He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Love it to Death: The Obedience of Love

When I was a child, I was not exactly a big fan of obedience, which is something my parents will happily confirm from their experience.  Not only was I not prone to obedience, but I was a child who was very difficult to punish, and my parents struggled mightily to find a way to punish me effectively rather than wasting effort on punishing me in such a way that it didn't actually benefit me.  I, of course, saw no benefit in any of their punishments at that age, largely because I didn't understand the benefits of obedience.

As a child, I was mostly a tangled bundle of egotistical desires, as yet unraveled by the power of radical love.  My sense of self was bound up in actualizing my desires, and so any attack on what I wanted to do, especially if it came in the form of obedience to the desires of anyone else, was to be repulsed with all the force of my being.  Oh, how I dreaded the unraveling of my ego!  A single tug on that tangled bundle of transient desires was enough to make me turn and fight or put up a wall to keep the other out.

I understood obedience, not explicitly but rather intuitively, as a matter of bowing to authority.  And to the childish me, all authority was the same.  I believed that there was no legitimate authority I should obey; there was only the authority that oppressed me or gave in to my demands.  To the extent that I obeyed, I often did so because of a fear of punishment.  I allowed a small tugging on my tightly bundled ego so that it would not be yanked upon more harshly.  As I grew older, I feared punishment much less, as most of us who make the journey through Kohlberg's stages of moral development do.

While my fear of punishment left me fairly quickly, my understanding of authority and obedience did not come so quickly.  My philosophy courses in college taught me that appealing to authority was legitimate only in the case that the authority in question was actually competent in the domain in which the issue rested.  It took a few more years to figure out that my parents were actually competent in the domain of love, and that I should assent to their authority in that domain.

As an adult, I finally realized that what my parents wanted for me to learn was not the obedience of fear, but the obedience of love.  My parents were trying to teach me to love, which is to obey them not out of any fear of punishment, but because I love them and want what is best for them, because I want to serve them with a loving heart as they so often did for me.  As an adult, I try very hard to obey my parents precisely because of my love for them and my ever-growing gratitude for their love; the obedience of fear has no place in my heart.

The obedience of fear was not something imposed upon me by my parents, but rather a natural result of my clinging so fiercely to my own desires; I was so deeply afraid of losing the small pleasures which were the greatest I had ever known that I refused to let them go so that I could reach for the greatest love.  My parents wanted that greatest love for me, and were willing to drag me kicking and screaming toward it, inexorably drawing me to it despite my strongest efforts to cling to worthless lusts that I valued beyond measure.

The Church wants that greatest love for us too, and oh how we resent Her for trying to unravel the knots of desire which enchain our hearts!  She tries to drag us out of our own egos, and we accuse Her of trying to oppress us with all those rules.  We believe that the Church is causing us to be afraid by Her punishments, but it is our clinging to our childish desires for immediate comfort that causes our fear.  We are deeply afraid of losing everything we rely upon for our psychological security to venture boldly into the great unknown fields of radical love.

Christ who founded the Church and entrusted Her with His flock called us to the fields of radical love.  Christ called us to follow His example, to love to death all that separates us from Love itself.  Christ was obedient unto death, obeying the command of the Father which is that He give all of Love so that all might have life abundantly in full communion with Love.  Christ's example to us shows us that to be fully human so that we might participate fully in divine love is to practice the obedience of love.

Christ's love for the Father was perfect, and thus he obeyed the Father out of love.  This perfect love from which flows the obedience of love is precisely what He calls us to live out as well if we would take up our cross and follow Him.  Christ calls us to obedience, to keep His commandments as it is recorded in the New Testament, with a sure confidence that we will indeed keep them if we love Him.  Christ showed us the power of the obedience of love when he sacrificed Himself for the sake of the world, and we reciprocate that love when we practice the obedience of love toward Him and His Church, creating an ever-shining set of mirrors reflecting the light of Love all around the world and even into its darkest corners.

Christ showed us that it is the obedience of love which helps us to untangle the bundle of egotistical desires which imprison our hearts of purest love.  He showed us that it is the obedience of love which provides us with the extraordinary motivation to take up our cross and die to our selfishness so that we can live fully in the light of divine love.  He showed us that the road to the heavenly citadel of Love can only be traversed through the narrow gate, and that the practice of the obedience of love is what will teach us to let go of all that we carry which would keep us from traveling to the abode of the Father.

It is the obedience of love by which we love to death the tangled knots of selfishness wrapped around our hearts.  It is the obedience of love which prepares us to enter fully into the heavenly household as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.   It is the obedience of love by which we ignite ourselves in the fires of love so that all parts of us which cannot enter into the great fire of Love burning in the heavens will be burned away.

It is the obedience of love which builds up all those whose lives we touch by inviting them into the life of love, asking them gently to take courage and join us on our journey to the heights upon which Love dwells.

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