OBEDIENCE: The Archetypal Sin

The following is excerpted from my new book, GETTING THERE FROM HERE:  A Lay Cistercian reflects on  Cistercian Charisms and how they move us to conversion of life from self to God. I have dedicated this book to the late Father Anthony Delisi, O.C.S.O., our Lay Cistercian spiritual adviser who wrote a book entitled, What makes a Cistercian Monk? Chapter talks on the charisms of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. 

CHARISM FIVE: Obedience: The Archetypal Sin

During one of my Lectio Divina sessions (Phil 2:5), I thought of what the obedience of the Son must be to God the Father to come earth and make reparation for the sin of Adam and Eve. He who takes away the sins of the world indeed has mercy on us. But there is more to obedience than meets the eye. First of all, we do not think of obedience as the world sees it, influenced by pseudo, psychological pragmatism, and relativism.

WHAT IS OBEDIENCE?

The spiritual universe is God’s playground, and if we want to use it, we must follow God’s rules, not human ones. The biggest rule has to do with the relationship of Adam and Eve to God in the Garden of Eden. In the Genesis story. there is a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says, don’t eat of it.  The Devil tempts Eve to eat of it because if she and Adam eat its fruit, they will be God. This archetypal story of God and humanity is the Original Sin, the one which Jesus had to become one of us to reconcile with the Father.  If you look around the world today, you will see this sin as the most prevalent and pernicious one we commit. The Wiley One still pulls the wool over the eyes of most of us and even tempts us as individuals to become god.  All sin is the sin of Adam and Eve at its core. Sin, remember, means the archer aims at the target but misses the bullseye, or even the target itself. God give us the target. This Genesis story has disobedience to God and its consequences at the heart of what it means to be human. There is also another dimension to obedience or the lack of it, and that is humility. All told, I count three big events or principles in Genesis:

God is God, and you are not.– God is not human but divine nature. Jesus Christ, however, is both human and divine nature. We are adopted sons and daughters of the Father, each and every human. Some realize this and move forward in resonance with their human nature Forever. Some do not and end up in dissonance with their human nature…Forever. Each person has a choice of placing God as their center or placing themselves there. If you place yourself at the center of reality, you are god. The First Command Moses received on Sinai was to warn that God is God, and we are not. This sin contains every sin that we commit against God. The Kingdom of Heaven on earth is God’s playground, and you must follow His rules if you want to use the swingset. There is only one rule, according to our Master, to love one another as Christ loved us.  All the Creeds, all the Sacraments, all the contemplations with Liturgy of the Hours and Lectio Divina all flow from the Christ principle. God is love, and your purpose in life is to love God with all your hearts. all your minds, and all our strength and our neighbor as yourself. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37). It is the center of both our Jewish heritage and its fulfillment with the resurrection of Christ.

If you want to be God, when God told you not to, this is disobedience. At the heart of what it means to be human, some concepts are prominent.  Chief among them is that God is the creator of all that is. What God made is good, not evil. God gave Adam and Eve limits but they disobeyed Him. Sin came into the world through one man (Romans 5:12-21), and we inherit the effects of that Original Sin. That is why, although we are good, we have been wounded and are prone to evil. We must make up in us that which our nature does not provide. That is why Christ, Son of God, had to die on the cross (Philippians 2: 5-12). It is the ultimate sign of contradiction and the perfect gift of obedience of a human (Jesus) to the Father in reparation for the sin of Adam and Eve.  The problem comes when Christ entrusts his mission to the Apostles. By themselves, they cower in the upper room, afraid of the Jews and of being martyred.  At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them in tongues of fire, and the Church was born. It is still being born today, the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven in time and space, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church Universal (church triumphant in heaven, the church militant on earth, the church purgative awaiting the last judgment).

