Thursday, February 25, 2010

Obedience, part I

One of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises is a meditation on duty—or obedience. He doesn’t exactly put it in those terms, but he challenges his practitioners to consider the request of a great king. The divinely-appointed king approaches a citizen and asks this person to serve for the sake of the kingdom. The king is just and will be laboring alongside the citizen, will share in the toil and share also in the success. St. Ignatius claims that everyone who is approached by such a king would feel an unavoidable sense of duty, and would be crazy not to accept the charge. In turn, St. Ignatius equates the same impetus for serving an earthly king as the rationale for serving a divine king. The citizen of God’s kingdom would feel an unavoidable sense of duty, and would be crazy not to accept the charge of serving alongside God. Right?

I found myself pausing over St. Ignatius’ self-evident claim. Perhaps as an American, or simply as an innate rebel, I have little interest in duty. I’ll hide behind the sins of my country to claim indifference towards patriotism, and I’ll hide behind the affronts of our leaders to validate discounting civil service. From the safety of the outside I criticize those within. And I am irreproachable because I am uninvolved.

There is a safety in this outsider’s position. We can abandon ship whenever necessary because we’re not beholden to its weathering the storm. And we can rebel without conscience when it fits our mood. The leadership says something we disapprove of, we ignore it. Perhaps, if we’re perfectionists, we’ll toe the line for the sake of keeping out of trouble, but in the end we won’t take the authority’s word to heart because that authority doesn’t truly represent us. In a word, we’re irreverent.

Does this irreverence translate to other points in our lives? St. Ignatius seemed to think that personal allegiance towards an earthly leader would necessarily predispose an individual to personal allegiance towards a heavenly leader. If that’s the case, then does personal irreverence for an earthly leader necessarily predispose me to irreverence for a heavenly leader? And if that’s the case, is the fact that I occasionally take issue with God and God’s declarations—especially those voiced in the church—indicative of God being behind the times or me simply being a dissident?

Unfortunately, I’m inclined to think the latter. The ramifications of this realization, though, I’ll save for the next entry. Stay tuned.

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