'Obedience is Better Than Sacrifice'

By Chris Sparks

In this time without public Masses, there’s one truth of our faith that’s been ringing in my ears.

Obedience is better than sacrifice.

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

as much as in obedience to the LORD’s command?

Obedience is better than sacrifice,

to listen, better than the fat of rams (1 Sam 15:22).

Now, I have my pet preferences and a variety of ways in which the consequences of original sin show up in my life. I have the same temptation as anyone to say to God, “My will be done. My comfort, my pleasure, my sense of satisfaction, my feelings should come first. My will be done, yes?”

And then I have to go to Confession, if I am able, or make an Act of Contrition if I can’t.

Here’s the hard truth: Our desires are often disordered. Sure, there are healthy impulses in most all of us. Usually, if you’re hungry, you do need to eat; thirsty, you do need to drink. But we often don’t know where to stop. Humans are great at overdoing, or underdoing, or doing what’s needed at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Instead of the salad and fish, we go for the burger and fries. Instead of the gym or the sports field, we go for the couch and the movies.

Most things in life are good in moderation. A life lived according to prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude will be a life lived with pleasures as well as work, with rest as well as struggle. God made the good things of the world, and endowed us all with gifts and talents. It is a delight to share in those, to receive the benefits of the baker’s art, to be entertained by the skill of actors and writers.

But our minds, our wills, our hearts can’t be absolutely trusted. We always need to check in with God’s revelation given through faith and reason because we’re wounded from the fall. If we hadn’t been touched by original sin, then our minds would be completely reliable; our will, sure and unerring; our desires, in proportion to the good.

But we’re not well. We’re wounded. We can be made better through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and through obedience to the will of God. It takes training and trust. We have to wait on the will of God, remaining open to Him, just as the patient on the operating table is in the hands of the surgeon. The patient does not control the speed of the procedure or guide the hands of the surgeon.

In order for God to bring new life out of us, just like He did by making Eve out of Adam’s rib, He must put us to sleep. Our will must be silenced; our mind, consent to darkness and lack of understanding; our desires quieted so that the will of God is supreme. Then He can put the old man to sleep and bring the new man to life from within us. Then our vices can be cut out, our virtues joined to the life in the Spirit, and we can be alive in God.

I’m as resistant to that as anyone. But it’s the path forward for us, and it often means we must abide with things we don’t want. For instance, right now, obedience means accepting that we are not to go to Mass. Saint Faustina faced a similar challenge:

Today the doctor decided that I am not to go to Mass, but only to Holy Communion. I wanted very much to assist at Mass, but my confessor, in agreement with the doctor, told me to obey. “It is God’s will, Sister, that you should get well, and you must not undertake mortifications of any kind. Be obedient, Sister, and God will reward you for it.” I felt that the confessor’s words were Jesus’ words, and although it made me sad to miss Holy Mass, during which God had been granting me the grace of seeing the Infant Jesus; nevertheless, I placed obedience above everything else.

I became absorbed in prayer and said my penance. Then I suddenly saw the Lord, who said to me, “My daughter, know that you give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience than by long prayers and mortifications.” Oh, how good it is to live under obedience, to live conscious of the fact that everything I do is pleasing to God! (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 894).

Obedience can be harder than long prayers and mortifications. In fact, it usually is.

But it’s the path for us if we’re going to move toward eternal life. It’s a path to which we can always return after a fall. Jesus told St. Faustina, “I unite Myself with you, take away your misery and give you My mercy. I perform works of mercy in every soul. The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy. My mercy is confirmed in every work of My hands. He who trusts in My mercy will not perish, for all his affairs are Mine, and his enemies will be shattered at the base of My footstool” (Diary, 723).

So let us live “Jesus, I trust in You.” Let us recommit to putting His will above our will, to obedience even when that means choosing something that doesn’t feel good. Let us open ourselves to lives lived on God’s terms, not our own; to a little less complaining and a little more keeping calm and carrying on. And let us remember that Jesus said of those disciples whom He sent out to preach in His name, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16). Consecrated religious are bound to obey their superiors; the laity are bound to obey the hierarchy of the Church. Let us pray for our bishops and clergy who have to shepherd us all in these challenging times, and obey them.

Like I said earlier, I am among the worst at all of this. Pray for me, please, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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