Fr. Roy Cimagala
THE Latin expression means “he was subject to them,” or “he was obedient to them.” This is lifted from the gospel of St. Luke (2,51) in that episode where the child Jesus was lost and then found in the temple.
In the concluding part of that episode, Mary, the mother, asked the child, “Why did you do this to us?” To which the child Jesus replied, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And yet in spite of that reply, Mary took no offense and the child went back home and was “subject to them,” referring to Christ subjecting himself to Mary and Joseph.
These passages of the gospel somehow show us how we can integrate our dual duty of obeying first the will of God and that of obeying our earthly authorities and subjecting ourselves to the many temporal and human conditionings in our life.
While Christ did nothing other than to do the will of his Father in heaven (cfr. Jn 5,30; Jn 6,38), he also willed that he subjected himself to human authorities and to the different conditionings of any person at any given time and place. Thus, he also paid his taxes (cfr. Mt 17,24-27), attended the synagogue (cfr. Lk 4,16), worked as a carpenter (cfr. Mk 6,3), etc.
In theory, Christ, being God, should have been exempted from all these, but as man, he has to live like any other man who is always subject to some human authorities and to the conditionings in the world.
And when finally asked what to do when God’s authority and the human authority appear to clash, Christ replied: “Render to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God.” (Mt 22,21)
The lesson we can derive from this consideration is most helpful especially to those who enter into some commitments—whether to marriage or to a particular vocation and spirituality. A commitment usually restricts or conditions a person to behave in a particular way even if there are other legitimate ways of behaving in a given situation.
Thus, in the way of living the virtue of poverty, for example, a Franciscan has to live it the Franciscan way, even if the Dominican way of living it is also good but different from the Franciscan way. Same with a person who is married as compared to an unmarried one, and also with a lay person as compared to a consecrated one. It is the same virtue but lived and expressed in different ways.
Same with the practice of prayer. The ordinary person in the middle of the world would have a different way of doing it compared to how a contemplative nun would do it.
There should be no comparing actually, and much less, envying. A commitment is not so much a restriction or a conditioning as an expression of a more fervent love and fidelity for God and for everyone else. A commitment would only show how fervent one’s love is that he chooses to confine himself to a particular way when many other ways can also be availed of.
This clarification is relevant these days because many people are falling into some kind of wistful thinking, like “if I were not married,” or “if I did not enter the priesthood,” or “if I did not have this vocation or spirituality, I would have been more free,” etc.
We need to follow Christ in living out our commitments that would involve doing God’s will and our unavoidable subjection to some earthly authorities and conditionings or concrete ways of doing things. Let’s always remember that Christ “erat subditus illis,” he subjected himself to his earthly parents and to the human conditionings even if could be exempted from them.
God, not us, defines man. Yes, indeed! Only God fully knows who man is, who we really are. Being our creator, he is the only one who can capture our entire essence, not only in the macro level but also in the micro, not only in the general aspects of our humanity but also in the unique individual and personal peculiarities of each one of us.
The best thing that we can do to approximate who and what we really are is to go to God who has revealed himself to us through Christ who in turn has authorized the Church magisterium to teach us about who we really are.
We should try our best that we would feel the need to refer ourselves to God through Christ and through the Church whenever we try to ask or to understand the ultimate questions about ourselves, like who and what we are, what the purpose of our life here on earth is, why we should pray and offer sacrifices, etc.
Given the temper of the times that usually puts more, if not exclusive, reliance on our human estimations of things that can come about in different ways—legal, political, sociological, ideological, etc.—we have to give special effort to develop that sense of our need to refer ourselves to God-Christ-Church everytime we try to understand who and what we really are.
This is no laughing matter anymore. Right now, we can see all kinds of very questionable ideas, laws, practices, etc., and all of them are mainly due to ignoring what God through Christ and the Church is showing us. Thus, we have such things as abortion all the way to birth, same-sex unions, euthanasia, test-tube babies, etc.
Other than these, the growing alienation of a big sector of the world population from God and the Church have occasioned deep division among us, resulting many times in wars, terrorism and other forms of killings.
Of course, there are those who would question whether it is practicable and useful to refer and to defer to God-Christ-Church.
Can we really know God, they would ask. Is Christ still relevant today? And the Church, is it not just another human institution, afflicted at the moment with scandals?
I believe the only way to resolve all these questions is to pray a lot, because more than reasoning and all kinds of explanations, which of course should be done, it is faith that is truly needed. Without faith, no amount of discussion can be of use.
We are dealing here not only with natural realities but also and mainly spiritual and supernatural ones. For us to effectively grapple with that level of reality, we need faith and not only our reason and intellect and our other human powers.
Yes, it’s true that God and the reality of Christ and the Church cannot be fully understood by us, but we have enough data, so to speak, to enable us to enter into a meaningful relationship of knowing and loving God and following his will.
This condition of our relationship with God should not stop us from actively knowing and loving God. On the contrary, it should spur us to know and love him more and more, using all the means that God himself has made available for us. And these means are precisely in the Church.
Oftentimes, we can only echo these words of Psalm 8: “What is man that you are mindful of him, human being that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet…” (4-6)
Yes, man is a deep mystery, but that condition should help us to get closer to God, not farther from him.