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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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The soul is distracted from that which is sung by a chant that is employed for the purpose of giving pleasure. But if the singer chant for the sake of devotion, he pays more attention to what he says, both because he lingers more thereon, and because, as Augustine remarks (Confess. x, 33), “each affection of our spirit, according to its variety, has its own appropriate measure in the voice, and singing, by some hidden correspondence wherewith it is stirred.” The same applies to the hearers, for even if some of them understand not what is sung, yet they understand why it is sung, namely, for God's glory: and this is enough to arouse their devotion.
— St. Thomas Aquinas

Obedience to the Church
published 11 June 2013 by Fr. David Friel

INDING TIME TO READ is difficult, but absolutely necessary for the life of the mind. My family and teachers taught me that the mind is a gift from God, and so we should do everything possible to develop it. Personally, I value reading a variety of things: news, fiction, professional material, poetry, periodicals, etc. Eight years spent in seminary formation, surrounded almost entirely by people with similar worldviews, taught me especially to value the purposeful digestion of other points of view. For this reason, I regularly read three periodicals: one with which I generally sympathize, a second with which I generally disagree, and a third that is published outside the USA and offers an international perspective.

A recent letter to the editor in one of those periodicals confounded me:

“The [Second Vatican] Council was, in many ways, our own Reformation. Yet many of its reforming efforts were largely thwarted by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Those popes imposed an atmosphere of obedience and ‘orthodoxy’ that has squelched dissent. . . . They made it impossible for dialogue and renewal to overcome the archaic demands of silence and obedience to church authorities. . . . But obedience is not what the church needs from the faithful. It needs compassion.” (Commonweal, May 17, 2013)

The author seems to have an understanding of obedience that is utterly unfamiliar to me. Obedience, in my life, is one of the greatest sources of my freedom. It is in my obedience to the truths of faith, the revelations of Jesus, and the authority of our Mother, the Church, that I have experienced the truest freedom. Since promising obedience to my bishop at ordination, I have found the natural result to be interior peace and freedom of soul, not feudalistic indentured servitude. I have found imitation of Mary’s profound obedience to be the core of my spiritual life.

Does the Church need our obedience? Well, Christ demands our obedience to Him, so, insofar as the Church is a structure of divine establishment, yes. One should always be cautious when the word “dissent” is employed positively while the word “obedience” is used negatively.

This letter to the editor caused me to think of a musical analogy. When I play an organ score, a satisfying performance begins with playing the notes that are written in the score and is intensified by the charisma I can bring to it. In a certain sense, every musician who desires to be great must, before all else, be “obedient” to the notes of the particular composition. Disregarding the notes in the name of “freedom” would not engender peace or beauty. The results, rather, would be chaos and disharmony. Discord and division, of course, are synonyms for sin.

A wildly misguided understanding of obedience is not a surprising result of a culture in which self is central and in which freedom and license are nearly universally conflated. The Church very much needs our obedience—to Christ, and to the Church He kindly established as our saving refuge.