Today, while making the rounds around the blogger neighborhood, I saw a great quote on a subject that is not near and dear to the heart of modern mankind: obedience. Deacon Greg Kandra shared the thoughts of a modern saint on the subject,
Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands…Oh, the power of obedience! The Lake of Genesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again into the water and they caught ‘a great number of fishes.’ Believe me, this miracle is repeated every day. —St. Josemaria Escriva
Indeed, I liked it so much, I even left a comment,
This is a classic. This may be news to modern folks but that same advice, in different forms, and in different words, has been passed down by the saints since the inception of the Covenant, not to mention the inception of the Church. It is why when one sees someone cartwheeling off the track in disobedience, one can say “uh-oh, there goes another one. I better stay focused on the signal.”
Just yesterday, I posted something on the matter of private interpretation of the scriptures. Within that post, I linked to something about the subject that I penned back in December of last year. Looking over it again today, I discovered two things. One, a misspelled word that sat there all this time, and two, my concluding thoughts are on obedience.
Obedience isn’t easy, and it is a learned discipline. Like my comment to Deacon Greg’s quote above alludes too, the saints help us stay tuned to the signal of Truth. That signal is what helps you decide what is worth obeying, and what isn’t. What follows is my original post.
I have a friend who can’t understand why I enjoy being a Catholic.
From discussions I have had with him, it appears that he believes I am now enslaved by an organization that is run by a tyrant who bears the title of “Pope.” I reckon that his libertarian tendencies bristle at the very idea of submitting to an authority, even if that authority is ordained and conferred by Christ Himself.
Now before you go and start thinking Frank is using hillbilly colloquial speech by using the word reckon, let me put on my Anu Garg hat and have a look at this particular word. Here is what the Merriam Webster Dictionary says about it,
Reckon transitive verb
Definition of reckon
a: count <to reckon the number of days days till Christmas>
b: estimate, compute <reckon the height of a building, etc.>
c: to determine by reference to a fixed basis
the existence of the United States is reckoned from the Declaration of Independence
2: to regard or think of as: consider
chiefly dialect : think, suppose < I reckon I’ve outlived my time — Ellen Glasgow>
1: to settle accounts
2: to make a calculation
b: chiefly dialect: suppose, think
4: to accept something as certain: place reliance reckon on your promise to help.>
I hope you can see from this that using the word reckon in a sentence is not something that only hillbillies from Tennessee do. Because surely you can see that this word has many different meanings, and shades of meaning. And notice the reference to the Declaration of Independence, which for the purposes of this post fits where I’m going to the “T.”
There is another use of the root word reckon that may help shed some light on where I’m going with this post as well. This word is really a phrase that has to do with the science of navigation. Let’s take a look at Merriam Webster again,
Dead reckoning noun
Definition of Dead Reckoning
1: the determination without the aid of celestial observations of the position of a ship or aircraft from the record of the courses sailed or flown, the distance made, and the known or estimated drift
— dead reckon (verb)
First Known Use of Dead Reckoning: 1613
Dead reckoning is nice, and all, but you wouldn’t board an airline flight if you thought the pilot was just taking the plane up for a spin without any detailed flight plan to get you where you were going, would you? And lookee there at the second definition of the word. In the navigation business, guesswork can get you killed.
Now, I’m removing the scholarly and erudite looking Anu Garg hat and putting on my Tennessee hillbilly “common sense” hat to say that this here fancy phrase-word means nothin’ more than “flying by the seat of your pants.” Heck, you might even be plumb lost, “but yer jes too proud to stop at the gaas stayshun to ask that feller for directions, I reckon.” See?
What’s that? You can read a map all by yourself you say? You don’t need any help reading maps? Well, I would really like to believe that about you but my own experience has been different. I almost never get lost, geographically speaking. Just ask my wife. And I’ve spent an awful long time in the map room too and I love reading maps as well. But in my practical, real world experience of actually navigating out in the field as a Marine? I know that some people read maps wrong. Dead wrong.
And they were reading the same maps that I had, too. I can’t even remember how many times I have had to point this out to lost Lieutenants, Captains, and sometimes even Majors, when I was out in the field in the Marines. And to PFC’s, Lance Corporal’s, and even Sergeants sometimes too, as they were learning land navigation skills. And this assumes you are using current maps that were drawn and printed recently. True story time. This may shock you, but I even knew a Captain in my artillery battery who got lost routinely(!) even when he was using GPS. I kid you not! So don’t argue to me that the latest technology will absolutely guarantee that you will make it to your intended destination.
Now, what if the map you are using today is ancient? You know, like you are using one that looks something like Blackbeards treasure map, or the one from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book Treasure Island. You can see that there is an X that marks the spot of the treasure but not much more detail than that.
Well, if I were you, and I found a map like this, I would track down and find the guy who buried the treasure who, as it turns out, is also the same guy who drew the map, and I’d say,
Lookee here, I can’t make head nor tales of where in the world this here treasure is from a readin’ your map all by myself. Show me how to read this map and take me to the place where “X” marks the spot.
That is where the Catholic Church comes in see? She made the map, and she knows where the treasure chest is. Sure, I can read that Treasure Island map too, but it’s lacking in a few details, or didn’t you notice? How long have you been reading that map and you didn’t notice this?! Now, the Church knows where the treasure is buried, because She was there when the chest was put into the ground. And She was there when it ascended up into Heaven too.
She knows that the treasure resides in each and every one of us now, so the map isn’t a geographical one, see, but an internal one. As G.K. Chesterton explains so well,
The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.
There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.
Now back to my friend, who has a “give me liberty, or give me death” bent that would make even Patrick Henry seem squishy on the concept of freedom. Free will is a wonderful gift from God. Knowing that you can’t read maps and need help navigating is another one of those gifts. But wait, there is more.
In my little mind, the knowledge that Christ himself founded the Church and put a human being in charge of it while She is here on earth gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. The kind of feeling I get when I think of my mother comforting me after the time when I had gotten lost at the county fair one year when I was little. When she found me, she gave me the biggest hug ever, and boy did I need that too! And to me this is similar to the kind of feeling I got when I was in the Marines and was serving under a great Commandant, or good commander. It is a feeling of confidence and joy that I am in good hands, even if the mission I was involved in might lead to my physical death.
Allison recently wrote a post about her search for answers about the Kingdom of God. I don’t know if my freedom loving friend thinks about the fact that this kingdom is not a representative democracy or not. But to be clear, it’s called a Kingdom, because there is a King. He is a wise and wonderful King, and a benevolent one too. But most certainly He is a King, and if I pledge my allegiance to Him, which I have, then I do so with full knowledge that I will have to do what he asks of me. I am submissive to Him, otherwise, I’m a rogue and a traitor.
This duty to obey requires discipline and grace, and in my short experience as a Catholic, the Sacraments of the Church, and Her teachings, which are God’s teachings (as you can easily discover), are what provide me the means to stay the course without getting lost. And I will continue to read maps to my hearts content. And I’m very happy because on this ship, I don’t have to decide everything either. Thank God!
The Church is the Ship and I have complete confidence in Her Captain’s ability to navigate the shoals of this world until the day His Majesty decides to come back aboard Her and brings us into port.
Update: Mark Shea on “Our Wobbly World.”