“Obedience does not rob us of our freedom, rather it frees us to employ the full range of our gifts and talents in service to the Master.”
French archbishop Francois Fenelon said this about obedience.
“It is not the multitude of hard duties, it is not constraint and contention that advance us in our Christian course. On the contrary, it is the yielding of our wills without restriction and without choice, to tread cheerfully every day in the path in which Providence leads us, to seek nothing, to be discouraged by nothing, to seek out duty in the present moment, to trust all else without reserve to the will and power of God.”
Andrzej Niegolewski was the youngest officer of a regiment of Polish Lancers who served Napoleon Bonaparte in his campaign across Europe. As they approached Madrid, the emperor's army was stalled by gun placements along a narrow mountain pass that led to the Spanish capital.
Napoleon gave the lancers the impossible task of capturing those gun placements and taking the pass. One hundred and fifty mounted lancers charged up the narrow path. They faced withering fire from 16 cannons spread along the pass in four batteries. The command of the regiment changed three times as the officers were killed or wounded, unable to continue. Lastly it fell to Niegolewski.
Seven minutes after the initial charge, twenty surviving lancers took the last gun battery. Niegolewski lay wounded but alive and survived nine bayonet wounds and two gunshots. After surgeons tended to his wounds Napoleon took his hand and thanked him for his loyalty and bravery. Then the emperor took the Legion of Honor medal from his own coat and pinned onto the uniform of the Polish soldier.
For the Polish calvary, there was more at stake than simply one of Napoleon's many battles. They served the emperor obediently to prove the worth of the Polish people. Only a year earlier, Napoleon had liberated Warsaw from Prussian occupation.
From the very beginning our willingness to obey has been tested.
In the First Book of Samuel, Hannah desired to be a mother so that she could return that child to God. She returned to God the son she asked for, the son received from Him. Hannah points ahead not only to Mary’s sacrifice but also serves as a model for all Christian families who are often called to return one child, if not more, to God.
As children of God we are called to be obedient to God the Father. The Holy Family exemplifies this for us. Joseph accepts the child as his own. He must do this to obey God’s will and for the child to be a true son of David. Mary has been told that a sword will pierce her heart, and she has already given her son back to the divine Father. And Jesus recognizes the will of the divine father to such a degree that, when His parents feared him lost, Jesus seems puzzled that Mary and Joseph did not know where to find him.
Obedience to God is at the heart of the Holy Family. It holds us together even more tightly than familial bonds. Jesus returns with Mary and Joseph and is obedient to them while he continues to grow in wisdom and favor. But obedience to God is primary.
Obedience does not come up to often in the creative community. Often it is seen as a hinderance to creativity. But this is not really the case. Ask a painter, or a songwriter, or a poet to create anything they want and they will most likely agonize for hours over what they should do. But ask a painter for something that includes a horse, a songwriter to write a song about love, or a poet to craft a poem about death, and they will more often than not dive into the work, excited by the challenge provided by a simple directive.
Scottish theologian Peter T. Forsythe put it this way.
"The first duty of every soul is to find, not its freedom, but its Master."
Obedience does not rob us of our freedom, rather it frees us to employ the full range of our gifts and talents in service to the Master. History has proven this. What are generally regarded as the greatest works of art are not the result of the artist indulging in his own whims or ego. Instead our greatest artistic treasures were created under obedience to a patron. And more often than not that patron had in mind a work to honor God.
G.K. Chesterton gives us a wonderful example of the freedom that comes with obedience to authority.
“We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.” - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
The Holy Family shows us the answer to the question God has posed to us from the beginning. Do we trust in Him? Are we obedient to His will?
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com