SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE: A HOMILY ON THE MEMORAL OF ST. ATHANASIUS, BISHOP AND DOCTOR
In the world of today, it is not easy to tell the difference between those who are led by the Holy Spirit and those who are not. So many people declare themselves men of God, called by God, etc. But there is a lot of lies that go with that as well. One way of knowing that someone is truly led by the Holy Spirit is obedience. A person who is led by the Holy Spirit will be obedient to liegitimate authority. The Holy Spirit does not aid rebelion, unless that rebelion is against a just cause. This is most true of those who disobey the teachings of the Church.
St. Athanasius was faced with Arian, a priest who believed and taught that Jesus is not divine in and of Himself, that Jesus was created by the Father as the first act of creation and that Jesus is not of the same nature as the Father. In order words, he asserted the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His divinity. This is a priest who has chosen to teach something different from what the Church teaches, a clear act of disobedience to the same authority that ordained him priest. This cannot be someone led by the Holy Spirit. If you want to know if someone is led by the Holy Spirit or not, see how obedeint they are to the teachings of the Church. For this reason, Athanasius suffered greatly. He was exiled for 17 years and later accused of treason, murder, embezzlement and sacrilage. Athanasius, led by the Holy Spirit, will stop at nothing to defend the truth taught by the Church.
Peter and the apostles told the people today that ‘Obedience to God comes before obedience to men’. He speaks of their witnessing as also the witnessing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to those who are obedient and the Holy Spirit leads us towards obedience. In the gospel, John the Baptist makes a distinction between he who comes from above and he who is born of the earth. Our earthly nature leads us to disobedience and the desire to do ‘my own thing’. But he who is born of the Spirit allows himself to be led by the Spirit. He tells us that whoever refuses to believe in the son will never see life, the anger of God stays on him. It is our duty to believe in the Son and the believe in the Church, because the same Son said that whoever listens to the Church listens to Him and whoever listens to Him listens to the one who sent Him.
One day, you will see someone who claims to be a servant of God. He is a priest of the church, but has turned the teachings of the Church up-side-down. He just does his own thing, with little or no regard to the bishop or any authority above him. At that point, it is no longer the Holy Spirit. The only time we can disobey a higher authority is when the higher authority is asking us to do something evil, something directly opposed to the commandments of God. In our religious life, we are taught that to obey the superior is to obey God. The will of the superior is the will of God, even when the superior is acting in error. There is a difference between acting in error and asking you to do something evil. In my own life, I can say that I have never regreted doing whatever I have been asked to do, even when at first, it seemed difficult. God has a way of using constituted authorities to lead you where you should be, rather than where you want to be, to do what you should be doing, rather than do your own thing. It is important that we pray to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to fill us with the docility, with humility and openness so that we can be truly obedient. Indeed He is the Spirit of obedience, and those who love him, love obedience.