It is written of our Blessed Lord that "He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:8) By these words we are not to understand that any new knowledge really dawned upon Him, as the sufferings incidental to the weak nature assumed by Him were prolonged, but rather that, in the weakness of our flesh as Man, He continued to experience daily more and more that which, as God, He had ever known - the difficulty which human nature feels in the practice of supernatural obedience. The disobedience of the first Adam was to be repaired by the obedience of the second, and this obedience He began to practise from the first moment of His Incarnation.
As with the other virtues of our Blessed Lord, so is it with His obedience. We are too prone to limit our meditation upon them almost exclusively to the time of His Passion, forgetting the fact that thirty-three years had been spent in the heroic exercise of those virtues which were given for our example, and which, it is true, seemed to reach their climax in the Passion.
Again, in the scanty and superficial meditations which are ordinarily made on the Hidden Life of our Lord, it is generally His exterior obedience upon which the attention is riveted, without any reference to the interior spirit of obedience, whence every outward act emanated. Now it is the interior obedience which we particularly wish to consider at present, inasmuch as this will show us in what consist the essential excellence and efficacy of obedience, and what are the means afforded by it for healing the wounds which pride has inflicted on our soul.
It must be remembered that Jesus saw habitually before His mental eye the terrible revolt of Adam, and all the dismal consequences to the human race of that first revolt. He understood the sin of disobedience in all its varieties, lasting until the end of time - disobedience of the intellect, and of the will; disobedience against the commands which God with His own voice had spoken; revolt against the authority of His Church and of lawful superiors; disobedience of children towards their parents - in a word, the general insurrection of human nature against all authority which has God for its first principle. In addition to disobedience in itself, our Lord foreknew the weakening of faith, which, as ages swept on, would prevent men from recognizing the Divine source, whence all legitimate authority emanated, the blindness too of intellect which would ensue, and would cause them to lose sight of the motive and the object of the obedience required of them, and to attach undue importance to the material part of it - that is, to the nature of the acts it enjoins.
In order to remedy this error, our Lord would pass nearly the whole of His mortal life in the performance of the most lowly acts of obedience, whereby we might learn that there are no actions, however insignificant in themselves, which may not become, in the highest degree, full of efficacity when they spring from a motive of supernatural obedience. The daily external actions of Jesus of Nazareth were common to Him and to the lowliest children of men; nevertheless, there was not one which did not yield infinite merit in the sight of the Eternal Father. In each of them He designed to repair that Father's glory, outraged by the rebellion of His creatures. "He was subject." He who from eternity knew all things, became a scholar of Joseph the carpenter, and would not have swerved a line from his instructions regarding his lowly trade, or aught else wherein he exercised his authority as head of the Holy Family. He obeyed the instructions, moreover, of the ignorant Nazarenes, for whom His foster-father worked, and submitted His will in order to carry out their often stupid directions or grossly conceived designs. He regarded not the matter of His obedience. His one work was ever before His mind - to obey every person who should command Him, and to do so in whatsoever they commanded Him.
It was in the long-continued exercise of obedience such as this, and in the habitual restraint which it demanded of Him as Man, that "He learned," by suffering, the arduous labour which awaits those who devote themselves to a life of obedience. As on all other points, so on this, He experienced first in Himself what He would afterwards require from others.' But we lose the assistance we might otherwise draw from the obedience of His long hidden years in the House of Nazareth on account of the superficial way in which, as we have said, the Hidden Life is ordinarily meditated by us, hence the marvelous obedience of our Lord makes little impression upon us, until we are forced into the recognition of it in the more startling scenes of the Passion.
There is a certain excitability in human nature which causes it to find great trials, especially if they are of short duration, much easier to bear than, lesser ones, and there are souls who could win a hero's fame amidst open injuries, calumnies, and the like, and yet would be unable to endure the gentle, inward crucifixion of a life of unreserved obedience, which involves the captivity of their will and judgment. Persons such as these will read with amazement the obedience of our Blessed Lord towards His wicked judges and persecutors in His Passion, yet will find but little to fix their attention in the obedience which He exercised in His Hidden Life, long as was its duration. But for themselves, the subjection of the three-and-thirty years, even though it presents nothing terrible in its outward aspect, would be more intolerable than the three days of a manifestly humiliating obedience in Jerusalem.
Now, few of us are called upon to encounter the terrors of the latter, even in the mildest form, whilst countless must in some degree, or in some way, be exercised in the obedience of will and judgment - in submission to just authority. Why, then, is it that we will not avail ourselves of the help which the contemplation of the obedience of the Heart of Jesus of Nazareth would afford us? Was it nothing for a God to obey His own creatures - creatures, moreover, who, apart from Mary and Joseph, were gross, ignorant, and uncultivated? Was it nothing for Him who had "measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and weighed the heavens with His palm, who had poised with three fingers the bulk of the earth, and weighed the mountains in scales; before whom the Gentiles are as a drop in a bucket...and the islands as a little dust," (Isaias 40:12-15) - was it nothing, we repeat, for this Mighty One to obey more humbly, more unreservedly, more universally than the most perfect saint who, in a life vowed to obedience, has striven to imitate His example? And what things does He obey? In those which fall to the lot of the most ignorant of His creatures. May we not learn from this the merit of obedience before God, and do we not see also that the insignificance of the material actions, upon which our obedience is to be exercised, detracts nothing from that merit, nay, rather is it an additional circumstance tending but to increase it.
Let us not forget, however, that we are told, Jesus "learned obedience by the things which He suffered," and thus, the obedience of Jesus of Nazareth, from all that we have considered, may be truly numbered among His sufferings. How sweet and easy would the exercise of holy obedience be to the fervent Religious whose soul is filled with the spirit of the Heart of Jesus. He would behold in each most trivial act which the Rule or his Superior required of him a means of repairing the revolts against the Church and against all authority which are laying waste society. If the actions or labours obedience demanded of him appear insignificant, or perhaps inconsistent with his talents, his mind would revert to the House of Nazareth, and he would behold One there, whose hand had framed the universe, and in whose Divine mind all things had existed and had been assigned their destiny from eternity, and who yet exercised obedience in the most lowly works.
We have, in a previous meditation, remarked how great was the suffering involved in the constraint which, for so long a duration, was placed upon the zeal of the Heart of Jesus, although it thirsted to satisfy the justice of God outraged by sin. All through those long years at Nazareth Jesus was "straitened" for the accomplishment of the "baptism of blood" and every suffering which should accompany it, and the only outlet He found for His burning desire was in an absolute and abject obedience. This was, indeed, part of the Martyrdom of Nazareth which is too little known. If it were more carefully meditated upon, how salutary a help apostolic souls would find in the midst of circumstances which impede their carrying out their generous designs. They would find in obedience a means of "labouring in soul," of suffering, of glorifying God, of meriting grace for others who are tempted, and of repairing by their hidden martyrdom the disobedience of many.
Let us ask Jesus of Nazareth to teach us the value of obedience, that so, appreciating it as it deserves, we may generously embrace the trials we must pass through in order to attain its perfection.
- text taken from the 1906 edition of ; it has the Imprimatur if Bishop John Baptist Butt, Diocese of Southwark, England, 5 February 1890