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Daily Archives: April 18, 2011

THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST [3]

THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST [3] 

BY FR. RANIERO CANTALAMESSA, OFMCAP. 

Furthermore, from the word of God we learn that the virtue of obedience is more positive than negative. Here too, with the passing of time and with the prevailing of ascetic interest over the mysteric and kerygmatic, obedience is above all seen as a negative virtue or one of denial. Its pre-eminence among the virtues is derived from the importance of the good that is renounced through it, that is, one’s own will. 

This good is greater than all the exterior things one renounces through poverty, greater than one’s body, renounced through chastity. But in biblical terms, the positive aspect – to do the will of God – is more important than the negative aspect – not to do one’s own will. Jesus says: ‘Not My will but Thine be done’ (the emphasis being on the second part); ‘My food is to do the will of the Father!’ and, again, ‘Here I am! I am coming to do Your will’ (Heb 10:7). Salvation, in fact, comes from doing the will of God, not from not doing one’s own will. In the ‘Our Father’ we ask that ‘Thy will be done’; we are asking for something positive. In the Scriptures we read that God wants obedience, not sacrifice (cf. 1Sam 15:22; Heb 10:5-7). We know, nonetheless, that He also wants sacrifice in the case of Christ and that He wants it from us too …… The explanation lies in the fact that of the two things, one is the means, the other the end. God wants obedience for itself whereas He wants sacrifice only indirectly, in relation to the first. The sentence therefore means: what God seeks, in sacrifice, is obedience! The sacrifice of one’s own will is the means for conforming to the divine will. To those who were scandalised at how God could find pleasure in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, St. Bernard rightly replies: ‘It was not the death that pleased Him but the will of Him who spontaneously died!’ (De errore Abelardi 8, 21; cf. PL 182, 1070). It is not so much therefore the death of Christ that saved us, as His obedience unto death. 

It is true that the two things – ‘not to do one’s own will’ and ‘to do the will of God’ – are strictly interdependent. They are not, however, identical and neither do they have the same limits. Not to do one’s own will is not always, in itself, a saving factor, whereas doing the will of God is. The positive reason for obedience goes much further than the negative one. God can ask things not with the aim of making us deny our own will, but to test and increase our faith and charity. The Bible defines the act that led Abraham to immolate his son as obedience (cf. Gen 22:18), even if the aim was not to make Abraham deny his will, but to test his faithfulness. The aim of all is in fact to get human freedom to return freely to adhering to God, so that only one will, God’s will, may reign again in the universe as was the case before sin appeared. Through obedience we have, in some way, ‘the return of creatures to God’. At the head of all biblical motivations for obedience, higher than faith itself, there is charity. Obedience is the nuptial ‘yes’ of the creature to the Creator, in which the final union of the two wills, the essence of eternal bliss, is, however imperfectly, already at work. ‘It is through obedience’, a Father of the desert said, ‘that we are not only in the image of God but like to God’ (Diadochus Phot., Cap.gnost. 4; S. Ch. 5, p. 86). We are in the image of God through the very fact of our existence, but through our obedience to Him we are like to Him, as through obedience we conform ourselves to His will and, through our free choice, become what He is by nature. We are like to God because we want what He wants. 

Source: Raniero Cantalamessa, OBEDIENCE – The authority of the Word, Middlegreen, England: St. Paul Publications, 1989. Original Title: L’Obbedienza, translated from the Italian by Frances Lonergan Villa. Copied by A Christian Pilgrim.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in LENT AND EASTERTIDE