Obedience: A Father’s Proof of Faith

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From the beggining of our FOSJ meetings, we have discussed the importance of listening. Listening, however is only the first step toward fulfilling the Lord’s will. Just as “faith without works is dead,” (James 2:24) so also listening without obedient action is useless. Remember the account of the Wedding at Cana: without water—our work—there is no wine—grace, and without wine—grace—our work is only water. We hear those profound words of Mary, “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) Notice that our Blessed Mother not only urges us to listen to our Lord, but also to “Do” whatever He tells us. The word “obey” comes from the Latin word “ob-audire,” to “hear or listen to,” (see CCC 144) which demonstrates that listening and obedience are deeply connected. Listening and obedience are sister actions, flip-sides of the same coin. Listening makes obedience possible, while obedience proves that one has listened. Together, both of these actions prove that a man is faithful to God. In other words, He trusts in God’s commands and fulfills them, regardless of the cost.

Our Lord tells us, “It is not sacrifice I desire but an open ear”, (Psalm 40:6) and “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 15:22) All sacrifice is not obedience but only the sacrifice offered from the heart, in an effort to follow God’s will obediently, is true sacrifice. So, obedience from the heart is the heart’s humble sacrifice of all that is prideful. Often, we can become prideful in our accomplishment of “sacrifices,” that is, fulfilling the letter of the law, when the Lord, however, is interested in the sacrifice of our hearts, which is obedience to His will. God is more interested in the heart’s willingness to surrender obediently to His will than in any accomplishment or great work.

So, the question arises, “Who does a father obey?”, “Who has authority over the human father?” One key attribute of holy people is that they are obedient to their superiors regardless of how trivial a command may be. Priests are obedient to their Bishop. Bishops are obedient to the Pope. Monks are obedient to their abbot. Children are obedient to parents. Wives are submissive to their husbands. (See Col 3:18-21, Eph 5) But who does the human father submit to? The human father’s hierarchal position is unique with the order of creation. As to faith and morals the father is under the authority of the Church, but as the daily governance of his household, the Church bears witness that the human father receives his authority from God alone. (See Gen 2, Eph 5) It is to this divine authority that the human father must submit.

A father can misinterpret his authority as a means to fulfill his passions and boyish dreams. However, a father’s authority makes him responsible to God, responsible to serving his wife and children. (See GS 22) Serve the family he must if he is to remain faithful to the source of his freedom and authority. God entrusts us fathers with His authority. We fathers ought to trust His authority over us. Think for a moment about this: What type of behavior can we not tolerate from our children? Disobedience – pride. We love it when our children are obedient. God is speaking to us through our children: If we expect obedience from our children and submission from our wives, we fathers must obey and submit to God and His direction. Most of us have said to our children, “ I tell you this because I want what’s best for you.” There is truth to this. Obedience is not simply “doing what you are told.” Obedience is more than obeying laws. Obedience is the freedom to accomplish God’s will and to fulfill His great plans. God is not our competitor—He is our collaborator.

St. Joseph “did what the Lord commanded him.” (See Matt 1:24) Joseph first listened, then acted. Joseph was a doer. Joseph executed God’s plan, accomplished the task at hand with secrecy and excellence. Joseph was a great listener and a great doer. Joseph “did” because he trusted God—he had faith in his heavenly Father. Notice also, that the child Jesus, whom Joseph fathered, became “obedient unto death,” that is, He died to Himself for the sake of others. If our children are to learn obedience from us, we as fathers, as men, in regards to obedience, need to exercise faith—that is, wholehearted trust in the Lord—in three ways:

1) Listen. We need to believe and trust that God is speaking to us. This demands great faith. Those mental nudges, or perhaps sledge hammer moments, are God’s real communication to our internal souls. We must have faith that God speaks to us through our wives, our children, our conscience, in the day’s events, etc. If we silence ourselves, we will hear Him.

2) Do. After hearing what we have been told, we must trust and have faith that God will provide a way to accomplish what He is asking of us. This can be uncharted, even fearful territory for most of us. We may be nudged by God to say something to someone to edify them, or perhaps admonish them. We may sense God calling us to reach out to a homeless person, or to actually tell our wives that we are wrong. (Truly terrifying territory.) But have faith—God will give us the strength to fulfill the task.

3) Do your best, let God do the rest. Surrender the outcome. Don’t attempt to control or manipulate the outcome of your actions. Let God transform your water, your works, into his divine wine, into His grace. Again, we must trust in faith, believing that God will transform our works. God can accomplish more with the obedient acts of a father who, in the secret of his heart, offers his failures with obedience, than with a man’s apparently successful actions.