Pride or the lack of humility is at the core of disobedience.  You can’t have disobedience without having a lack of humility or pride. Pride means you think you are better than anyone, including God. Humility recognized who you are and who God is. St. Benedict in Chapter 7 of his Rule speaks of the steps to gain humility. As a Lay Cistercian, humility and obedience to God’s will through my visible authority (Abbot or Abbess) but also with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the community of Faith, keeps me grounded in moving from self to God, even if I stray or weave down the road of life. Pride is one of the sins that opens up the possibility that I think I am God, that no one can tell me what to do with my body, that love can exist without God, that I don’t need to be a part of the living community of the Body of Christ. I am the Sixth Sola, the Solus Sola, or I am my own church meaning the individual alone can define what knowledge of good and evil is. God is who I say it is. No one can tell me what to believe. Things are true because I believe them not because I believe them because they are true. The modern heresy after Pentecost is: God is who I say it is and no one has the right to tell me anything about God except me. Modern idolatry at work, offering incense to the gods (you) on sacrificing on your own altar with unclean gifts (lack of obedience, lack of humility and lack of love). All you think all of this is normal. Who is to say otherwise? You are god.

BE CAREFUL OF THE WORDS YOU USE

One of the things I always try to keep in mind as I think about the Cistercian charisms, especially silence, solitude, humility, obedience, Lectio Divina, Eucharist, and Liturgy of the Hours is, I live in three universes and not just two. Let’s do a quick refresher on what I mean by two universes verses three universes.

Think of two universes as being just the physical and the mental. 

  • Life is what happens to you.
  • Your center is yourself.
  • You love your family, get meaning from work and activities that enhance what it means for you to be human.
  • Morality and civil order come from what society says is wrong or right, depending on which political regime is in power.
  • Like those animals or plants, you are born, mature, taking values and meaning from your environment, work, procreate, love, find fulfillment in a job or family or some humanistic work of charity, retire, then you die.
  • The physical and mental universes are good unless you go against societal norms.
  • Obedience becomes accepting society’s order because you agree with it.
  • Everyone with this view has the right to believe what they want, outside of these norms.
  • Morality becomes individualistic and relativistic.
  • Suicide makes perfect sense. Who is to say it is wrong?
  • Similarly, Incest, Adultery, and Fornication are perfectly within the moral rights of the individual, because self-gratification is the norm, not the exception.
  • Clergy and professionals, such as teachers, dentists, physicians can sexually abuse others because they have needs that must be fulfilled and they give in to them. Who is to say they are wrong? Not you. Not me.

The response back is always, that is your opinion, and they would be correct if the only reality was just two universes. Scriptures use the word, “World,” to describe this humanistic approach to life. There is a reluctance, almost fringing on hatred for those who think that there is a God out there who would limit my ability to choose what I want as being moral.

Think of three universes as being physical and mental, but now add an authentic, spiritual one. All universes are distinct from each other, have different measurements to determine what is valuable or what is real, and have different characteristics. In this realm of reality, God is central to these three distinct universes. Remember, not all people believe the same about God or Jesus in the spiritual universe. That is why I use the word “authentic” to describe the plan of salvation began by God and redeemed by Christ, and sustained through the Holy Spirit. This is the reality that is the sign of contradiction, the opposite of the two universe thinking. When I use the word “obedience” in this reality, I make a conscious choice that God’s will is my center. I know what God’s will is in several ways:

  • through the Faith of the Church Universal in heaven, on earth and awaiting purification and redemption;
  • through the authorized representative of Christ on earth in the Church;
  • through Sacred Scriptures;
  • through the authorized representative of Christ on earth in my diocese or religious community or lay institute;
  • through openness to the Holy Spirit in each other.
  • Through my own interior prayer of humility to the Father asking for mercy on me. Notice in this reality, I am not first but last. What does that mean?

All of this takes dynamic Faith, and remember this comes from God’s energy, not the belief in the human ability to chose right or wrong. You know that obedience is from God when you “listen with the ear of the heart” (Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict) and find yourself being not like Adam and Eve who disobeyed God’s command, but now like Christ, who obeyed the will of the Father and became one of us. Philippians 2:5-12. This is the sign of contradiction, the type represented by the cross on which Christ gave us his human life, emptying himself once more (first at the Immaculate Conception) to show us what we should do in obedience to Christ in others.

THE GARDEN OF EDEN IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

It might be a mistake to think that the archetypal story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was meant to be a book filler for children in Sunday School. There is far more going on in Genesis 2-3 than meets the eye. Like the many parables of Christ, given for us to ponder about what is true and authentic living, the Garden of Eden makes even more sense to me than earlier in my life.

