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In consecrated obedience we join with our brothers in community and with the whole church in search for God's will.
— Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, 5:44
In my last year of seminary, Provincial Fr. David Tyson, C.S.C., called unexpectedly to see if I was willing to go to Monterrey, México, to serve at Parroquia Neustra Madre Santísima de La Luz and assist with formation work. I thought the test of my vow of obedience finally had arrived. This assignment was my first as a newly ordained priest. Given that I only had six weeks of intensive Spanish under my belt, I knew my eagerness to be obedient did not supplant my inexperience and naiveté. And so the vow I had once viewed with such romantic simplicity—do what is asked of you with a generous and unquestioning heart—now undertook a strange transformation. Instead of a simple “yes,” I felt that holy obedience demanded of me a more honest response: “why me?”
Writing now, three years after my arrival in México, I can smile at my hesitation and fear before the task at hand. The experiences that colored my time in Monterrey, from preaching missions in forgotten villages to tutoring seminarians in the basics of algebra, were so powerful and formative that it now seems clear to me that Divine Providence was at work through Fr. Tyson’s request. But I also recognize, especially now as I prepare to embark on yet another assignment, that our vow of obedience as religious is such that we must respond to it, and it is a response in which the enthusiastic “yes” and the trepid “why” go hand in hand.
Thankfully, I belong to a community that makes room for dialogue when assignments are handed out. I have always felt that my superiors listened to my hopes and anxieties when considering my future work in the Congregation. That being said, there is a subtle practice in Holy Cross of placing men outside their comfort zone so that they come to discover talents of which they had previously been unaware. There have been shy men who were transformed by parish work—a ministry whose demands leave even raging extroverts exhausted. Men constrained by selfdoubts regarding their intellect have been liberated by the community’s encouragement to continue with their studies and to teach. And there have been men convinced of their weakness and unworthiness whom the community chose to be their leaders and guides in discerning God’s will.
I am confident that all such religious, when surrounded by others of such talent and achievement, asked of themselves “why me?” But thanks be to God, hesitation and fear do not keep the religious of Holy Cross from being challenged by the vow of obedience. If it did, we would never grow nor reach our full potential.
Of course it is a mistake to look at obedience solely as a response to the assignments our superiors place before us. This vow, like the other two, cuts deep. Being obedient is a daily task. There are innumerable experiences—from simple community duties like washing dishes to confronting global issues such as poverty and abortion—that provoke our response as religious. In fact, I have come to ponder on the complexity of the vow, of its all-inclusive nature. How is it possible to be obedient in such a profound way to God’s will?
The answer, as found in the Gospels, is simple: one step at a time. When Christ talks of the coming Kingdom, we hear of the lilies of the field, the mustard seed so small that its size betrays its enormous potential, the grain of wheat whose death is only a step toward nourishment and life. These images tell us that our conformity to God’s will—the bending and shaping and reforming of our ego’s desires to what obedience calls forth from us—is a slow, cumbersome, and occasionally painful process. And yet, in becoming a sown grain of wheat or a mustard seed planted in fertile soil, we learn that obedience moves us beyond our enthusiastic “yes” or a fearful “why” to a simple embrace of Christ Himself. That is because, in the end, we are obedient not out of fear or duty, but simply out of love of the God who first loved us.
By: Fr. Aaron Michka, C.S.C.
Final Vows: August 30, 2008
Ordination: April 19, 2009
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