What was it about Jesus that drew the apostles to leave everything and follow Him? Yes, He called them, “Come, follow me,” but what was it that made them so eager to remain with Him to the end? Was it His fascinating miracles? (Walking on water is quite impressive!) Or His incredible ability to change water into wine or seven loaves into thousands?
I venture to guess that it was Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father that was so attractive. Jesus’ every word, action and prayer revealed that He simply basked in the Father’s love and delighted to be His Son. His love for the Father was expressed in His perfect union with the Father’s will.
Jesus said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30) and “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me” (John 4:34) and “The world must know that I love the Father and do just what the Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). Jesus’ obedience to the Father was clearly not based out of some sense of duty or guilt, but out of a radiant love for the One who loved Him perfectly. Jesus’ very person bore witness to the freedom and joy that flowed from this trusting filial relationship.
It is this intimacy with the Father that spoke to the apostles’ deepest desires- and speaks to ours as well.
The more the apostles watched and listened to Jesus, the more they yearned to be caught up in this intimate relationship with the Father. They wanted to call God their Father; they wanted to be guided and loved as sons. They understood that the key to this intimacy was living in the will of the Father. But how could they enter into this life-giving union of wills with the Father? Yes, they had the commandments and a whole long list of Jewish laws. But in the day-to-day living, how could they know with complete assurance what the Father wanted of each of them personally?
When Jesus called the apostles to His side, He invited them to a unique sharing in His very way of life- His poverty, His chastity, and His loving obedience to the Father. Jesus’ invitation to the apostles included His agreement to direct all aspects of their lives according to the will of the Father. Through Him, the apostles would know what time they should be getting up in the morning. Some were certainly asked to cook meals. Jesus sent them off to preach in certain towns and He gathered them together for prayer. Embracing this life with Jesus, the apostles were certain to live in the will of the Father. They experienced for themselves the joy and freedom of living in the Father’s will.
It’s too bad that we didn’t live at the time of Jesus! We could have achieved such holiness if we simply could have lived with Jesus and embraced what the Father willed for us at each moment. We could have truly lived and loved as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father…
The great news is that’s not the end of the story! One of the most beautiful gifts in the Catholic Church is the vocation to Religious Life. In Religious Life, God calls some to “follow Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit” through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. (Canon Law 573) Through the vows, Religious priests, brothers, and sisters are invited to enter into Jesus’ ‘inner circle’ of friends- to share in His very way of life. When we live under the vow of obedience, we have the great privilege of being able to know and embrace God’s will throughout the whole of our lives. In this way we can concretely live Jesus’ filial obedience to the Father.
Two important ideas on obedience that we learn from Jesus:
1. Obedience requires the greatest self-gift. In this vow, the Religious make a total offering of themselves. For those who are called, it is only in giving away their precious freedom that their radical thirst for union with Love will be satiated. Jesus’ obedience led Him to the cross and so will ours. Yet, as promised by Jesus, this supreme offering leads to the greatest joy, freedom and intimacy with the Father.
2. Obedience is the key to apostolic fruitfulness. Just as disobedience is the source of death, so obedience is the source of life! Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). What is this ‘remaining in Him’ unless it means remaining in His will? When, through obedience, we are united to Christ’s love for the Father, divine life is poured through us upon souls. Religious obedience is the best way to exponentially multiply our efforts for the Kingdom! The world needs apostles and when these apostles are sent in obedience their work bears the greatest of harvests.
A vow of obedience is not easy. It is ‘invitation only.’ This is a matter of a special grace. Yet, embracing this call is the fastest and surest way to achieve the closest union with God possible on this side of Heaven. To live a life in which our wills are totally united with the Father’s is to live a life of radical filial love. It is to live in profound intimacy with the Father.