by Boudreaux, Florentin, 1821-1894
“Obey your prelates and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls ; that they may do this with joy and not with grief. And may the God of peace fit you in all goodness, that you may do His will.” (Heb. xiii.) St. Peter is not less earnest in recommending the same virtue, and he expressly bids us (1 Pet ii.) be subject to all our superiors, “ not only to the good and gentle,” who will not abuse their power, “ but also to the froward,” who may tyrannise over us and make their rule a heavy burthen. God has His own wise purposes in subjecting us, at times, to harsh and cruel masters. It becomes us not to question His Providence ; but so long as we are not commanded to do what God forbids, we must submit to the authority which God has placed over us. We have strayed from God by disobedience : we must return to Him by the path of obedience, a painful path, not without its thorns to wound our feet as we advance. We too must learn obedience by ' suffering, as our Model learned it, and when we have mastered this lesson, we shall have reached the height of perfection to which we are destined. For “obedience plants all other virtues in the soul, and preserves them when once planted,’ say both St. Gregory and St. Bernard. And the Church, which is the living power through which our fallen nature is to be raised again and restored to its pristine glory, gives us a life of obedience as the noblest in its perfection, the most secure, the most expeditious means of increasing in every virtue, the most abundantly blessed with every heavenly grace. The holy writers of the Church, her great Doctors and Fathers, seem unable to find words to express their thoughts on obedience, their idea of its greatness, its merits, its beauty, and the favor with which Heaven regards it. They compare its merit to that of martyrdom. They equal its grace to that of baptism ; so that the sacrifice of our will through obedience is so precious in the sight of God, that, if the soul of a Religious man were to burst its bonds when it has just spoken, at the foot of the altar, its holy vow, by which it becomes a holocaust to God, it would fly at once from the flames of its sacrifice on earth to the bosom of God. St. John Climacus says, that “ obedience is a voluntary death ; it is the tomb of our own will; it is a life without solicitude; a danger without fear; a plea which God cannot reject; it is a navigation free from storms; a journey made without fatigue ; it is a substitute for discretion ; it puts our burthen on another’s shoulders.” We may say, without fear of contradiction, that obedience is the restorer of mankind. Whether we consider our relations to God, to our fellowmen, or to ourselves; whether we consider our social, moral, civil, or individual condition, we shall find that all the evils to which each of these conditions is subject, all the disorders which disturb those relations and produce discord and unhappiness, are the sad consequences of rebellion against authority. Had the will of God remained the fixed and recognized centre around which all created wills would have revolved, and to which they would have invariably tended, the world would have remained in its primitive beauty, and retained its primitive bliss unimpaired. Paradise would still be the abode of mankind. There would have been no war between heaven and earth. Men would have lived in unbroken peace among themselves. No tyrant would ever have crushed his abject slaves into the dust. No outraged people would have risen against its ruler. No brother’s hand would have been lifted against a brother. No human blood would have reddened the earth. No tears would have been shed in sorrow. Because the will of God, being the rule of all other wills, would have guided them all in harmony, and there could have been no jarring or clashing among the subjects where all were obedient to the same infinitely wise and infinitely holy rule. But when the will of man left its prescribed course, and turned away from its proper centre, disorder was inevitable in his entire nature. The principle of authority was attacked in its highest and most sacred seat, the sovereignty of God over his creatures, and when it had been dis- regarded and rejected there, it could not be secure in other and less sacred abodes. If man is not subject to God, much less will he be subject to man. Hence, rebellion soon broke down every barrier which authority had erected; and where God had not been obeyed, neither princes nor parents, neither secular nor ecclesiastical superiors could stem the tide of revolt. Interest may, for a time, restrain the other passions of the heart ; force may, for a season, beat down the upheavings of the tumultuous masses. But the principle of authority is fallen ; man acknowledges no superior but his own will. He has seen his guides, his princes, his teachers trample upon the law of God, and has learned from them to do the same ; and he soon turns against his rulers the weapons which they have put into his hands. He spurns all control ; he bursts every bond ; he sweeps away, one after another, all laws which he finds weakened by their separation from the principle of authority. And, thus, disobedience always brings its own punishment along with it. He that rebels against his lawful superiors, will be rebelled against by his own lawful subjects. We know how temporal sovereigns have expiated their rebellion against the Church. Throne after throne was overturned by the same engines which they had erected and directed against the Church. And now, from seat to seat, the principle of authority has been driven, until it hardly finds a dwelling-place on earth outside the Church. The deluge of revolution has risen above every height, and the Ark alone remains, borne upon the breast of that deluge, and bearing in its bosom the hope of the coming generation, the germ of the better future. Restore the principle of authority to its everlasting centre, recognize it in God and in God’s representative on earth, His Church, and the olive-branch of peace will soon be a token that the deluge has subsided ; the fair rainbow will be a promise of better and happier days. “ Et nunc, reges , intelligite; erudimini qui judicatis terram. And now, O ye Kings, understand; receive instruction, you that judge the earth.” (Ps.ii.10.) But it is not likely that the rulers of the earth will heed our warning. They have been deaf to a mightier voice than ours, one which has been frequently raised to make known to them the coming and inevitable danger: the voice of those whom God had placed as sentinels on the watchtowers of Sion, and who, from their elevated position, and with the aid of the divine Wisdom which had raised them to it, clearly perceived the gathering storm, and warned both kings and people to shelter themselves against its fury. But “ man, when he is come into the depths of sin, contemneth: ignominy and reproach follow him.” ( Prov . xviii. 3.) Let us, then, leave them to their fate, and return to ourselves who have come into the Paradise of the Sacred Heart, to feast upon its blessed and salutary fruits. We must apply to ourselves what we have learned; we must make our hearts obedient like the Heart of Jesus. Obedience is the mother of virtues; it is the queen of all the moral virtues, and this sufficiently indicates that it is the most difficult of them to acquire and to practise ; and, indeed, it is true to say, that no virtue is more rarely met with in perfection. So long as the will and judgment of our superiors agree with our own ; so long as we are commanded to do what we ourselves would choose to do, there is no great difficulty in obeying. And, in theory, the obedience which bends our will to that of a superior, and blinds our judgment to make it see only with the light of another, whom God has placed over us and made the depositary of His own power and wisdom in our regard, is most just, most reasonable, and, therefore, most beautiful and most delightful. For, what can be more just than that we should be subject to God? What more reasonable than that we should reject our own wisdom when it is opposed to the wisdom of God ? What more beautiful than the order which this subjection produces and preserves? What more delightful than the assurance that we are doing God’s will under the smiles of God’s complacency ? It is this which renders the life of obedience so noble, so holy, so desirable; since it gives us the greatest and the truest liberty, which consists in willing to do only what is worthy of us, the will of God, and makes our hearts so calmly happy, by the certainty that obedience is the path on which the golden light of heaven rests to guide our steps without danger of straying. But when the sacrifice is demanded of ourselves; when the practice of this so just and reasonable, so beautiful and delightful obedience comes to our own doors; when something on which we have set our hearts is refused, or we are bid to do what our own judgment does not approve, or to do it in a manner which our wisdom and experience condemn ; oh, how our very souls rebel with all their powers against the command or the decision of our superior! How we plead and urge; how we ply objections and excuses; how our heart sinks within us when neither entreaty nor excuse avails; how deeply we are wounded, and how long the wound rankles in our bosom ; how loudly we sometimes complain of what has been enjoined us; how apt we are to seek comfort from others by pouring out to them the bitterness of our souls; how ready to ascribe some sinister motive as the cause of the command, some groundless suspicion, some false accusation, some secret jealousy ! Where is now the excellence, the beauty of obedience? What has become of those high thoughts of self-sacrifice, of heroic immolation of our own will and judgment on the altar of obedience ? Where now that true and perfect liberty with which obedience was to make us free ? No ! obedience is not easy. It is an inward martyrdom of the soul, a long, life-long crucifixion of our heart. And, therefore, perfect obedience is seldom found.