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Freedom of obedience?

Since the Council of Trent, the Church has formulated, asserted and affirmed the fundamental concept of the ecclesiastical office. Whilst the notion of 'benefice' has long since been abandoned, the understanding of 'ecclesiastical office' as an appointment which is inseparable from 'obedience' has not. Obedience (obseqium) requires a particular mindset. Contrary to the view of detractors inside and outside the Church, it does not constitute blind acceptance. Rather, true obedience rests upon two interrelated notions: (i) a recognition of the authority enjoyed by others; and (ii) acknowledgment that true faith represents a surrender of self to legitimate authority.

The very term 'authority' is seen by some as a concept which is anachronistic; out of step with the Western understanding of personal freedoms and self-determination. Upon this basis, the surrender of self to others is presented as a violation of those same freedoms. Is such hostility to these ideas founded upon the fact that they find expression within a faith community? It could be suggested that this is the case. Strikingly, there has (as yet) been no similar challenge to the idea of obedience in other quarters. There has been no exhortation to those in the military and other essential services to disregard the authority of their commanders, or, abandon the discipline upon which their proficiency depends. The absence of such a clarion call might suggest that what is at work here is nothing more than a form of selective unaccountability. The principal tenet of such unaccountability is seemingly the idea that: "I will submit to none other than myself". This tenet is not readily reconcilable with any form of social cohesion, or, indeed, the plurality and inclusivity upon which so many convention rights depend.

Within the Church's Tradition all our made in the image and likeness of God. Each is called to participate in the universal call to holiness. Contrary to what may be said, authentic participation in that call and the formulation of individual response rests upon the exercise of freedom of intellect and will. By this means each and every person has the freedom to discern the will of God and the discharge of responsibilities entrusted to him. More fundamentally, authority cannot be seen as an external power alone. The first (and might be said the most effective) form of authority is that which we are obliged to exercise over ourselves. That is, the practical application of conscience. It is, of course, true that we might deceive ourselves into the belief that there is a total symmetry between our own desires and preferences on the one hand and the will of God on the other. Priests and religious will immediately recognise the "perfect parish' or the 'monastery over the hill' where all personal irritations are absent and a perfect state of existence may be achieved. It is the land of "if only". If only I did not have to contend with this person or that person. If only, I did not have to work with this colleague. If only they realised just how much more knowledgable I am. Each of these sentiments betokens a mindset in which self is not free, but rather is running riot. This is no mere personal characteristic. It denotes a crisis of faith. A crisis of identity. One in which the person has lost sight of his true character and purpose in Christ.

In his recent publication "The Day is Now Far Spent" Cardinal Sarah expresses the position of the priest as follows:

"He is possessed, immersed in Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit through humble service to God, to the Church, and for the salvation of souls. Thanks to this consecration, the spiritual life of the priest is imprinted, modelled, and marked by Christ's own behaviours..."

The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary serves as a much needed reminder of the need to reflect upon the life of Christ and the Truth which it represents. The Rosary offers a daily means by which we are welcomed into the salvific journey; accompanied by Our Blessed Mother. Through the power of the Rosary we are also invited to align our heart, intellect and will, with her's and that of Her son. In a manner befitting of our Mother, she demonstrates to us through guidance, consolation, and most of all, untiring devotion, that there is not and cannot be any room for 'self'. Her fiat must become ours. She has gifted to us the Rosary: Ad Jesum per Mariam. In the words of the great hymn: "Love to the loveless shown; that we might lovely be."

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom - Pray for us.

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