When we think about the word obedience, we often associate other words with it, such as ‘restrictions,’ ‘rules’ or ‘demands.’
I remember at World Youth Day 2019, walking through the Vocations Fair and a nun pulling me towards her booth and asking me to spin a little wheel with the question “What virtue should I ask Mary to pray for, for me”. Virtues included, “faithfulness,” “fortitude” and “poverty.” I spun the wheel and guess what it landed on? Obedience!
I’ve struggled with obedience at different points in my life – sometimes not agreeing with teachers or certain limitations placed on my previous projects for youth ministry. In my teenage years, I thought obedience meant not being free to do what I wanted!
As someone who has tended to question the intentions of authority, it has never been the easiest virtue to pursue. Although as my faith matured and my relationship with Jesus deepened, I began to understand its significance. Funny how God is, He really knows you! For this World Youth Day, obedience was a theme God wanted me to journey with.
Our diocesan pilgrimage was demanding. We were up at early hours of the morning, moving from one place to another, constantly encountering new people and local culture and climbing some steep hills/pyramids – particularly in Mexico. We had to be obedient to the pilgrimage schedule and the senior leadership team to ensure the safety of the whole group – all 171 of us. I recall one morning in Panama. Our wake-up call was at 4.00am to be ready for a coach to take us to the airport for our next flight at 7.00am.
Instead of jumping out of bed with eagerness at the sound of my alarm, I asked “Why do I have to wake up so early?! I’m so tired!”.
One that was more personal was almost meeting Bishop Robert Barron from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
In the lead up to World Youth Day, I had been hoping for a moment to introduce myself to him at an evening of Adoration, Prayer and Worship. While listening attentively on the edge of my seat to Bishop Barron’s exhortation, an incident occurred that took me outside of the convention centre.
In the midst of being present to the incident, I saw a window to run to and greet Bishop Barron. Have you ever had that moment when time slows down? This was one of those moments and I had a choice to go. However, in my heart I felt obedience ask me to choose to stay. Though it was not easy, I chose to stay with someone who needed me.
One demanded physical obedience and the other, as was explained to me later by a priest, demanded an obedience out of love.
These little ‘yeses’ are responses to God asking us to live not for ourselves but for others, for Him. That 4.00am wake-up call wasn’t just for me. I needed to be ready and on time so that others were not affected my desire to stay in bed. In my moment of really wanting to meet Bishop Barron, God’s moment was for me to remain present to another.
Choosing to be obedient to Him allowed me to let go of my own plans and trust God’s plan.
I believe these are moments of grace and the greater ‘yes’ wasn’t something I experienced just myself. I witnessed this every day in my fellow pilgrims. Their selfless ‘yes’ to be present, to engage, to listen, to be curious, to serve, to walk and to hope. I saw pilgrims offer to buy water for each other, hold each other’s bags, cry together and pray with one another.
Mary’s ‘yes’ of obedience, her fiat, inspired many young hearts. I am humbled by Mary’s fiat moving my own heart. I hope that we continue pray for the courage to say yes to obedience. The world may not understand it just yet, but in time, with God, it will.
Qwayne Guevara was a World Youth Day 2019 Panama group leader and is the Catholic Youth Parramatta Local Engagement Leader.