Obedience is a word that feels a little outdated in our culture today. When “living your best life” so often means “going your own way” and trying to just “be you,” to whom could we possibly owe obedience?
Most people would still agree that we should follow the laws, sure, and maybe we should “be nice.” But that seems to cover the extent of our obligations in many people’s minds. And being nice includes to yourself, of course, which sometimes precludes being nice to someone else. So even that leaves a good bit of wiggle room.
This is on my mind in particular at the moment because as a parent, I would like a certain amount of obedience from my children. I don’t even expect to be obeyed blindly–in fact, I hope to raise kids who question rules, especially if they seem to go counter to the Good. But I would also like their starting place to be obedience, not rebellion. First get out of the road, then ask me why you should, assuming you didn’t already see the speeding car pass by.
This is a constant balancing act in our home, but certain recent events in the public square have made it seem a very relevant topic. Because if our obedience is only (or even first and foremost) to ourselves, the result is the situation we have right now in Louisiana: thousands of people in hospitals with the Delta variant, and thousands of others still refusing to get the vaccine or even wear a face covering in public.
And here is where the obedience issue really hits home for me: we all know that the best way to teach children is by example. “Do what I say, not what I do” simply doesn’t work. So when our (Democratic) governor institutes a mask mandate (and I don’t even need to discuss the necessity of this, because every nightly news program has that covered), and the (Republican) Attorney General promptly issues statements endorsing all the loopholes he can think of, what kind of obedience are we teaching our children? That we only owe obedience to those of the same political party?
When our bishop “strongly urges” that everyone wear masks at Mass, and our priests go out of their way to point out (in parish communications and on social media) that no one is required to wear a mask and no one without a mask will be turned away, what kind of obedience is that? Obedience to those in the congregation who don’t like masks?
Coming back to the governor, if a school administration tells its high school students that mask wearing to protect others is their personal choice, while wearing a seatbelt to protect themselves is obedience to the law…what is a sixteen-year-old supposed to take away from that?
And here’s my favorite. This is part of what the Catholic Church has to say about Covid vaccines and masking.
At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed. Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable. (emphasis in the original)Note on the morality of using
some anti-Covid-19 vaccines
Sadly, often when this is quoted (at least in south Louisiana), the quote only goes though the first sentence, which I think you’ll agree misses the point of the paragraph. Now I don’t blame anyone who is nervous about putting this fairly new vaccine in their body, or who doesn’t want to participate, even with “remote passive material cooperation” (bullet point 3 in the above document) in anything connected to abortion. But the Church then requires those refusing the vaccine to “do their utmost to avoid, by prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”
Translation: Wear a mask. Social distance. Don’t go near those who are especially vulnerable.
When our congressmen and attorneys general aren’t obedient to their superiors, we cringe and call it bad behavior or plain old politics. But when our priests and Catholic school administrations ignore not only civil law, but also the clear directives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and their own bishop, what on earth are we supposed to tell our children?
It appears that our individual freedoms, our personal preferences, while good in themselves, have become our idols. When we can honestly say, as Catholics, that we would rather risk sending someone to the hospital than wear a mask or stay home from a social gathering…I don’t know what to say anymore. We (including many anti-maskers) spend a great deal of time railing against our culture’s individualism, and yet what is this if not choosing our own comfort over the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ?
I didn’t think I would have to write a post like this. I thought we were moving on, that this kind of rhetoric was so 2020. Clearly I was wrong. Early on, there were predictions that the pandemic would teach us to appreciate each day, appreciate each other, care for our neighbors, and the like. If it’s taught us anything, it seems to have taught us to double down on fulfilling our own desires and to entrench ourselves in whichever ideology is most amenable to those desires.
I don’t think the story has to end there, however. I think there is still plenty of room for us to grow as a country and as a church, to learn from our mistakes, and to reconcile those relationships into which politics has driven a wedge. But all of this takes humility. It takes an openness to hearing what the “other” is saying, and to imagining what the “other” is feeling. When I put myself in the place of someone with a chronic illness, and hear that my parish won’t be accommodating me, but I’m welcome to watch on Facebook, my heart breaks. At the risk of stepping on toes and sounding divisive, that is the person I choose to stand beside. And I ask, humbly–because I don’t have all the answers, but I do read the hospital numbers–be obedient to your leaders, at least about this. Listen to your doctors and nurses. Listen to those whose health is vulnerable.
Please, please, just wear a mask.