Cast into Hell. Speaking of this, Pope John Paul II commented: "Instead of Accepting a God Full of Love, they Rejected Him, Inspired by a False Sense of Self-sufficiency, of Aversion, and even of Hatred that changed into Rebellion" (Address July 28, 1986).

Again, when God Created the First Man and Woman they Disobeyed (we know the Story), and were Deprived of the Divine Life of Grace, and Incurred various other Effects of Original Sin. Through them, Sin and the Inclination to Sin entered the Human Race. Just as a Stream, if Contaminated at its Source is Contaminated throughout, so all the Descendants of Adam and Eve share in their Contamination, in the Fruits of their Disobedience, namely, a Tendency to Rebel against whatever Limits their Freedom.

God, then, Created both Angels and Men to His own Likeness and Image, with the Freedom to Accept or Reject what He Wills, that is, the 'Capacity' to Obey or Disobey. Note: the 'Capacity' to Disobey, not the 'Right' to Disobey. And He did this because He Willed that the Submission of our Will to His be the 'Condition' of Receiving His Gifts. If Grace comes to us from God, there must be some kind of Union between God and us. That Union cannot be of a Physical Nature, for God is a Pure Spirit. It is a Union of Wills, that is, a Submission of our Will to His. Every time our Will is Conformed to His (in doing what He asks, or Accepting what He Allows), we Merit an Increase of Grace; and the Greater the Love in that Submission, the Greater the Merit. A Deliberate Refusal to Submit our Will to His, if the matter is Serious, could cause us to Lose the Divine Life of Grace entirely, giving Satan a certain Dominion over us.

Angels and Man are both Created in the Image and Likeness of God; i.e. Rational (Intellect + Will) Beings

God - Unity (1) of Three (3) Persons

Angels

Man - Unity (1) of Body + Soul

Uncreated
Pure Spirit

Created
Pure Spirit

Body

Soul - Grace resides
within the Soul's Essence

Intellect

Will

Intellect

Will

Mortal:
Subject to
Suffering and
Death

Intellect

Will

Infinite (∞)
Knowledge
and Wisdom

Absolutely
Good and
Loving

Limited
by
Nature

United with
God's Will by
Beatific Vision

Limited
by
Nature

Weakened
by
Original Sin

 

You are not Your Own

Not only did God Bring us into Being and Give us every Gift of Nature and Grace that we Possess, but sent His Only-Begotten Son Who Paid the Price of our Redemption by the Painful Sacrifice of Calvary. He thereby Rescued us from the Plight that had Befallen Mankind because of the Sin of our First Parents, namely, Eternal Separation from God and the Beatitude for which we were Created. For that Reason, Saint Paul declared that we belong to Jesus Christ Who Purchased our Freedom by the Shedding of His Blood. "You are not your own, for you were Bought at a Great Price" (1Corinthians 6:20). This Debt of Total Submission to God is expressed also in the Official Worship of the Church: "Father . . . through Your Beloved Son, You Created the Human Family. Through Him You Restored us to Your Likeness. Therefore, it is Your Right to Receive the Obedience of all Creation" (Preface of the Mass).

 

Some Aspects of Obedience

Obedience can be taken in a Broad Sense, in which Sense every Sin is a Sin of Disobedience against God. Thus, if one Sins by Theft, or Murder, or Adultery, etc. he is Disobeying one of God's Commandments. In this Sense, says Saint Thomas, "All Acts of Virtue, insofar as they come under a Precept, belong to Obedience" (II II,104,3,ad 2). Yet, Obedience in the Strict Sense is the Virtue which Inclines the Will to Comply Promptly and Willingly with the Command of the Superior, out of Respect for His Authority. And the Sin of Disobedience in the Strict Sense is to Disobey out of Contempt for the Superior or His Authority. This sort of Sin, springing from Contemptuous Pride is, in Itself, a Graver Disorder than Sins of the Flesh (which may be more Shameful), or Sins of Avarice or Greed; for the Over-Attachment to Pleasures of the Flesh or to Worldly Goods do not turn one away from God as readily as does the Inordinate Attachment to One's Will, which leads One to Refuse to Submit to God's Will or to Accept His Word which Hinders him from having his own way (ibid. 3). That is why our Blessed Lord said to the Pharisees: "I assure you that Tax Collectors and Prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of Heaven before you" (Matthew 21;31).

