Having a good sense of doctrine is important, but it is all meaningless if our spirituality is not grounded in putting flesh to what the Church teaches. Putting flesh to such teachings we find in the Gospel and the teachings of Mother Church does not simply mean we proclaim and explain God’s wisdom, but far more it means that our own heart and will and intellect is configured to God’s wonderful and beautiful law. It means that the law, in our hearts, is not merely a tool to sneer with pride at others, nor is it merely an intellectual exercise to debate. The law is not something we follow yet resent at the same time – that is the equivalent of a man who carries his cross without love. It is all about his comfort and duty. Christ embraced His cross, because He is love.
Obedience to God must be absolute. I do not mean that we won’t fail from time to time. We most certainly will, we are weak sinners. However, Pope Francis made a very good distinction between a sinner and a corrupt man recently. He stated that a sinner is a person who seeks forgiveness and is sorrowful towards past sins; but a corrupt man exempts Himself from this law and that law.
I once heard a priest say to me, “this is the one rule I have chosen to not follow.” Such a spirituality reveals something very wrong in such a mindset. As if we have Veto Power over God’s law communicated through the Church? If one law can be ignored, which ones cannot be? Does this not set a precedent for an absolute disregard for all of God’s law if our disobedience is tied directly to our own preference and judgment?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discussing situations where a superior asks us to do something that is altogether contrary to both the Church and the Gospel. Many bishops have been heretics throughout the history of the Church, and some of them quite popular. Obedience belongs to God and figuring out how God manifests His will sacramentally through the Church’s Bishops, Magisterium is at times quite messy. But we have to be careful to not allow our warped minds turn an exception into a rule here. Consider Padre Pio and his sincere obedience to His Bishop despite the error that belonged in the judgment of that particular Bishop. In some cases our obedience is owed to the Bishop, even if He is making a poor decision, and this is wisdom that belongs to the providence of God. Other times, when a Bishop has promoted heresy and division amongst the Church, such cases are unique and require a different response.
What needs to occur within us, however is a “general disposition” towards obedience towards our leaders. And that disposition which should be automatic within us, ought to be viewed as the means to our own salvation: especially for those who have taken a promise of Obedience to our own local Bishop, and an Oath of Fidelity to the Church.
Why does obedience safeguard our salvation? Because there is NOTHING more destructive to our Pride than Obedience. Pride, according to St. Thomas Aquinas is when man inordinately clings to his own judgment. That is, He places his own discernment above what our Church has officially stated and what the Scriptures clearly teaches us. How often do we witness the twisting of scripture to fit one’s own position? To be obedient to the Church and her teachings means we are giving to God something incredible: our mind. We are admitting that: “perhaps, I am wrong and Holy Mother Church guided by the Divine Wisdom of the Spirit is right.”
But this means nothing, because one might define for themselves what the Church is, and again, our mind itself has this impenetrable, invincible arrogance that constantly protects its assumed conclusions. And so the only two things I can say to such individuals (and deep down you know who you are):
1) Learn to fear the Lord again. For it is an unforgivable sin to define for yourself what the truth is, as the Pharisees did of the Holy Spirit whom they gave a Demon’s name. The unforgivable sin is traditionally defined as refusing to accept God’s Mercy, and this can easily be done when we justify our disobedience, making what is good into what is evil and what is evil into good. Repentance is impossible if we perpetually justify ourselves, rather than admit of our wrongs! When you do this, you essentially name God the Devil and the Devil, God. Do you fear doing this? Perhaps you should have less confidence in so boldly pronouncing your judgments upon the Church in whether it teaches what is right by your own apparent insight, and learn to surrender your mind to the Spirit of Truth.
2) If you have fear, consider a further step, one in which you examine in a concrete way moments when you in fact had to surrender your mind and intellect to God. Or have you been going along with things you have agreed with your whole life? If the latter is the case, I assure you, you should be greatly concerned, for you have not once challenged your pride in a concrete manner. Question again your own motives.
It may seem harsh to say this, but there are many arm-chair theologians out there who have an incredibly low academic background to share any of their thoughts, and yet so many are led astray by their words and the beating of their drums (regardless of what polar end they find themselves belonging to). Then again there are those who have made their academic background into their own idol of authority, turning God into an ideology leading to some of the most backwards theologies such as: dual covenantal theology. To declare that scripture teaches us not to evangelize anyone is the most absurd notion ever, and yet they claim St. Paul advocated this? Only a mind lost in a maze could forget that all the Apostles shared the Gospel with the Jews. And so the mind has its traps and blindness. Humility!
My challenge is that we return to the basics of our faith and first examine how our own call to obedience is lived out in our life. If that reflection causes us to be puffed up – we are likely not doing it right. If our reflection and examination leads us to confession, than you are not corrupt, but a sinner like everyone else.
“But Father! Father! The Bishop is wrong!” Child, what is more humbling than being obedient to one who is wrong? Perhaps it is God’s will that He is wrong, to teach you great humility. Let him reap the fruits of His labour, for if you obey, perhaps he will quickly learn to go in the right direction. But in the mean-time worry about your own call to do what is correct. The Bishop is sacramentally Christ in your diocese, should you imitate the flock of the Church by obedience, or shall you imitate the evil one, and go on your own way?