17 January, Monday — Obedience

17 Jan – Memorial for St. Anthony, abbot

Following the death of his parents when he was about 20, St. Anthony (251-356) ensured that his sister completed her education, then sold his house, furniture, and the land he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor, joined the anchorites who lived nearby, and moved into an empty sepulchre. At 35, he moved alone to the desert, living 20 years in an abandoned fort.

Anthony barricaded the place for solitude, but admirers broke in. He miraculously healed people and agreed to be the spiritual counsellor of others. His recommendation was to base life on the gospel. Word spread, and so many disciples arrived that Anthony founded two monasteries on the Bile, one at Pispir, one at Arsinoe. Many of those who lived near him supported themselves by making baskets and brushes, and from that came his patronage of those trades.

Anthony briefly left his seclusion in 311, going to Alexandria to fight Arianism, and to comfort the victims of Maximinus’ persecution. At some point in his life, he met with his sister again. She, too, had withdrawn from the world, and directed a community of nuns. Anthony retired to the desert, living in a cave on Mount Colzim.

Descriptions paint him as uniformly modest and courteous. His example led many to take up the monastic life, and to follow his way. He became a friend late in life of St. Paul the Hermit, and buried the aged anchorite, leading to his patronage of gravediggers. His biography was written by his friend St. Athanasius.

His relationship with pigs and patronage of swineheards is a little complicated. Skin diseases were sometimes treated with applications of pork fat, which reduced inflammation and itching. As Anthony’s intervention aided in the same conditions, he was shown in art accompanied by a pig. People who saw the artwork, but did not have it explained, thought there was a direct connection between Anthony and pigs — and people who worked with swine took him as their patron.

– Patron Saint Index

Today’s readings are taken from the feria

1 Sam 15:16-23
Mk 2:18-22

“Is the pleasure of the Lord in holocausts and sacrifices or in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice…Since you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you…”

The first reading today tells of the story of Saul when he was king. Samuel told him of God’s plan that Saul should destroy the Amalekites and all their wickedness. But disobedience, greed, and perhaps pride told a hold of him, and he decided to keep the spoils from war instead of destroying them. His rationale was that he kept the spoils so that sacrifices could be made to God.

Before we go any further, note the polar opposite in the responses from our Blessed Mother and Saul. What a contrast!

Saul is not alone in this kind of behaviour. We often find ourselves in the same situation. There are times when, in our hearts, we know what is the right thing to do, what God would want us to do. But for whatever reason, we are unwilling to follow His will; so we start rationalising our thinking and actions, we start making excuses for our behaviour, trying to appease our conscience and, in our minds, appeasing God. Our Heavenly Father is not fooled. We can fool ourselves, but He is not fooled by us. He knows our hearts, our minds, our intentions, even things that are hidden from ourselves.

There are two points that can be made here.  

Firstly, sometimes, when we know that something is right, but we don’t want to do it, we rationalise things and say to ourselves there are better alternatives, the results are the same, but it is a smarter and better way to do things. Vice versa, when it is something that we know may be wrong (see how I am justifying myself again and providing a way out for myself…), we often tell ourselves that no one knows and it is a victimless crime; it is not affecting anyone else and it really isn’t so bad, so it is ok.  To throw into this mix, is the biggest issue – pride. We tell ourselves that independence is good, and obedience is associated with such negative connotation such as weakness. We want to be our own masters. We acknowledge God, but only when it is convenient and only on our terms.  

That’s hard to admit to ourselves, isn’t it? When we concede to even the slightest part, we don’t see ourselves in a very good light. We are like fair weather friends in some ways, but in the opposite direction. We only turn to God in need, then ignore or dismiss Him when things are going well.

Secondly, as a friend, a family member, a parent, and particularly as Christians, we are familiar with the concept of sacrifice. The sacrifice of our time, our personal goals, and sometimes our wants or needs are sacrifices that we all make at some point. But the ultimate sacrifice is the one Jesus made on Calvary for us all.  In turn, we think to ourselves, that by going to Sunday Mass, by fasting during Lent, by going to confession (which are all good things), we have fulfilled our duties to God. He shouldn’t expect more from us because we certainly don’t think we can give more of ourselves.

I am guilty of both the first and second point. I justify my actions or inactions by rationalisation, even though the Spirit (in some cases, conscience) is telling me differently. I say to myself that I believe in God, that I practice most of the rituals and commandments, therefore, I am good with God.  

To the two points, there are two observations. If I am only interested in having a superficial relationship with God, then by following the practices without deeply understanding what God truly is calling us to, maybe that is sufficient to satisfy our own conscience. If I am wanting to be a true disciple of Jesus, then I need to understand what I am truly called to. Yes, I should go to Mass every Sunday, go to confession and fast during Lent; these are all good for my soul, but they are not sacrifices for God. He doesn’t need us to do all those things. He gave them to us for our own good.  

Brothers and sisters, my apologies for this long read, but there is so much to discuss. I have only scratched the surface but will leave you with this to ponder.

Our Heavenly Father and our Creator is goodness and love. He doesn’t need our sacrifice or even our existence. We exist because He loves us. In return, He only requires us to love Him and only Him. How do we show this love? Simply by our obedience to His will, which is goodness itself. That’s all.  That’s all He wants from us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, please help us to understand that You do not want sacrifice, but our love and obedience. Not mindlessness, but to choose You above all else, to love You in return for Your infinite love and goodness.

Thanksgiving: Dearest Lord, thank you for the ultimate sacrifice that You made for us — dying on the Cross, redeeming us, giving us eternal salvation.

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