This Helps us to see the Importance of Obedience, and the Harm of Disobedience; for Obedience Disciplines the Will, that Key Faculty that Accepts or Rejects God's Will, the Faculty by which we Love God and Neighbor, the Faculty which is Meant to Control all the other Faculties and Appetites of the Individual Person. Habitual Obedience Strengthens that Faculty, while Habitual Disobedience Weakens it.

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Is this Freedom?

Theology tells us, and Experience bears it out, that the more one Obeys the Laws of God, the more Free he becomes. "The Truth will make you Free" (John 8:32). It is a Freedom from the Domination of One's Passions and Evil Inclinations. On the other hand, the more one identifies Freedom with doing whatever he Wishes, "Doing one’s own Thing", the more he becomes a Slave of his own Passions and Evil Inclinations.

 

Obedience and Charity

The Divine Plan places Obedience at the very Center of our Relationship with God. The Recognition of His Authority and Submission to His Will (for those with the use of Reason) is a Key Condition of receiving His Grace. This might seem at Variance with Our Lord's Stress on Charity, or Love of God and Neighbor, as the Key Virtue. The Message of the Gospel is Truly a Message of Love, and the Perfection of that Virtue is the Essence of Sanctity. In practice, however, Love is Inseparable from Obedience. As Saint Thomas emphasizes "Charity cannot exist apart from Obedience". One cannot Love God without Obeying Him. Our Blessed Lord pointed this out Time and Again the Night before He Died.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "If you Love Me, keep My Commandments" (John 14:15).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "He who has My Commandments and keeps them, he it is that Loves Me" (John 14:21).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "If any one Love Me, He will keep My Word, and My Father will Love him, and We will come and make Our Abode with him" (John 14:23).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "He who does not Love Me does not keep My Words" (John 14:24).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "If you keep My Commandments, you will Abide in My Love" (John 15:10).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "You are My Friends, if you do the things I Command you" (John 15:14).

From the above it is clear that Obedience alone is not Enough; it must be Motivated by Charity (Love) if it is to be Meritorious. Why, then, do I Obey? Not only because God, Who has a Right to my Submission, asked for it; but because He Who Died for me asked for it; because He from Whom I received all that I am and have asked for it; because He Who is Infinitely Good and Wishes only my Welfare asked for it.

 

Obedience and Humility

Just as Obedience needs Charity to make it Meritorious, so Obedience needs Humility to Function at all. As we saw, the Sin of the Angels and of our First Parents was one of Pride, resulting in Disobedience; there is a Similar Connection between Obedience and Humility, as Saint Thomas points out. He explains that not only is Pride an Inordinate Tendency to seek one's Own Exaltation, that is, one's Glory and Independence; but it is the Root Cause of many other Sins insofar as It begets a Contempt for God's Authority, causing one to Scorn Subjection to God and His Laws that would keep him in Subjection. "Pride makes one Despise the Divine Law which Hinders him from Sinning". In Contrast with this, Humility inclines one to Submission to God and to those who Share His Authority. Hence the Angelic Doctor says, "Humility makes a Good Man Subject to all Ordinances of all Kinds in all Matters". How True it is to say, therefore, that Obedience is Humility in Action, and Disobedience is Pride in Action. They are but Two (2) Sides of the same coin.

 

The Obedience of Christ

cruxrain.gif (108617 bytes) Since the Eternal Father decreed the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son precisely to Repair - by His Obedience - for Man's Disobedience, it is important that we take a close look at the Obedience of Christ. The Most Perfect Example and Model we have of this Virtue is that of Our Blessed Lord, Who, though a Divine Person, was Obedient to Human Parents. He Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, brought all things into Being, Subjected His Human Will to that of His Own Creatures. From the moment He came into this World, until He Breathed His Last Breath on the Cross, His Life was one of Total Obedience to the Father in Reparation for the Disobedience of Mankind. Saint Paul tells us that in Coming into this World, Jesus uttered from the Depth of His Soul:

"Sacrifice and Offering You did not Desire,
but a Body You have Prepared for Me.
Holocausts and Sin-offerings You took no Delight in.
Then said I, as is Written in the Book of Me,
I have come to do Your Will, O God
"
(Hebrews 10:5-7; Psalm 40:7).

If Jesus went out of His Way to Stress the Importance of our Obedience to Him and His Word, He also went out of His Way to Call our Attention to His Obedience to His Eternal Father, a Refrain that Occurs Repeatedly in the Gospel of Saint John:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "My Food is to do the Will of Him Who sent Me" (John 4:34).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "My Judgment is Just, because I seek not My Own Will, but the Will of Him Who sent Me" (5:30).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "I have come down from Heaven, not to do My Own Will, but the Will of Him Who sent Me" (6:38).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "If you keep My Commandments you will Abide in My Love, as I keep My Father's Commandments and Abide in His Love" (15:10).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) (At the Last Supper) "The World must know that I Love the Father, and do as My Father has Commanded Me" (14:31).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) (At the beginning of the Passion) "Father, if it be Your Will, take this cup from Me, yet not My Will, but Yours be done" (22:42).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) (At the end of the Passion) "It is finished", that is, "Father, I have Finished the Work You gave Me to do" (19:30).

