Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2015
On March 20, which was Friday of last week, I celebrated my fifth anniversary of ordination as a Catholic priest. And so I stand before you today, a priest, but not because I wanted to be, but because I was called by God to do so. You see, no one becomes a priest because they want to, but because they are called into it by God. Now, it is not that I don’t want to be a priest, I do, and I am very happy to be a Catholic priest serving here at Our Lady of the Atonement. (And may it please God to let me stay here for the rest of my life.) But this does not change the fact that I am here as a priest not because I decided to become one, but because God called me to do it – and I, in obedience, followed His calling. And it is this idea of obedience about which I want to speak with you today.
We tend to think of obedience as something negative – like it is an intrusion upon our freedom to do what we want to do. “Oh man, Mom told me to clean my room, so that means I can’t play video games.” This kind of thinking, though, betrays a wrong understanding of freedom. We tend to think in this country that we are free to do whatever we want, but that is not true, because to deliberately choose to do something that is wrong is to misuse our freedom. That is not the reason God gave us freedom. He gave us freedom in order to choose to do that which is good and morally right. In fact, it is necessary for us to be free in order to choose our ultimate good, which is God Himself. And it is in choosing God that obedience comes into play.
Before going on with our reflection on the positive nature of obedience, let us first reflect on its opposite: disobedience. It would be good for us to call to mind the first person that disobeyed God and that would be Lucifer. It was he who was the first to refuse to recognize God as his Creator. It was he who was first to refuse to return God’s love for him. It was he who was first to fail to be grateful to God for all the gifts he had been given. As a result, every act of disobedience thereafter is an emulation of Lucifer’s disobedience of God. And if his is the path that we choose by being disobedient to God in this life then God will let us have what we have chosen – eternal separation from Him as the only source of anything good.
In considering this hopefully obedience no longer sounds like such a bad thing. After all, the path of obedience is the path that Christ walked before us and it is the only path that leads us to Him. We are told today that Christ “learned obedience through what He suffered; and being made perfect He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Christ was obedient to the will of His Father by accepting the Cross and dying for us. And we must follow His example if we want to obtain the salvation that He won for us. Emulating Christ’s obedience is the only way to be saved. And He tells us this plainly in the Gospel today, “If any one serves me, he must follow me.” There is no other path open to us if we want reach our ultimate Goal.
Now certainly, by being obedient, we will have to give up certain things that we desire because they are in fact bad for us. And that can be hard to do. But, shouldn’t we want to give up things that are bad for us? Is the momentary pleasure we receive from such things really worth the price of our eternal soul? If we think critically and honestly about that question then the only reasonable answer would be no. We know that God made us and that the happiness that He wants for us is more important than any other thing we could possibly want or desire. All too often, though, we settle for something much less.
But, if we want to reach that which we truly desire, then we must follow the path of obedience that Christ walked before us. Yes, we know that such a path will lead us to suffering on this earth, but it does not end there. Christ was abused, beaten, and killed but that is not the end of the story. It is through the suffering and death of Jesus that the Resurrection came about and that the gates of Heaven were opened to all who truly believe in Him.
And so, we have two paths that are set before us: the path of obedience and the path of disobedience. We know who established each of these paths and we know where each path leads. But there is one thing that no one knows except you and that is this: which path will you choose?