The Garden of Eden is meant to warn us about the dangers of thinking that we are God. It is a classic tale of love, loves betrayed, and redemption. It shows the consequences of not loving as we humans were intended. Our nature is to be human, not God. It is a part of the Mystery of Faith, the Good News of Redemption, that Christ came to set us free from the bonds of Original Sin. But, the consequences of sin remain in the form of being continually tempted to be God by Satan, in this metaphor, going about like a lion seeking whom He may devour. No snake here.

Pride and disobedience were the primal sins of Adam and Eve. Humility and Obedience are different remedies for disobedience. brought to us by Christ. in three universes (as God sees it). We know what it means to be obedient because Christ showed us what it means to live in humility and obedience to the Father. The Church Universal helps blanket us in the warm embrace of Faith so that we can practice obedience without fear.

One of the lessons I have learned from Lay Cistercian spiritual practices and charisms (humility and obedience) is how important obedience is to Faith. If we follow Christ, obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-12), we walk the path of righteousness and truth, echoing the words of our Master, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Next time the word or the subject of obedience comes up, think of it as being in either two universes (physical and mental) “The World” or three universes (physical, mental and spiritual) “The Spirit.  This is important because, if you live in the Spirit, you may not also choose the World as the basis for your thinking. Each of these two worlds has characteristics when you think of or use the word “obedience.”

READINGS FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

Take a moment and look up the following passages from Holy Scriptures that point to the dichotomy between The World and the Spirit. I recommend that you use the Rule of Threes to help you read Scripture, especially if you stand vigil before the Blessed Sacrament.

  1. Read each quote separately and very slowly from beginning to end. Don’t rush it. Stop at the end of the reading and close your eyes. Did anything strike you as significant about obedience, our focus, or was anything odd to you?
  2. Once more, read the verse once again, this time pausing at the end of each sentence. In silence and solitude, think about obedience and what this one sentence means, then go on to the next. Do not hurry the Spirit. Think of the words as you would a choice, juicy steak, or a tempting bowl of fresh, vegetable soup. Taste and see how good the Lord is.
  3. One more time, read the same passage. This time, do not have any thoughts or trends in mind. Read it with your mind open and cherish what it tells you in your heart. After a period of five to ten minutes, write down what comes to your mind in the space provided after each reading. Think about obedience and how you can become what you have just read.

Romans 5:11-13 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Adam and Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—  13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.

Galatians 6 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Bear One Another’s Burdens

6 My friends,[a] if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.  2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill[b] the law of Christ.  3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.  4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride.  5 For all must carry their own loads.

6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

1 Corinthians 2 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Proclaiming Christ Crucified

2 When I came to you, brothers and sisters,[a] I did not come proclaiming the mystery[b] of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.  2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.  4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom,[c] but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

The True Wisdom of God

6 Yet among the mature, we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.  7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  9 But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the human heart conceived,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.  12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.  13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.[d]

14 Those who are unspiritual[e] do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

16

“For who has known the mind of the Lord

so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

Galatians 5 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

5 1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The Nature of Christian Freedom

2 Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  3 Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law.  4 You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working[a] through love.

7 You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth?  8 Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.  9 A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.  10 I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.  11 But my friends,[b] why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.  12 I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;[c] only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence,[d] but through love become slaves to one another.  14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

The Works of the Flesh

16 Live by the Spirit, I say and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.  18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  21 envy,[e] drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The Fruit of the Spirit

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  23 gentlenesses, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Here are some reflections that I have had about the World and the Spirit when I think of two universes or three, then look at obedience.

Characteristics of the World are:

  • Confined to thinking only of the physical reality and mental reality that reflects on the physical reality for meaning and purpose; only in the past and the present.
  • Seeks the default of the only source of power and meaning, in reality, the individual. The Power of the most powerful energy in the universe, the supernova can’t even be measured against the power of the simplest human mind that knows it. For what supernova knows that it knows? What supernova has the capacity for love? What muon or nuclear fission knows how to live forever? Similarly, of all the life forms that exist, any human mind posses the power of human reasoning that can’t be measured against any living organism, plant, or animal. We are spiritual apes. The power of the least in the kingdom of heaven can’t even be measured against the power of anyone possessing human reasoning on earth. The World will not accept the Mystery of Faith, accessed in part through humility and obedience to God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
  • Obedience means I am limited to only human experiences, gained over a lifetime of trial and error, with many missteps to determine what is true, what is good, what is real. I must obey that which I can experience with my mind and the collective wisdom down through the ages. What is good is good for me. What is real is real for my limited time on this earth. What is true is, with all its emphasis on love and meaning, limited to mere human endeavor, good, to be sure, but it is limited.

