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What Catholics Believe - Chapter Four

Obedience of Faith

"Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace." - Saint Thomas Aquinas

Obedience is often thought of as suspect in our culture either because it is associated with being unnecessarily submissive or unduly authoritarian. On the one hand, we wonder if being obedient somehow erodes our self-worth or even belittles our intelligence. (Think of the proverbial yes man.) On the other hand, obedience is thought of as unduly authoritarian when someone acts in a domineering manner. (Think of the person whose justification for making demands is “because I said so”).

In contrast to this all-too-common misunderstanding of obedience, I recall a conversation I had as a seminarian. The priest with whom I was speaking described obedience as a kind of listening. The English word obedience is related to the Latin word meaning to hear, which suggests a mind and a heart that are open to listening.

Within the context of our vocation to holiness -- the sanctification of our daily lives and duties -- obedience is always in some way related to our listening to God who reveals Himself to us as the source of all that is good and true. Obedience enables us to receive the grace God offers us amid the everyday relationships and circumstances of our lives.

Divine Revelation, as presented in a previous issue of Harvest, is the self-disclosure of the living God and His plan to save us. Divine Revelation reaches its fullness in God’s Son -- Jesus Christ. (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 142) Likewise we read in sacred Scripture: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” (Hebrews 1:1)

We might say that God the Father was both preparing the human family for the fullness of His Revelation in Christ, as well as listening to see when the world was well disposed to receive his Son --the Eternal Word of the Father. The Father speaks His Word -- Jesus Christ -- who becomes flesh. According to the Gospel of John: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) In other words, Jesus Christ becomes one like us in order to speak with us in a manner that we can understand: Christ comes to meet us.

Divine Revelation can be likened to a great conversation whereby we are engaged in a personal communication that is best characterized as friendship. God freely initiates a dialogue with us by which we are drawn into friendship with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. This act of superabundant love requires a response on our part. In the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults we read: “God makes himself known to us through Revelation in order both to give us something and to draw a response from us. Both this gift of God and our response to his Revelation are called ‘faith.’ By faith, we are able to give our minds and hearts to God, to trust his will, and to follow the direction he gives us. (p. 37)

This response of man to God, who freely reveals Himself in love, is what Saint Paul refers to as the obedience of faith in his letter to the Romans: Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations…to bring about the obedience of faith–to the only wise God be glory forever more through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27) The grace of faith draws us into communion with God and, in the words of the Adult Catechism, this grace enables us both to hear the Word of God and to keep it. (p. 37)

During this month of May devoted to Mary, it is fitting that we conclude by honoring our Lady as the exemplar of all who believe. Mary’s obedience of faith exemplifies the virtue of faith made possible by grace and necessary for salvation. As we ask for the grace of faith to be increased within us, we do well to join Saint Elizabeth who when greeted by our Lady responded with joy: blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1:45)

Father Paul Dumais

What Catholics Believe is an ongoing Harvest series on the United States Catholic Catechism of Adults.