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Are you obeying God or just complying with law?

Published: May 22, 2020   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily May 17 at the House of Formation.

Obedience is not the same thing as compliance. Compliance is merely doing what is demanded. Obedience means doing so willingly, with a good attitude.

Obedience comes from the Latin word for listening, which is more than just hearing. Listening is when we take what we hear to heart; thus, obedience is compliance from the heart. For some things — like paying taxes — mere compliance is sufficient, but that’s not good enough for God. God wants obedience from the heart.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep (meaning obey) my commandments.” The difficulty is that we obey God in the concrete only when we obey from the heart also those who have a God-given claim on us. When I was ordained, I promised to obey the bishop, who whether I liked it or not, would one day transfer me to another parish. Whenever that time came it wasn’t easy for me to leave people I had come to love, but I always tried to obey with a good attitude, from the heart.

Anything less than self-sacrificing love and a good attitude is simply not good enough for God.

The Fourth Commandment requires us to honor our parents — so you children are obligated to obey your parents willingly, with a good attitude and no back talk. But this obligation to honor our parents doesn’t end with adulthood, even though our childhood obligation to comply with their every demand does. Honoring them as adults means to treat them with respect, even when they are inconvenient or manipulative or unreasonable, even when their minds begin to fail — anything less than kindness to parents dishonors them and violates the Fourth Commandment.

The same is true in marriage. When you married you promised your spouse, “I will be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” Loving and honoring your spouse means treating them with respect, even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. It means remaining faithful out of obedience to your vows — even when they are not and even when a tempting upgrade appears on the horizon. You promised to be true also in the bad times and apart from situations of domestic violence, anything less than self-sacrificing love and a good attitude is simply not good enough for God.

The reason priesthood and marriage are sacraments is that they both include a share in the cross of Christ, and thus vows for the bad times as well as the good times. Vows that will sometimes require of us more self-sacrifice and humility than we ever imagined that day when we stood before the altar and made our lifelong commitment to faithful obedience before God. In this we have no better example than Jesus himself.

This weekend, for the first time in over 40 days, Mass is being celebrated publicly in most parishes in our diocese. This has been a very trying time and the COVID-19 threat is still with us. We are grateful finally to be able to resume the celebration of Mass on a limited basis and there are many things about the restrictions we presently have to live with that I don’t like any more than you do, but which we have to obey — and which are, in fact, the price of self-sacrificing love. Masks, physical distancing, working from home if at all, only 25 percent occupancy in our church buildings.

If we merely comply with these limitations grudgingly, we miss the opportunity to grow in the Lord. He wants us to make these sacrifices out of love, out of concern for the most vulnerable among us. We personally might not be in a high-risk group, but obeying Jesus means that we don’t think only of ourselves. We wear that mask out of love because we don’t want to be a vector of infection for others who are at great risk.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” and at the root of all of his commandments is sacrificial love. In these days of COVID-19, that is the mystery of the cross.

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