Obedience…simple submission or virtue?

Since our creation in our mother’s womb, our bodies have been subjected to a series of laws and necessities that are incumbent upon us for our survival. From the birth that we did not choose until the death that will inevitably follow, we need to eat, drink, sleep, and contribute to the survival of our species. The development of our body and intellect follows a program. We need to relate to and depend on our parents and the world. We need to follow moral, family, municipal, political, or social laws for our good and the common good. The laws of science and physics apply. It is impossible to escape from the experience of suffering, pain, love, and joy. We need to communicate in words or signs, and according to the surrounding culture that imposes its language habits, fashions, and tastes on us. And so on.

Although incomplete, this list of laws, necessities, or constraints leads us to redefine our notion of free will or our true freedom. After hearing this long nomenclature, can we still say that we are truly free? Are we the masters of our destiny? To these questions, I answer: yes and no. Let me explain.

First, let us say that we can certainly influence our destiny through our free choices. And that these choices we make throughout our lives shape us, for better or for worse, and can help to qualify our personality and our possibilities for fulfilment and the achievement of our dreams. We only have to compare ourselves to any animal species to understand that our intelligence is superior and that our ability to express and verbalize our thoughts allows us to become more human, more knowledgeable, and wiser, more compassionate and capable of transmitting our knowledge to others, inventing and working in a multitude of ways to improve our world. Nevertheless, we have no real choice but to enter into this evolutionary and relational process. Otherwise, we become similar to animals or other living organisms that are limited by their predetermined nature.

What is freedom ultimately? How could we define it to avoid the blunders and false ways of interpreting it that have led to more harm than good? Here is an example of a false notion of freedom that can cause great harm: “Do what I want, when I want!” Really! What if I decided to take what doesn’t belong to me, to lie at any time, to rape or commit adultery, to kill or unjustly condemn? Won’t these choices lead to undesirable or even extremely unpleasant effects or consequences in the short or long term? Of course, they will!

Choosing to defy the laws that God Himself imposes on all His creation will always have harmful consequences. This defiance presupposes the presumptuous idea that we have as much intelligence and wisdom as He does. Yet, as the author of all His creation, is He not the only one who sees and understands both the complexity and the simplicity of our universe, from the infinitely great to the infinitely small? Man’s mistrust and presumption can even become catastrophic for the common good and the good of the planet: suffice it to mention the abuses and exploitations of all kinds that we subject the Earth to, because an excessive sense of pride or an exaggerated desire to possess, enjoy, or dominate often motivates us.

Which brings us to the point: what is real freedom? Is it just a worn‐out, cliché word that we use in a variety of situations, or is it merely an idea that surfaces when a person or a group is oppressed in some way? Why do we all dream of freedom and autonomy? Many gurus and philosophers have attempted to answer this riddle over the centuries.

Today, I want to share a moment of great joy with you. I have found the answer to this riddle! Yes, dear friend, we find the one true answer in God Himself! It begins with a personal choice, a firm decision to open wide the door of our hearts to Him. Thus begins an interpersonal and life‐giving relationship with the Holy Trinity, who alone can give us the true inner freedom we all seek.

This openness of the heart allows the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to establish their dwelling place deep within us. (Jn 14:23) This “yes” to God is, in fact, an act of obedience to God’s will because it opposes the “no” that Adam and Eve expressed to God by refusing to obey Him. From that moment on, they discovered that they were “naked,” that is, miserable and slaves to their desires to possess, enjoy, and dominate. In the past, schools called these three elements “concupiscences.” Unfortunately, in our modern age, there is almost no mention of this word or this reality anymore.

From the beginning of creation, God deposited these gifts in man to help him become more and more perfect, to become more and more divine and conformed to the likeness of God. These gifts have become perverted by the absence of God in the innermost depths of his heart, resulting in the near‐total loss of his ability to choose between good and evil. Choosing to do evil instead of good now becomes easier, let us say more “natural,” because, without the presence of God, true freedom disappears, or rather rubbish and mud cover it. It will take a great miracle to find it again! And it is precisely to perform this great miracle that the Word came down from heaven, becoming flesh and spirit like us, to free us entirely from the consequences of original sin.

