Monday, July 11, 2016

The Feast of St Benedict 2016: Obedience brings hope

It seems to me to be a lovely coincidence of language that the word “obedience” has relevance in both Latin and Hebrew. You will have heard of the prophet Obadiah whose name in Hebrew means “servant of YHWH” or “worshipper of YHWH”. The “Obad” bit is the Hebrew for one who waits for the command of the master or mistress to do their due service.

We get our word obedience from the Latin “obedire” which is in essence a compound of “ob” and “audire” and which also has this idea of listening and giving ear to commands issued.

On this, the Feast of St Benedict, we Benedictines give ear to the first word of The Rule “Ausculta” “Listen, my child, to the precepts of the Master.” The Benedictine way is that of listening to the world and bringing it to God as it is. All around the world, there are Benedictine monasteries, or communities bound by the Benedictine Rule, whose principle aim is to be offering the “Opus Dei” - the work of God – on behalf of the World. They exist not to be conformed to the world but to exist in some kind of scandalous defiance of Pure Love against the distractions wrought by the Devil in order to tear Man from God. These Monks and Nuns listen to their superiors who, in turn, listen to hear the voice of God in their community and draw it ever closer to the Divine presence. An abbot and an abbess must always be those who have the best hearing, and must pray and beg prayers that their hearing may be kept unimpaired.

Both the Latin and the Hebrew would have us be obedient to God, sitting at His feet like St Martha waiting for Him to command, rather than allow ourselves to become distracted by the world’s trivia.

Obedience brings hope.

There are lots of trivial things in comparison with being present with God. Yes, we have to work and cook and clean, and teach and learn, and pick up and drop off, and look after, but all earthly work is trivial in comparison to the work of God. It is obedience to the work of God that is of the greater importance. The skill of being truly obedient is quickly disappearing.

I see this most in the current political climate. A democratic vote did not go the way that nearly half the people wanted, and so there is a cry to hold another one so that we can “get the right answer”. Major political parties are tearing themselves apart because they do not have the leaders that they want. The result is instability and potential chaos.

We are living in a culture in which the individual wants its own way all the time, and tries to disguise that way as being truly democratic. We are rapidly losing the virtue of obedience, i.e. looking for ways to listen to and thus serve one another. These days, authority figures only deserve obedience if they show themselves to be truly infallible. In order to lead a country, there must be no scandal in your life otherwise the Media will pull you up for ridicule and thus question your competence to lead.

We have a democratic system which is far from perfect. As a budding anarchist, I find the prospect of democracy as being little more than a media-driven talent show based on the pithiest soundbite and the cheesiest smile. But I can’t change it. For the good of society, it is necessary to submit myself to the laws of this country because they provide some order and stability for this Country. Yet, I listen to this Country and what I hear is a cry for some certainty, some strong leadership, some reliable statement that all will be well. People want to hope, but in the absence of that hope, they busy themselves with trivia in order to drown out the cacophony in the world around them. They can’t find it because every institution they’ve encountered is corrupted by the World.

Obedience brings hope.

St John the Baptist cries, “prepare the way of the Lord!” He was not infallible, but his words have been given infallibility by the Holy Ghost. If we are listening, then we do hear these words spoken, and, if we reflect on them, we can hear that these words have divine origin through a human mouthpiece. Our Lady ponders all that her infant Lord says to her in her heart and is obedient to Him. He in turn honours His mother and His Father, and even His step-father. He is obedient to the Law of God.

In the Church, our leaders are all fallen. Even in the Catholic Church, we have had paedophile priests and hypocritical, practising-gay bishops, and shrill, unpleasant preachy laity, all who have contributed to the faithful falling away and losing themselves in trivialities of their own making. None of these have listened to the message of Love, or if they have, they have perverted it for their own ends rather than converted their lives to commitment to the Truth. It is no surprise that the Christian Faith is struggling. A Sunday morning is indeed better spent wandering the country side, or playing on swings, or reading a book rather than going to a Mass in a church that ignores the Divine Mandate of reaching out. If people do not see hope in the Church, then they have every reason NOT to enter it.

Obedience brings hope.

We Christians have to obey. We have to listen and work hard at the work that we have been given. God commands and, if we love Him, we must obey. Love breeds an obedience of her own, not born in coercion, but born in devotion, care, attention and joy.

A bishop may be corrupt, but he is still a bishop and one must pay due obedience to the office and not the person. Yet further, one must be obedient to the laity, nay to any human being whatsoever, however sinful. The obedience demanded by love will seek to listen to the Divine image resonating in that person like the chime of a bell, and in hearing that chime will obey the mandate and serve in the most appropriate way.

Obedience brings hope.

In recognising the fallen nature of the world, we can turn our gaze to the True Light and in obedience work that which will make this world better. There is healing in God for all who would obey the Divine Physician’s commands. In our sick society, we can bring healing by working to a better end, serving God first, and then the people. We listen to God through prayer, through Scripture, through the Sacraments, and through the souls around us. We listen to our leaders, disagree with them if necessary, but obey them so that society may be served. This way we can bring stability to community, and hope to all who live their frightened lives within a shell of trivia.

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