Obedience in the Divine Plan
by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
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"
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 Gods 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:
- 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.
- Civil Society - Ruled by those Lawfully Elected or Appointed for Office according to the
different Systems of Government, and the different Departments thereof.
- Professional Society - which is made up of Employers and Employees, whose Respective Rights
and Duties are determined by Agreement or Contract.
- 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.
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
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)
Man - Unity (1) of Body +
Soul - Grace resides
within the Soul's Essence
God's Will by
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
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 ones own Thing", the more he becomes a
Slave of his own Passions and
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.
"If you Love Me, keep My Commandments" (John 14:15).
"He who has My Commandments and keeps them, he it is that Loves Me" (John 14:21).
"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).
"He who does not Love Me does not keep My Words" (John 14:24).
"If you keep My Commandments, you will Abide in My Love" (John 15:10).
"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
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:
"My Food is to do the Will of Him Who sent Me" (John 4:34).
"My Judgment is Just, because I seek not My Own Will, but the Will of Him Who sent Me" (5:30).
"I have come down from Heaven, not to do My Own Will, but the Will of Him Who sent Me" (6:38).
"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).
(At the Last Supper) "The World must know that I Love the Father, and do as My Father
has Commanded Me" (14:31).
(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).
(At the end of the Passion) "It is
finished", that is, "Father, I have Finished the Work You gave Me to do" (19:30).
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
Gods 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:
Faith in God
- Whose Authority is seen behind the
Obedience Requested . . . a Faith that sees how
Obedience Unites One with
Christs Redeeming Sacrifice.
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.
Love of God
- Which is Willing to Sacrifice Ones
Will, Ones Satisfactions and Conveniences when
God asks it through Lawful Authority, a
Love that sees Obedience as Returning
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
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
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
"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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