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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Spiritual Liberty of Holy Obedience

Saint Hildegard von Bingen contemplated the origin of evil in terms of disobedience. Satan believed he could begin what he wished because he presumed he could finish what he had begun. He invented his own schemes and programs against the plan of God because he did not believe he needed the Lord for his existence. Because he was not open to God's will, Satan is entrapped in a lower existence, imprisoned in currents of unredeemable chaos below this world. Hildegard sees how the Ancient Adversary is at work to lure and coerce into this same pit all those whose lives he invades and touches. Obedience begins with the realization that one cannot bring into completion the work God has begun. The ambiguity surrounding this life is beyond human capacity to understand or master, and left to ourselves, we are always at risk of being mastered by it. Following our own whims is not enough because even the whims of the heart are subject to this confusion. Our dignity, our integrity, our existence require firm ground on which to stand, or they all fall. This understanding, this saving truth is found somewhere beyond our natural capacities, from Someone above us, who comes down to us, who calls to us and who waits for us to welcome Him. Rather than allowing oneself to be consumed with the confusion of doing what one wishes, we only begin to redeem the ambiguity of life by searching out the most appropriate way of serving the Lord who reveals Himself to us. He does not coerce or manipulate or threaten in anger. He humbly invites. He gently warns and patiently corrects. He thoughtfully questions. He appeals to our holy freedom because our free decisions to love delight Him more than anything else. He who yearns for the free response of our humanity works through human freedom, inviting his friends to help us hear His voice. He who is Love Himself reveals Himself through those whom He has entrusted with preaching the Gospel, teaching sacred doctrine, and directing us with His authority. Ministers of the Gospel, spouses and parents, missionaries, catechists, and so many others share in this great work. Through these frail human instruments, His divine power is manifest. If we persevere in trusting Him to show us Himself through them, our life becomes the very prayer He taught us to say: On Earth as it is in Heaven. To be obedient in this sense is to learn to listen, to hear the voice of God resound in our hearts and to act on it. Obedience here is a matter of being vulnerable to the mind of God revealed on the tongues of men and women, allowing His mind to call into question one's own mind on things through their words. The paradox of this obedience to what God reveals through frail human instruments here below is that the Word of the Father who is from above lifts up those who cling to Him into divine freedom. This spiritual liberty of holy obedience delights in an unvanquished glory that rules over all the ambiguity and confusion in this world and below it. Even when such love is subject to every kind of trial and hardship, it is subject only to God.

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