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16 - THE PURSUIT OF VIRTUES: OBEDIENCE

OBEDIENCE:

Obedience is subjecting your will to the will of another. The Fathers took great pains in training their novice disciples in this very important basic virtue. We are all familiar with Saint John Colobos (the short), who was told by his trainer to take a stick, put it in the ground and water it every day!Another Abbot told a novice to stand at the door of the monastery and bow himself down to everyone entering through the door, begging him, “Please pray for me for I am a leper!” This may seem ludicrous to you and me, but that shows you how seriously those Fathers of the desert took training for virtues. And before passing judgment on their “techniques”, please look at the results or the fruits. After years of toiling to water the stick, the stick budded and brought fruit, and the “master” took the fruits to the other monks telling them, “Come eat of the fruit of obedience.”
To be truly obedient, you do not have to agree with the request. And the more objectionable the request, the more reward you will get for your obedience. When God asked Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham never stopped for a moment to inquire if this request was “reasonable”. He just did it. Of course God never intended to have Abraham slay his son. God gave Abraham this seemingly “unreasonable” request to test his obedience, and he was generously rewarded for this obedience.
In the same manner, you do not score points for being obedient in things that you like or agree with. You score points when you practice obedience in things that you disagree with or don’t like to do. For example, if your dad tells you, “Get dressed because we are going out to have dinner in your favourite restaurant” and you say “Yes sir!” I do not think that you will be rewarded by God for this kind of obedience! But if dad asks you to help him in shovelling the snow or mowing the grass, or mom asks you to help with the dishes and you say “Yes sir” or “Yes Mam” that is when you get rewarded.
One important aspect of obedience is that it should be “In the Lord” “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” (Eph 6:1) The request has to be according to the teachings of the Bible, because, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Act 5:29)

THE TRAINING FOR OBEDIENCE:

Having consulted with your Father in confession, and sincerely prayed to God to initiate you, and sustain you in this endeavour, you can now start the work of training. Start early in the morning, by reviewing all the chances that God gives you to practice this wonderful virtue. Start by making a resolve to be obedient throughout the day to your parents, your teacher, or your husband or wife. Say to yourself. “I am not doing this for them but for God’s sake” Once you have made this resolution, do it without hesitation. It may be hard in the beginning, especially if your dad or mom ask you to help in some errand during your favourite soap opera!Force yourself to do it for the sake of succeeding in your effort to implant this wonderful virtue in your soul. If the errand is boring you to death, just try to entertain yourself by saying to yourself, “Hey, my parents think that I am being obedient to them. They don’t know that I am doing this for my own good!” And if the errand is very objectionable, console yourself by saying to yourself, “I am doing this to get a reward from God not from my parents (or my husband or wife).”
Do not ask yourself if the request is reasonable or not, just do it for the sake of acquiring the virtue of obedience. As a matter of fact, the more unreasonable the request, the more quickly you will acquire the virtue. A classical example given in the wonderful little book “The Way of the Ascetics” is this: Your wife tells you, “Take the umbrella for it is going to rain today”. You look outside and it is sunshine, not a single cloud in the sky, and you tell yourself, “There is no way it is going to rain today!”. Well, maybe you are right, but this is a wonderful chance to practice obedience for obedience’s sake. And if people give you strange looks for carrying an umbrella on a day like this, smile and say to yourself , “They have no idea what I am doing this for!”
To be obedient is to be prompt in doing what you are asked to do. The two classical answers that young people give when asked to do something are these, “Do I have to?” and “In a minute!” Of course that minute takes forever. If you are serious about your training in the virtue of obedience, you have to force yourself to be prompt.
A story that illustrates this is the story of a monk called “Mark the Calligrapher” who lived in a monastery with other monks. The monks made a complaint to the Bishop that the Abbot of the monastery loves Mark more than the others!The Bishop came to investigate, and asked the Abbot about this, and he said, come and I will show you. The Abbot went knocking on the doors of the cells of the monks and each one of them said, “I am coming,” only to open the door minutes later. When he knocked on the door of Mark, the door was opened instantly. The Abbot took the Bishop inside to where Mark was sitting to work. There was a manuscript that Mark was inscribing, and in it was an unfinished vowel. Mark heard the knock on the door and did not wait to finish the vowel he was inscribing before opening the door. When the Bishop saw that he said, “Not only do I understand why you love him but now I love him too!”
How long should I do this? If you are sincere in doing these exercises in the way described, it will probably take you no more than two weeks to ingrain this wonderful virtue in your soul. It will be difficult in the beginning, but later on, it will be effortless. Obedience will become a second nature to you!


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