He Learned Obedience

(Homily for Good Friday)

Bottom line: Christian martyrs like Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez and Dietrich Bonhoeffer show what obedience means - to join our will to God. And as we see today, Jesus himself "learned obedience," suffering for our salvation.

Before reading St. John's account of the Passion, we listened to a short reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. It contains a verse that sheds light on the meaning of Christ's Passion. The verse says, "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him." I'd like to concentrate on the first part: "Son though he was." Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. Son though he was, he learned obedience - that is, he united his human will to the Father's will. And like us, in his human nature, Jesus grew in obedience by suffering.

We can see Jesus' obedience when Peter - in a misguided way - tried to spare him from suffering. Put your sword way, Peter, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father gave me?" In obedience to his Father, Jesus drank the bitter cup of suffering.

Jesus' obedience is great mystery. It is hard for us - especially in our individualistic culture - to understand what obedience means. To illustrate the meaning of obedience, I would give the example of a recent Christian martyr: a fourteen-year-old boy named Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio. When he was a child, the government began persecuting the Catholic Church. They wanted to subjugate, even destroy the Church. Jose Luis' older brother, Miguel, joined the Cristero, a group that took up arms to defend the Church. A battle broke out near his home and Jose Luis went to the scene - and saw that the Cristero general lost his horse. Jose Luis helped him get another horse. The general escaped, but the Federals captured Jose Luis.

The comandante said to Jose Luis, "You are a brave young man. Come with us and we will send you a military school." Jose Luis replied, "No, never!"

The comandante then told him he could go home. All he had to do was say, "Viva el gobierno! Long live the government!" Jose Luis looked at the comandante and said firmly, "Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!"

For four days the comandante held Jose Luis in a make-shift prison with another captive. During those days he prayed the rosary and wrote letters to his mom,his aunt and others. We still have note to his aunt. He said:

"Senora Maria Sanchez: Dear aunt, I am sentenced to death. At 8:30 tonight will arrive the moment I have greatly desired. I thank you and aunt Magdalena for all you have done for me. I do not feel capable of writing to my mom. Tell Aunt Magdalene that I have received permission for her to see me one last time (to bring Holy Communion). Greet everyone for me and receive the heart of your nephew who loves you and wants to see you. Christ live, Christ reigns, Christ commands! Long live Christ the King! Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Jose Sanchez del Rio...Do not fail to come. Adios."

That evening they led the other prisoner out and, while Jose Luis watched, they hanged him. The comandante told the boy that he could go free if he would say, Long live the government. As before, he replied, "Viva Cristo Rey!" Then they did sometime very horrible. They cut the soles from his feet and forced him to on the rough ground. Each step, Jose Luis cried out in pain, but also kept saying, "Viva Cristo Rey!" The people of the town saw his Way of the Cross and some later gathered stones with the boy's blood on them. When the commander saw that Jose Luis would not beg for mercy, he grew furious and struck him with his rifle. He kept hitting him as the boy lay on the ground. The townspeople heard his last words, "Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! Viva Cristo Rey!"

You might ask where a fourteen-year-old boy got such courage. Another martyr, not from Mexico, but from Germany, gave an explanation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor and theologian said, "Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes." Obedience - joining one's will to God - is possible only when one has the gift of faith. But faith grows as a person obeys God. Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez obeyed God. He obeyed his parents - and all legitimate authority. But he did not obey the government - because in this circumstance the government was acting against the law of God. Something similar could happen in our country - as our government moves from permitting to the culture of death to promoting it, perhaps even imposing it. I pray that does not happen, but we could find ourselves in the same position as Blessed Jose Luis - or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I will say more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Easter Sunday, but I would like to conclude this homily by telling you how he gave his life for Christ. Like many Protestant ministers and Catholic priests, the Nazis imprisoned Bonhoeffer. On April 9, 1945, barely a month before World War II end, Hitler personally condemned him to death. Before executing him, the guards stripped Bonhoeffer, ridiculed him and led him naked to the prison yard. They used meat hooks from a slaughterhouse to hoist and with piano wire, strangled him. The asphyxiation took about a half an hour. I mention these horrible details because Bonhoeffer faced an execution similar to Christ. He wrote some words that all of us could meditate on this Good Friday: "To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ."

To sum up: This Good Friday we have the example of Christian martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez. They show us what obedience means - to join our will to God. And as we see today, Jesus himself learned obedience, suffering for our salvation. Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

**********

Bonhoeffer elaborated on the meaning of the cross:

It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian. If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ.

There is a very real danger of our drifting into an attitude of contempt for humanity. We know quite well that we have no right to do so, and that it would lead us into the most sterile relation to our fellow-men. The following thoughts may keep us from such a temptation. It means that we at once fall into the worst blunders of our opponents. The man who despises another will never be able to make anything of him. Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. Why have we hitherto thought so intemperately about man and his frailty and temptability? We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. The only profitable relationship to others -- and especially to our weaker brethren -- is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humanity, but became man for men's sake.

We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

Spanish Version

From Archives:

2011 Good Friday Homily: Suffering Is Everything
2010: Do Not Waste Your Suffering
2009: He Learned Obedience
2008: According to Your Word
2007: He Took Our Suffering to Himself
2006: The Hour of Divine Mercy
2005: The Conversion of Barabbas
2004: Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
2003: The Host
2002: Testimony of Bishop Dolli
2001: Blood From His Side
2000: Vicarious Suffering
1999: Old Testament Fulfilled
1998: He took our place

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Divine Mercy Novena (print ready in English & Spanish)

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Good Friday meditation by Rev. Walter Hoye - letter from prison:

My fellow watchmen, today I believe we all have the same responsibility as Ezekiel. Like Ezekiel, we too are watchmen on the wall. Like Ezekiel if we fail to warn the people of impending danger their blood will be on our hands. Like Ezekiel we are to warn the wicked of God’s eternal judgment, hoping that the wicked would turn from his or her wicked ways.

Just as Israel faced the challenge of forsaking the wholly abominable sin of sacrificing her children to the burning, white hot molten arms of Molech (Leviticus 18:21) and wholeheartedly embrace God’s righteousness, we today face the horrors of abortion. Abortion is better described as legalized murder, pre-natal murder or as we know it in the African-American Pro-Life Community, womb lynching.

Brothers, in Black America alone every seventy-two (72) seconds a black baby is murdered in the womb of his or her mother. This holocaust is genocidal to the point that today a black child has less than a fifty-percent (50%) chance of being born. According to the 2006 U.S. Census, Black Americans are below the replacement level. In other words, death in Black America outpaces life. Abortion alone accounts for three (3) times more deaths in our community than HIV/AIDS, Violent Crimes, Accidents, Cancer, and Heart Disease combined. There is no question pre-natal murder, abortion, is the number one issue in not only Black America, but in all of America today.

So what can we do?

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Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastors. (For pdf format click here)

Background for presentation on "Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith": High School Course World Civilization - Section on origins of Christianity. (For pdf format click here)

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