Characteristics of the Spirit are:

  • Unconstrained by the physical and mental universes, three universes of the Spirit use both of them (physical and mental) to explain the past by looking at the present that to point towards the future can we can only approach and not define.
  • Seeks the default of the source of power, in reality, the Mystery of Faith, for lack of a more precise definition. In fact, we can’t define it, only approach its Being. Our human intelligence that knows more than all the matter and time of the physical and mental universes can’t know the spiritual universe except through foggy glass. We get some of it because Christ told us what was on the other side of the glass. That is the Faith of the Mystery of Faith. That is the Mystery that eludes people who cannot see with the heart, only with the mind. My Lay Cistercian practices and charisms, especially obedience, has to lead me to deeper penetration of reality, one which makes sense to me, one which I hope to live in Forever. See my depiction of the Mystery of Faith in the photo above. We enter this universe through Faith with humility and obedience to God’s will as our companions throughout the rest of our lives. Our heritage in this universe is adoption as sons and daughters of the Father, undeserved and sustained only by denying oneself and joining our hearts with the heart of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
  • Obedience, in the spiritual universe (which also includes the physical and mental one) always points to an Omega point in the future. Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., scientist and philosopher, call it the point to which all reality evolves, the Omega Point. Obedience in this universe has a Being giving us the ability to live beyond our mortal deficiencies, the effects of Original Sin. Initially, in the Garden of Eden, God intended us to live Forever to tend reality as a steward of all reality. Instead, because of sin, we inherit the effect that we as humans cannot overcome. Jesus came to save us from our own doing, and in so doing had to become one of us. Philippians 2:5-12. Obedience, far from being limiting and binding our human nature to the slavery of self, frees us to seek the adoption and heritage originally intended for Adam and Eve and restored by Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven is within you.

I had a young lady ask me, when standing in line to order coffee at Starbucks, why the Catholic Church would be going against women as to deny them equal rights? She said anyone should not be subject to another in obedience, that is slavery, and we have come through unfortunate experiences of that in recent times.

This is a classic example of seeing obedience in two universes or in three. Yet, living in three universes is what we are actually called to do. It is the sign of contradiction: you pledge obedience to God’s word not your own, the working of the Holy Spirit through the heritage of the Church. You will be influenced by Original Sin and the temptations to be your own god. Without the charisms of humility and obedience to God’s will, life appears normal in the external but lacks the spiritual dimension.  Did you notice that war that exists between the Spirit and the Flesh (the World) in the passages you just read? If you are genuinely a member of the spiritual universe, you will feel the struggle to be spiritual, you will realize that what you are called to do may sometimes be at odds with the World, that you are in a battle between two universes and three universes, that you have the freedom to make the choice, but if you make a choice, you must have the help of God (Faith) to bring you home, and the Faith of the Church Universal to sustain you as you attempt to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil.2:5) each and every day. And what happened to that college student I met in Starbucks and asked about my old view of obedience? She just told me I was living in La-La land and had no clue what the World was about and walked away. I smiled and ordered a Coffee Venti without milk.

St. Benedict (ironically, living c. 540 a.d.) wrote, in Chapter 4 of his Rule, that his monks should obey the abbot, but in cases where the abbot does not practice what he preaches, they should do what he says and not what he does. St. Benedict was wise to the foibles of human nature. He also says “Your way of acting should be different from the World’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” If you take this admonition seriously, you live in three universes and not two. Obedience and humility become means to achieving the purpose of life, the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:5), loving God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.(Matthew 22:37ff)

Our permissive and increasingly secular societies (worldwide) vote about morality. Sometimes they are correct, other times, they fall far behind the trends of our heritage. Not all religions reflect the same beliefs. Be careful when you hear the word, Obedience. The Devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

That in all things, may God be glorified.  –St. Benedict

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