Sinners are bad at giving gifts, especially when they are called to make a gift of themselves. All of us, participating in Adam’s fall from God, do not want to give ourselves to others and fully over to the Other, God. We would rather on stay in the prison of the self, despite the awareness of the self’s insufficiency. We hope for something more than ourselves, but life’s failures and disappointments often tempt us to ask whether “something more” exist? While this “something more” is vague, it is still sensed. Christ made the “something more” possible and he has revealed what it is, i.e. the happiness and freedom of communion in the divine life. But Christ has brought this freedom through his obedience to the Father. For us, the unity of obedience and freedom is strange. It is odd. Paradoxically, Christ’s crucifixion (binding) has set us free. The seminary does us all a favor by putting into relief the importance of obedience (binding) for the purpose of the happy life. They are encouraged to obediently stand like Mary and John at the foot of the Cross.
The example of the priest’s obedience to his Bishop is an example of a real rejection of the idolatry of the self. Priests and religious who have taken a vow of obedience are often the most joyful people. Why? Because obedience to the omnibenevolent God grounds the life of the happy person. In his article “The Ministry and Life of Priests”, Cardinal Ratzinger looks at obedience and the priesthood:
“Ever since the Letter to the Philippians, Jesus’ obedience, understood as victory over the disobedience of Adam, has been at the center of the history of salvation. In the priest’s life, this obedience should be incarnated in obedience to the Church’s authority, and concretely, that means to the bishop. Only then is there a real rejection of the idolatry of self. Only then will the Adam within us be overcome, and the new humanity formed. Today, when emancipation is considered as the essence of redemption, and freedom is presented as the right for me to do everything I want to do, and nothing I don’t want to do, the very concept of obedience has, so to speak, been anathematized. It has been eliminated not only from our vocabulary, but also from our thinking. But this erroneous notion of freedom makes unity and love impossible. It makes man a slave. A rightly understood obedience must be rehabilitated, and assume once more its true value at the center of Christian and priestly spirituality.”
Obedience is remaining with the Lord, the crucified Lord. It is not for the sake of everything running smoothly in the Church, as if it was essential to good management. Rather, as Fr. Robert Barron says, it is the stance of listening. Everything hinges on one’s stance towards the Lord. At the seminary we hope to show others how to stand in relation to Christ and his Church.