Sunday Readings: Feast of the Holy Family

Reading 1:

SIR 3:2-6, 12-14

 

God sets a father in honor over his children;

a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.

Whoever honors his father atones for sins,

and preserves himself from them.

When he prays, he is heard;

he stores up riches who reveres his mother.

Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,

and, when he prays, is heard.

Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;

he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

 

My son, take care of your father when he is old;

grieve him not as long as he lives.

Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;

revile him not all the days of his life;

kindness to a father will not be forgotten,

firmly planted against the debt of your sins

—a house raised in justice to you.

 

Psalm:

PS 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10

 

  1. (cf. 5a) Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!

My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD.

My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

  1. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

Happy they who dwell in your house!

Continually they praise you.

Happy the men whose strength you are!

Their hearts are set upon the pilgrimage.

  1. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

O LORD of hosts, hear our prayer;

hearken, O God of Jacob!

O God, behold our shield,

and look upon the face of your anointed.

  1. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

 

Reading 2 COL 3:12-21

 

Brothers and sisters:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,

bearing with one another and forgiving one another,

if one has a grievance against another;

as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

And over all these put on love,

that is, the bond of perfection.

And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,

the peace into which you were also called in one body.

And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,

as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,

singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs

with gratitude in your hearts to God.

And whatever you do, in word or in deed,

do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,

giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,

as is proper in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives,

and avoid any bitterness toward them.

Children, obey your parents in everything,

for this is pleasing to the Lord.

Fathers, do not provoke your children,

so they may not become discouraged.

 

Gospel LK 2:41-52

 

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast

of Passover,

and when he was twelve years old,

they went up according to festival custom.

After they had completed its days, as they were returning,

the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,

but his parents did not know it.

Thinking that he was in the caravan,

they journeyed for a day

and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,

but not finding him,

they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple,

sitting in the midst of the teachers,

listening to them and asking them questions,

and all who heard him were astounded

at his understanding and his answers.

When his parents saw him,

they were astonished,

and his mother said to him,

“Son, why have you done this to us?

Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

And he said to them,

“Why were you looking for me?

Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

But they did not understand what he said to them.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth,

and was obedient to them;

and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor

before God and man.

The theme I’d like to touch on in today’s readings is obedience. We don’t like obedience these days: we think it’s shameful and humiliating. Heck, we consider disobedience to practically be a virtue in itself (so long as it’s disobedience of the right people. Disobedience of the wrong people is considered ‘hate speech’ and dealt with severely). What’s that one idiotic bumper sticker say? ‘Well-behaved women have never made history.’

However, as the above passages indicate, God takes a much different view of obedience. Obedience, far from being shameful, is a virtue, one that Christ Himself practiced with regards to his parents, and which is therefore enjoined upon us as an obligation.

I think our dislike of obedience stems from the notion that it means blind obedience on one hand and unrestrained power on the other. But this is a shallow and childish view of the subject for a shallow and childish age. Obedience has never (at least in Christian eyes) meant blind, unquestioning acceptance of whatever is ordered, since above all earthly obedience lies the deeper and primary obedience to God. It’s for this reason that St. Thomas, among others, held that a man’s conscience (his informed knowledge of right and wrong) held absolute authority. Thus, the virtue of obedience can never mean doing what you know to be wrong simply because you’re ordered to.

Nor is obedience merely arbitrary. Rather, obedience can be thought of as a form of trust: a wife is obedient to her husband because she trusts that a). he knows what he’s doing and b). that he loves her as Christ loves the Church and hence has her best interests at heart.

Now, it might be argued (I’m sure it is) that the habit of obedience and the exercise of the complementary authority tends to lead to abuse. Power corrupts and all that. Someone who considers himself having legitimate authority will then consider whatever he does to be justified for that reason.

Again, I think this is a somewhat shallow view of things. That scenario certainly can and does play out, but I think an opposite scenario – in which the authority granted has a humbling and edifying effect on the wielder through the desire to exercise it well – is probably just as common. But in any case, the problem in such a scenario would not be in the obedience rendered but in the authority wielded. Obedience remains a virtue even in the face of ill-use.

But more importantly is this; the maxim ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is only partially true. Power only corrupts the disobedient. That is, a man exercising authority will only abuse that authority if he ignores or forgets the fact that he himself is subject to authority.

Rudyard Kipling expressed this well in his poem A Servant When He Reigneth:

 

“He knows no use for power

Except to show his might

He gives no heed to judgment

Unless it prove him right.”

 

A man who seeks freedom from obedience is the kind of man who will be corrupted by power, because he thinks of authority as an arbitrary imposition of will, rather than a trust and obligation. A man who understands obedience, however, knows that every man is subject to authority of some kind and that the obedience rendered to him is a trust that he must not abuse.

Such was the authority of the Holy Family and the obedience of Jesus Christ. Mary and Joseph wielded authority over the Son of God, who was obedient to them, because they understood that obedience and authority and both alike rooted in humility and love. Jesus was obedient to His earthly parents because their authority was from God His Father, and they likewise recognized that their authority was a great trust which was not for their own benefit but for their son’s.

God delegates His authority to man. This, when we realize it, is a staggering mystery, but it is for this reason that husbands have authority over their wives and parents over their children and rulers over their citizens, who are thus morally obligated to render obedience to them as they would to God. They in their turn, meanwhile, must render their own due obedience to God, whose authority they have been granted in this particular context.

Thus, obedience is not a source of corruption but its antidote. Power can only be safely wielded by those who consider themselves subject. That is the idea behind the American system of government: that the rulers are themselves subject to the authority of the Constitution and, through it, to the people they rule (the reason our system is failing is because our rulers have steadily been ceasing to be obedient to the Constitution). Just kings are just because they hold themselves bound to a higher law than their own, and ultimately to God.

Remember, one of the few men whom Christ praised unreservedly was a Roman Centurion, and He praised him precisely because the man understood the interplay of obedience and authority and his own place within it.

This is why our distaste for obedience is so dangerous. Man cannot be good unless he recognizes that he stands in obedience to something greater than himself. He must be obedient to God, to the moral law, and to God’s delegates on Earth (his parents, his nation, etc.). If he is not, he will merely be a self-centered child, perpetually preening himself in front of his own personal mirror.

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