Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Isaiah prophesies: “O, Jerusalem, the friendless, the storm-beaten, the inconsolable. . .All your children shall be taught by the Lord; great shall be their peace.” Jerusalem, an abandoned wife and mother whose children live in exile, is prepared by the Lord for the return of her children. Isaiah sees the exiles flowing through the city gates, glad and rejoicing b/c with enduring love the Lord has taken pity on them and welcomed them back. He promises, “My love shall never fall away from you nor my covenant of peace be shaken. . .” Friendless, storm-battered, and inconsolable, the children of Jerusalem hear another promise: “Every weapon fashioned against you shall fail; every tongue that brings you to trial you shall prove false.” Out of these promises and the rejoicing of God's people in receiving them, Jesus recovers an ancient lesson not always well-learned: “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” Listening to the Father, learning from the Father, brings us to Christ b/c Christ is the culmination and fulfillment of the Father's plan to bring all of His children through the city gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. Do you listen to the Father? What do you learn?
Listening and learning from what you hear requires a particular disposition, a specific sort of attitude. In old school Catholic moral theology, this attitude is called “docility.” Being docile is not a popular way of getting through a day these days. We've come to think of docility as an unhealthy passivity, a weakness of character, or a dangerous sort of submissiveness that threatens our dignity. Docile personalities are effortlessly manipulated by aggressive minds and dark hearts. Docile personalities are unreliable, unproductive, and liable to easily break. Consciously or unconsciously, the message we receive from the world is that docility is a guaranteed way of being trampled by those with no fear of consequences. It is far, far better to be cold, calculating, unyielding, and aggressively assertive. We must be like iron to survive in this hostile world. And that may be so. But when we adopt this attitude toward divine teaching we are essentially begging God to look at us and see hard hearts and mulish minds. We're asking Him to treat us like iron. And iron must be broken to be remade. Can we bring ourselves to sit docilely at the feet of Christ? Listen and learn? Or will we stand in stubborn resistance, demanding equality with God?
The Christian virtue of docility is not a weakling's passivity before authority. Aquinas teaches us that docility is a cognitive virtue under prudence; that is, being teachable is a good habit b/c such an attitude helps us to learn to see ahead, to make the best decisions based on the best available evidence with the Good firmly in mind. Docility is akin to humility in that it helps us to recognize and accept the truth of our natural limits and encourages us to seek out God's wisdom in revelation. Repeatedly, the children of Jerusalem chose stubbornness over docility. Repeatedly, they closed their ears to God's word and refused to listen. Repeatedly, they made themselves into iron. And God taught them the only way that they would be taught: by being broken in exile and remade. B/c Christ came among us as the culmination and fulfillment of God's plan to bring us into His heavenly Jerusalem, we do not have to be broken in exile. He died and rose again; and in baptism, we are killed and reborn, broken and remade. If we will be docile at his feet, teachable to the divine truths he has to teach us, we will not only survive, we will thrive as His beloved children; and not only will we thrive, we know know His peace. Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Christ, the living bread, his Flesh for the life of the world.______________
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