Free to Obey

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Free to Obey

In the Old Testament we find an incident in the life of Saul who, thinking to please God, saved the best spoils of a victorious battle to offer in sacrifice.  Ironically, because he had not completely destroyed his enemy as God had ordered, he was rejected as King of Israel.  Through the mouth of Samuel he heard, “Does the Lord desire offerings and sacrifices as he desires obedience?  Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to listen to God than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). 

On the other hand, in the New Testament, we find Jesus defending his disciples when they pluck grain on the Sabbath. He indicates that laws—even religious laws—are not above the human beings for whom they were intended: “The Sabbath was made for the sake of human beings for whom they were intended and not humans for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27).

Sometimes we, too, find laws which, once fostering our free service of God, now hinder it.  In our own times, for example, we have witnessed some startling turnabouts regarding the observance of laws on the part of Christians.  Could it be their desire to listen to the voice of the Lord within which is the reason behind their “civil disobedience”? 

Depth psychologists tell us we tend to look on our own natural desires as somehow being suspect or even evil.  The creativity of children is often stifled by society’s structures—even though this inner “law” was there first and given by God, incidentally, to make them happy.  

It might be a good time for us to prayerfully consider our own freedom.  Are we as free to listen to the Lord’s voice within our hearts as we once were?  Are we disturbed when the Church changes to adapt to the signs of the times?  Do we ever abdicate to laws our responsibility to discern what the Lord’s will is for us?  Which law demands of us the greater challenge, the more difficult discernment—the one written in our hearts or the one written in a book? 

Do we find these questions arousing disturbing thoughts?  Then it might be time to re-assess our freedom as God’s children!

–Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB 



Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB

Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.


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“Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others.”
–Henri Nouwen