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The Spirit of Solesmes and of Obedience
Try, if you may, to consider what it would be like to never do what you want to do unless it is known to be God’s will. It sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Yet this is the way of holiness outlined by St. Benedict in his Rule. Indeed, it is so privileged a way to holiness that St. Benedict says that the ways of obedience are “strong” and “bright weapons.”
To fight under the standard of Jesus Christ we need to take up these weapons to fight against our great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil…. It all sounds very good to us. Yet obedience is not easy; online one can see many Catholics complaining about Bishops, the Pope, and many other things. Would an obedient subject do this? Note that we are subjects. We live in an elective monarchy, not a democracy.
And that is the main issue which can be seen in the understanding of the Church today in some quarters. There was an error introduced in the Enlightenment era that somehow things should be reasoned about before giving assent. Assuredly nothing that the Church proposes for our belief is irrational. At the same time, we must not believe what the Church teaches merely because we have derived it rationally. Indeed, according to St. Thomas, faith is assent to what is proposed by the First Truth through His Church. We are not assenting to something because it occurred to us as something logically true.
Yet some indeed wrangle and demand that our reason is the measure by which belief must given. However, the basis of faith is not what is merely “reasonable.” Note that according to St. Thomas, the will is based on reason. So in a way we reason to get to assent. But the difference with Church teaching is that we use our reason to judge the Church to be a good authority and then accept what is taught on that basis.
In fact, if we reason personally to arrive at a truth, and then stubbornly demand that these are the only conditions for religious truth, we are not assenting to a truth on the basis of faith. It is an act of self-will. Now according to St. Alphonsus Liguori we should live our life in a state of uniformity with the will of God. Uniformity with the will of God is also uniformity with the will of the Church, as the latter gives and interprets the same. Obedience is a way of renouncing one’s own will, and is a way of fighting “the devil” according to Dom Gueranger. Moreover, according to Dom Gueranger, a religious is called to
“closer union with God, who dwells, in inaccessible light in the midst of which we must close our mortal eyes in love and trust, to avoid being blinded. It follows from this that the religious should profess unbounded loyalty to Holy Church, whom her divine Spouse has entrusted with the task of leading us to that light.”
If this is the case with the religious, so too should it be the case for any layman who wishes to grow in the Spiritual life. Indeed, the evangelical counsels include obedience. To the extent one can be perfectly obedient to the Church, therefore, the more one would grow in Christian perfection. Though of course laymen are not required to follow the evangelical counsels, it is an imperfection not to, especially when it is possible to do so in one’s state of life.
We must not demand that things be done by our superiors according to our own standards, or we lose in some respects some aspect of obedience. My own belief is that while it can be a strong temptation to judge one’s superiors in the Church, oftentimes we are not in any position to judge. Laymen are not trained theologians, and so often lack the competency to even amass evidence relevant to a judgment of something being contrary to God’s law. Most of all, however, we must live our lives in such a way that obedience as a virtue, as a habit, can be preserved.
Now according to Gregory Caridi (https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/how-to-correct-bishops-correctly/ ) it can also be said that legitimate concerns to their pastors can be raised by those laymen who are competent to do so in both knowledge and level of prestige (a father of a family, civil servant, or parish council member, for instance). Notably Church herself allows raising legitimate concerns in Canon 212, which says that for those who are qualified, it can at times even be a duty to do so. St Thomas also allows for correction of prelates, even by those subject to them, when it is done as an act of charity. But these things must themselves be done in ways that are not penalized by Canons 1368 and 1373, which threaten ecclesiastical penalties including interdict for those who promote hatred towards prelates or disobedience of the same. Thus obedience is not only a personal affair but is required in a public, ecclesiastical capacity.
How can one obey unless one loves? Yet there is so much written about the Church in our day, even by avowed practicing Catholics, that sounds so negative. Let us obey what the Church in our day teaches. There is a great cost to our own souls if we stop doing this. In fact, the ultimate cost. Yes, there is sometimes ambiguity in what is currently taught. But stop worrying, as the Church is a good mother to us and we need not fear that she will harm us.
These are troubling times with many upsetting ambiguities in the Church’s teachings. Certainly, there have also been some imprudent acts and words even by some prelates. The things which are stated can also have consequences in our daily lives which seem unfair or destructive. But we must be patient and pray for our pastors, remembering that the Holy Spirit still guides the Church. Above all we must love the Church and pray for better times, making known to our pastors the needs of our communities.
Note: this is the author’s personal view as derived from Dom Gueranger and not necessarily that of Gaudium magazine.
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