Americans and Obedience: Oil and Water

It’s a rare thing when Julie Davis climbs up on a soapbox; she is the most genial of ladies, and not one to kick up a fuss, but she’s got something to say, today and it’s worth hearing and pondering:

Why did God highly exalt Christ Jesus? Why did God bestow on him the name above every name, that at that name every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth? Why shall every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father?


He took the form of a servant, did not count equality with God something to be grasped (even though he could have), and became obedient unto death.
Let’s all stop. Really stop. And read it again. Slowly, aloud, thinking about it. […]

Beginning with Adam and Eve, disobedience is the original human sin. It is the one that makes us ignore our inner voice of “what is right” and do what we want anyway.


It sounds fine until it interferes with what we’d really like.

Then, in fine American independence we spit the word “obedient” as if it is a curse and defiantly stamp to emphasize our right to do what we like.

You’ll want to read the whole thing.

Talk to any religious — a nun, a monk, a sister — and they will all tell you that Obedience is the toughest of their vows. Occasionally, you might find the rare one who will say they find it “restful” and “freeing” but for the most part, they’ll tell you that the urge to make up one’s own mind and settle something for oneself is ingrained and tough to control.

It’s tough for all of us. But it is the largest lesson Jesus taught us during his life on earth, and from the cross: obedience works toward God’s purposes, which we cannot always understand when we’re in the moment, but His plan becomes apparent. later. Sometimes twenty years later; sometimes three days later.

Obedience, or really, our refusal to practice it, is at the heart of most of our troubles, because disobedience serves so much within ourselves that ought not be given in to. Our egos; our pride; our selfishness; our need to self-medicate, our greed — it all gets served by disobedience to the first and fundamental things. Disobedience is at the heart of the LCWR story, too, to some extent.

But Julie is on to something when she ties Americanism to Disobedience and finds something troubling in the mix. Our ingrained independence doesn’t understand the idea of something not being a democracy, subject to a campaign and a vote. Someone sent a rant to me the other day, written by a Catholic who was insisting that if “the Spirit of Vatican II” is not honored, then the Roman Church may no longer be considered as being influenced by the Holy Spirit.

This, of course, is an opening salvo in a move toward schism and the creation of an “American Catholic Church” that some would love to see. But if the Holy Spirit is indeed moving the more enlightened toward schism, he is being awfully insular about it; outside of North America such a thing is not seriously being imagined. In Europe, people either leave the church or remain; in Africa and Asia the church is of course growing and determined in its orthodoxy. Only in America do you see this insistence that a “spirit of Vatican II” that arose in the early 1970’s — and that often has nothing to do with the actual documents of VCII — must flourish; it (and these proponents) must increase, while Rome must decrease.

A well-connected minority of these Catholics won’t be happy until they schism, and become everything the Church of England has become, although, for little while — energized by newness, and praised unto vomitous excess by the mainstream press — their pews will be fuller than hers; fuller ever, perhaps, than Rome’s.

I can see it happening, because American politics and religion is too closely entwined. As the government increasingly encroaches upon religious freedom in service to secular political agendas, there will be a point where these rising interests converge — everything that rises must converge — and the “American Catholic Church” will be only too glad to receive the bounty of government fines and levies against the Roman one, and to bring their new church into conformity with the government. In the “spirit,” of course, of Vatican II.

I love the Second Vatican Council; reading its documents helped me find my way back to church. But I somehow doubt that the Holy Spirit’s intention was to align the Bride of Christ, which is the Church, with secular governments, interests and perspectives. It never has been, before. Quite the opposite, in fact are we not supposed to be a sign of contradiction to the world?

I think Benedict understands all of this, which is why he predicted long before he was ever Benedict, that the church would become smaller.

Smaller, but perhaps more powerful in its concentration because — as Jesus showed us — obedience brings the power.

We must pray for each other in the church, particularly here in America, where we all think we are always so much more right about everything than anyone else, or any generation before our own.

Oil and Water Photo Courtesy of

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About Elizabeth Scalia