Obedience and Morality

Feast of Saint Nicholas Owen

Obedience and Morality

“Suffering restores order.  Punishment for sin is the rule.  You come to order through suffering, just as you stray by sinning.  Sin without punishment would be the worst disorder, as the disorder not of the man who sins but of the God who does not punish. … But if the threats are to be accomplished, the promises will be as well.”  (Note 1)

“More morality, the Ten Commandments, return to standards, attention to ethics—that’s what we hear a lot today.  But individuals will be moral, not because they’ve learned what is right and wrong from lists of sins and virtues, but because the’ve been impelled by visions and ideals, or, better yet, to that person, Jesus Christ, to God.  It’s not a matter of know-how, but of know-why or better, believe-why.”  (Note 2)

Today’s readings are about obedience to the law.  Not necessarily in the way you think at first, though.  Yes, obedience, buy why obedience?  We refer to God as our Father, so let’s use the allegory of parenting.  We tell our children “No!” when they attempt to do things that could injure them or others, such as, “No, don’t put that fork in the electrical outlet!”  They don’t understand why yet, because they haven’t learned about electricity.  But we, as parents, demand their obedience to the rule of not putting forks in electrical outlets.  The children may think it’s unfair, or that their parents are being mean, but as they grow and learn, they’ll obtain wisdom and know why they shouldn’t stick forks in electrical outlets (and then will torture their own children with it).  But obedience had to come before the understanding and the wisdom.  It is the same in morality and obedience to God.  We learn to be obedient — thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery — before we can obtain wisdom as to why these are important precepts.  The second quote today from Renewing our Discipleship is accurate in its assessment: we’re not moral because of that list of sins and virtues.  Though that list was the beginning and was formative of our morals and virtues. “Thou shalt not commit adultery”: we look at it from the aspect of marriage mostly, but we overlook the aspect of rape.  We know rape is wrong, we know this because it is a violation of the inherent dignity a person has as a human being.  We don’t understand that dignity when we are taught to follow the rules — to be obedient.  But from that obedience will come wisdom, the wisdom and understanding of why we have that moral precept.  Nine times out of ten it boils down to human dignity, but to know that only comes with wisdom, and wisdom only comes from an initial obedience.  This sounds strikingly like the earlier conversation on belief, grace and faith, and how they all work together.

Belief, Grace, Faith

:

Trust, Obedience, Wisdom

That’s something you won’t find on the GRE…

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Notes:

1.  Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations for Lent, trans. Christopher O. Blum (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 86-87.

2.  Don Talafous, “Living Up to God’s Love”.  In Renewing Our Discipleship, Daily Reflections on the 2017 Lenten Readings for Mass, ed. Steve Mueller (St Louis, MO: All Saints Press, 2017), 22.

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