With our cooperation, God can now begin the long process of renewal and transformation of our hearts and souls. This process consists of stripping us of all the slavery and dependencies that once kept Adam and Eve away from God and led to the loss of our true inner freedom. The great St. Teresa of Avila calls this the journey towards the “transforming union” of the soul with God. A beautiful definition describes this process of liberation: that which leads to the holiness of the person and to which we are all called, whatever our profession, our personality, or our frailties.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must be patient, very patient! For the purification and polishing of our will and intelligence by the transforming action of God, which also includes our emotions, desires, and human affections twisted or unbalanced as a result of the harmful consequences of original sin, are a long process that require frequent “yeses” to God’s will. The more we prove to Him our desire to be united to Him through the moments of intimate prayer that we take regularly, lovingly yielding our own will to Him in the little things that disturb us and showing charity towards our neighbour, the more He will be able to transform and deify us. The union of one’s will with God’s will enlightens, nourishes, and prepares the way that leads to man’s true inner freedom. This is why Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” (Jn 14:6) and “the truth will set you free. “(Jn 8:32)

Let us continue our reflection: the true and divine freedom proposed to us by Christ appears very different from that which we conceive with our human thoughts and which we express in words. The former is entirely internal and is presented as supernatural happiness, as a divine peace that comes solely from the union of God with His creature. True freedom is, therefore, the antithesis of human definitions and conceptions that do not take into account the sanctifying grace of God in the depths of the soul. It is not the fruit of human effort or philosophical or esoteric knowledge but rather results from openness to the presence of God in us. We call it submission. But beware!

I speak here of a loving, willing submission; not of a servile or immature submission. By analogy, the former is similar to the decision that a man and a woman make when they feel an attraction for each other. When they choose to see each other again, it is because they hope and expect to know each other better, and this enlightened knowledge can in turn give rise to a stronger and more genuine love. Subsequently, the loving relationship naturally gives rise to feelings of inner security and happiness that are similar to the true freedom that Christ grants us by uniting with us. This form of freedom or inner happiness that lovers feel for each other implies at the same time a mutual submission of their wills.

Once again, I use the word submission, but I am actually talking about a joyful submission because even if we love each other, we cannot always do our own will: we often have to make compromises or sacrifices; sometimes we have to surrender or accept the other’s will. True love always seeks the other person’s happiness before its own. And it is a desire that must be mutual! Therefore, in the very nature of true love, submission must have a place of honour. Without this essential dimension, love becomes fragile and its days are numbered.

Now, if you have closely followed my reasoning, you understand why Christ, who is the author of true freedom, remained humanly and divinely so obedient to the Father’s will until the end of His life. His profound (loving) submission to the will of His Father, based on that infinite Love that unites them and us to Him, led Him freely to accept and offer, without complaint, the cruellest torments He endured until His death on the Cross. Love and obedience (submission) go hand in hand! This is why the author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote, “Though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings and, led to his perfection, he became for all who obeyed him the cause of eternal salvation.” (Hebrews 5:9)

Let us invoke the grace of loving docility to the will of the Father and to the will of those we cherish. Let us follow the example of Jesus, uniting our will to that of God, and let us learn to offer Him the events that our will tends to frown upon so naturally. May He open our eyes to the many little crosses that often present themselves unexpectedly during the day and that we forget to offer with love and submission for the greater glory of God.

Dear disciple of Jesus, may all our thoughts, actions, desires, and motives become those of Jesus. Let us ask for this grace as soon as we wake up in the morning. Let us ask for it several times during the day. And then, everything will become light and opportunity to exercise the divine virtue of obedience, which in turn will help sanctify us while saving the souls of those most in need.

Mary, so obedient to God’s will, teach us the virtue of divine obedience that will make us truly free and holy!

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