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) And Saint Paul Testifies that Jesus "Was Obedient unto Death, even to the Death on a Cross" (Philippians 2:8).

 

Obstacles to Obedience

Not only do we have to Contend Interiorly with the Self-Seeking Tendency-of-Independence of our Fallen Nature, but, Exteriorly, the Culture in which we Live is one that is no longer God-centered, but Man-centered. It no longer Relies for Guidance on God’s Revealed Word, but on Modern Science. It no longer Looks to the Next Life to find the Main Fruition of one's Obedience, but to this Life - here and now. While the True Christian sees the Need of Dependence on God and the Church He established, Atheistic Secular Humanism which Influences much of Today's Society, Champions the Maximum Autonomy of the Individual. The "Humanist Manifesto" which is the Bible of Secular Humanism declares: "Too often Traditional Faiths encourage Dependence rather than Independence, Obedience rather than Affirmation, Fear rather than Courage". It is Legitimate to question Authority. Each one is to Determine for himself what he is going to Believe, whom he is going to Obey, and to what Extent. All this will depend on his 'Scale-of-Values', which he is to Determine for Himself. This is sometimes referred to as "Values Clarification" which has become Part of our Educational System.

In Contrast to this, the Christian Concept of Obedience is based on:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Faith in God

    - Whose Authority is seen behind the Obedience Requested . . . a Faith that sees how Obedience Unites One with Christ’s Redeeming Sacrifice.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Trust in God

    - Who has Promised not only an Eternal Reward, but also the Necessary Graces to Attain It, for those who keep His Commandments.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Love of God

    - Which is Willing to Sacrifice One’s Will, One’s Satisfactions and Conveniences when God asks it through Lawful Authority, a Love that sees Obedience as Returning God's Love, Whose Son was "Obedient unto Death" on Our Behalf.

 

May all we do, begin
with Your Inspiration


by Father Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., STM


A Prayer For God's Inspiration During the Day

Father,
May everything we do
begin with Your Inspiration
and continue with Your Saving Help.
Let our work always find its Origin in You
and through You reach Completion.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who Lives and Reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. Amen
The Liturgy of the Hours, Week I

 

Story - The Rock

waterfallcabin-640.jpg (19988 bytes) A Man was sleeping at night in his Cabin when suddenly his Room filled with Light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told the Man He had work for him to do, and showed him a Large Rock in front of his Cabin. The Lord explained that the Man was to push against the Rock with all his might.

This the Man did, day after day. For many Years he toiled from Sun-up to Sun-down, his Shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the Unmoving Rock, pushing with all his might.

Each night the Man returned to his Cabin, sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in Vain.  Seeing that the Man was showing Signs of Discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the Man's Mind:

lucifer.gif (13631 bytes) "You have been pushing against that Rock for a long time, and it hasn't budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it". Thus giving the Man the Impression that the Task was Impossible and that he was a Failure, these thoughts Discouraged and Disheartened the Man.  "Why kill myself over this?" he thought. "I'll just put in my time, giving just the Minimum Effort and that will be Good Enough".

And that he planned to do, until one day he decided to make it a Matter of Prayer and take his Troubled Thoughts to the Lord. "Lord", he said, "I have labored long and hard in Your Service, putting all my Strength to do that which You have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing"?

The Lord responded Compassionately, "My friend, when I asked you to Serve Me and you Accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to Push. And now you come to Me, with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your Arms are Strong and Muscled, your Back Sinewy and Brown, your Hands are Callused from Constant Pressure, and your Legs have become Massive and Hard. Through Opposition you have Grown Much and your Abilities now surpass that which you used to have.

Yet you haven't Moved the Rock. But your Calling was to be Obedient and to Push and to Exercise your Faith and Trust in My Wisdom. This you have done. I, my Friend, will now Move the Rock".

At times when we hear a Word from God, we tend to use our own Intellect to Decipher what He wants, when actually what God wants is just simple Obedience and Faith in Him ....... By all Means, Exercise the Faith that Moves Mountains, but it is still God Who Moves the Mountains.

 

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