Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Love That Obeys

There are many ways that we can show love to others. Husbands and wives can show love by kissing. Friends often hug when they meet. Besides the physical displays of affection, we show love by spending time together, by listening to one another or by sending cards. These and many other signs of love let others know that we are thinking about them and that we care for them.

Another way to show love - a way that is not very romantic - is through obedience. When children obey their parents, it is an act of love. By doing what a parent asks, children show that they trust that their father and mother know what is best for them. By behaving, children show that they have respect for their parents and want to live according to the values their parents are trying to instill in them.

Obedience is not only a sign of love between children and their parents, it is also a sign of love between believers and God. Jesus tells us in the gospel, "Whoever loves me will keep my word." And to make sure that we understand his meaning, he tells us again, "Whoever does not love me, does not keep my word." As children put their trust in their parents' guidance, so we as believers put our trust in God's will for our lives. By obeying God's word we are affirming that he has a plan for us, and that his plan is far better than any other we could craft for ourselves. By saying "yes" to God's word as it comes down to us in the Bible and the teaching of the Church, we acknowledge that he cares for us, and we profess that we love him enough to do what he asks of us.

Obedience can be a dirty word in today's world. It makes us think of mean teachers who are ready to rap our knuckles with a ruler every time we get out of line. It conjures up images of a God who is ready to punish us for every sin. In today's world, we prefer to make our own decisions about what is right and what is wrong. If a rule does not make sense to us - especially if it is a Church teaching - we are more than happy just to ignore it. It is hard for us to accept that someone can tell us what we ought to believe and how we should practice our faith. It is difficult for us to think that obedience has anything at all to do with love.

On one level, such an attitude can be a good and healthy one to have. We should not only know what the Church teaches, but we should also understand it. It is the job of the bishops along with religious, priests and teachers to help us to make sense of what the Church teaches and why. Understanding is central to being able to accept what the Church teaches and incorporate it into our daily lives.

However, the attitude which is not good and which is in fact deadly for our spiritual lives is the one that says that if we do not understand a certain teaching of the Church, then we will not follow it. When we act that way, we stay stuck in our false beliefs and misconceptions and are unable to grow in our faith. A better attitude would be to say, "I do not understand this teaching, but I am going to try to understand it and live it." Instead of rejecting it outright, it is better to ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and hearts so that we can accept the teaching in an authentic way and be able to explain it to others and even defend it when necessary.

Another reason we can find obedience distasteful is our image of the Church. Because we are exposed to a media which is constantly critical of the Church, we can often think of it as an institution of men who keep themselves busy by making up rules for us to follow. But the Church is so much more than buildings and bureaucracies. The Church is people. The Church is us. We are saints and sinners who have strived to show our love for Jesus by obedience to his word. During these two thousand years, we have accumulated much wisdom and insight into human nature and God's plan for the world. Church teaching, whether it concern what we believe or the moral life we must lead, is nothing else but an application of the teaching of Jesus for today that is strengthened by the accumulated wisdom of centuries of believers. Church teaching is a gift to us who seek to follow Christ because it points out to us a sure way that we can follow to reach the kingdom of God.

There is no doubt that Church leaders frequently let us down and even hurt us. They are not always good examples of what it is to be a follower of Christ. Nonetheless, our faith in the Church and its teaching does not come from our confidence in its leaders. Rather it comes from our faith in the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would remain with the Church always so that it could never be led into error regarding the most important doctrines of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit works powerfully through the Church so that we can have assurance that by accepting its teaching we are on a sure course to salvation. The Holy Spirit guarantees that in the Church, despite all its weakness and failures, we will meet the Risen Lord and be transformed by his word.  

If we love Jesus, we will keep his word. His word is not far from us. It is easily accessible through the Bible and through the teaching of the Church. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit which we received at our baptism and confirmation helps us to understand that word and apply it to our daily lives. If our heart is open and we are willing to obey, then we can be sure that we are on a path to the Kingdom where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and where we may live forever in the glory of heaven.

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