Sunday May 19, 2019
4:44 pm
Bishop Hying

Lesson to be learned by Christ’s total obedience to the Father, even unto death on the cross

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on April 9, 2017      

 

       Throughout the Gospels, Jesus steadfastly reiterates a central theme of his mission: he has come to earth to do the will of his heavenly Father. His long nights of intimate prayer, the extended days of ministering to the crowds, his fasts and feasts, his tears and laughter all express Jesus’ fundamental desire to fulfill what the Father has asked of him. This radical obedience to the divine will culminates in the events of Holy Week.

       After the Transfiguration, Jesus resolutely sets his sights on Jerusalem, journeying up to the sacred city to intentionally embrace his passion and death. Along the way, he speaks movingly of the destiny that awaits him, warning his followers of future persecutions and suffering, but also assuring them that glorious resurrection waits just on the other side. 

       Whether the crowds greet him with adulation and hosannas on Palm Sunday, or shout for his crucifixion on Good Friday, Jesus is steadfast and faithful to the will of God as it unfolds in his life.  Tellingly, he asks the Father to let this cup of suffering pass him by in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he ultimately surrenders to the violent sequence of terrible events engulfing him. 

       We can learn much from Christ’s total obedience. In our age, obedience is often viewed as oppressive, crushing and illogical. Especially as Americans, we resist letting anyone tell us what to do. This attitude is encoded in the DNA of our political and social history. 

       While obedience should never be blind, unquestioning or fanatical, we do learn the manifest will of the Father in what is asked of us by legitimate authority. Parents, teachers, bosses, pastors and leaders of all kinds ask us to do many things and accomplish great projects. If we balk at these appropriate claims on our time, energy and talent, how will we ever learn to obey the will of the Father?

       In all of my pastoral assignments, as both a priest and a bishop, I have only once resisted going to a parish to which the Priest Placement Board wanted to send me. I insisted on my own way, got what I thought I wanted, and ended up being frustrated and miserable. The one time I was not docile to the voice of the Church led to the only period (which was mercifully brief) of my priesthood when I was not completely joyous and fulfilled.

       I learned an important lesson, as painful as it was.

       Again, obedience does not mean that we cannot question, dialogue, discern, voice other options or think through alternative strategies or possibilities. It does mean, after we have spoken our mind and heart, that we will do what is asked of us if the one doing the asking has a legitimate claim on us, has authentically listened to our concerns, and what we are asked to do is not morally wrong or harmful to ourselves or others.

       One can always quit a job if the boss is unbearable, but what profession, vocation or employment situation does not require some form of self-abnegation, discipline of will and acceptance of authority?

       In the spiritual context, obedience sets us free to fully become children of God in belief, word and deed, which is our deepest identity and fundamental purpose. Listening to God in prayer, meditatively reading the Scriptures, studying the teachings of the Church, serving the needs of others and forgiving those who hurt us are practices that will deeply form us as disciples of Jesus Christ who have an ear for the Lord’s voice, the heart of a servant, and a joyous will that only wants what God wants. 

       When we surrender fully to the will of the Father, we discover a joy, peace and purpose that banish self-pity, fear, tepidity, sloth and sadness. We become the vigilant servants awaiting their master’s return who the Lord speaks of in the Gospel. True obedience liberates us to “Do whatever he tells you,” as Mary tells the stewards at the wedding feast of Cana.

       We all do things that we resist doing: getting out of bed on time, going to work with a headache, cleaning the messy house, sitting through a dull meeting, listening to an unreasonable complaint, or being courteous when we are actually angry. These generous actions, which go against our own will, strengthen our disciplined resolve to do the will of the Father. Every day I try to intentionally do something that I resist, just to exercise and strengthen my docility and obedience muscles.

       As we celebrate the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week, contemplate the beautiful truth that everything Jesus says, does and endures in these final days of his earthly life is an expression of his passionate desire to do the will of the Father. 

       And what is that will?  That we be saved from our sins and from eternal death, that we all would live in the Kingdom of heaven forever, that even now, we could taste the tantalizing joy of the risen life and be set liberated from everything that weighs us down. 

       God wants our happiness and salvation more than we even want it for ourselves. What wondrous love is this, that God allows his Son to suffer shame and death so that we can be set free for all eternity? 

       We adore you O Christ and we bless you, for by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

 

       + Bishop Donald J. Hying

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