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As with Abraham, obedience to God can take time to cultivate

      The older I grow, the more Abraham becomes my hero.

      Think about it. Abraham is 75 years old when God instructs him to leave Haran and head for Canaan. That’s a good hoof on foot. I’m 66 as I write this and I can’t image walking, or even riding a beast of burden, such a distance.

      Abraham is 99 when he is circumcised. Enough said.

      Furthermore, Abraham is 100 when Isaac is born to his wife Sarah (herself knocking on the door of 90 or 91). This is centuries before Viagra or epidurals.

      You got to admire a man like that, I don’t care what you say.

      What Abraham exhibits, and it is worth admiring, is his obedience to God. I think, though, that such admiration is not just about Abraham’s obedience, it’s also that the fruit of Abraham’s obedience occurs in his old age. God rewards Abraham’s obedience.

      Obedience to God is a lifelong process, as the story of Abraham illustrates. A lifetime is required to get it through our heads that God is the potter and we are merely the clay. Decades elapse before we finally accept that God has placed within us a new spirit so that we can observe his ordinances (see Ezekiel 36:26-27). When we finally stop banging our heads against that brick wall, we come to finally understand that Jesus is serious when he instructs us to pray, “Thy will be done.”

      Terrence Kardong, the late Benedictine monk from Assumption Abbey up in North Dakota, wrote in his commentary of the Rule of St. Benedict that, “Self-will in its myriad forms is the worst enemy of all spiritual growth…It is the hardest aspect of sin to overcome.”

      And it takes a lifetime to root out.

      But obedience goes deeper than mere compliance. Grumbling observance of the divine will is not obedience; it is simply consent. Obedience, on the other hand, is rooted in listening to God and then aligning our own will to that which we hear from God. By doing so we show our love for God, who loved us first (1 John 4:19). Thus, obedience echoes 2 Corinthians 9:7: “God loves a cheerful giver.”

      Now back to Abraham.

      Note that when God instructs Abraham to head out for Canaan, the 75-year-old man does not debate the matter with God. No appeal to his advanced age (as an aside, here, isn’t it interesting how much age factors into God’s ways? Sarah, Elizabeth, Rachel and the wife of Manoah – unnamed, Samson’s mother – are older and barren, yet God gives them children. Mary, a virgin teenager, becomes pregnant with Jesus. God has a delightful sense of humor), nor to the distance of the trek, nor to what he is supposed to do when he gets to Canaan. God says go and Abraham goes.

      Abraham needed more than 70 years of formation in order for him to reach such a level of obedience.

      Such obedience is seen among younger men and women, of course. Peter, Andrew, James and John “at once” drop their nets to follow Jesus. The Virgin Mary gives her fiat; Mary Magdalene follows Jesus to the cross. How about Therese of Lisieux? Begs Pope Leo XIII to allow her to enter Carmel at approximately the same age that Mary conceives Jesus.  

      But I think Abraham is more like us, at least like me. It takes a long time for things to sink in. Trial and error is my mantra in the spiritual life, with error being the key word. I can just see Jesus slapping his forehead with the palm of his hand every time I commit one of those errors.   

      Ultimately, obedience leads to freedom. This paradox is lost on the young. Not that old farts don’t scoff at the paradox, too. Obedience frees us from vices to which we are consciously or unconsciously addicted, or at least to which we are attached. Freedom is not, as our culture tells us, the ability to choose from a wide variety of choices without impunity (hence, the appeal to the young and many old timers), but rather freedom is not being a slave to our appetites, which is merely the desire for satisfaction. Virtue is a long time acquired.   

      Abraham is lauded, especially by St. Paul, for his great faith. I, too, laud the father of faith. But I do so mostly because he took so long to finally get it.

      There’s always hope.


      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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