The goof-off bench

by | Oct 4, 2020 | Presence

Photo: 3 wise monkeys by Pixabay from


“In the practice of obedience, we ought not to be content with a languishing faith, but full of fervor we should embrace the law with holy zeal.” (St. Hilary quoted by Fr. Vitelleschi SJ [i])

In the small elementary school of my childhood, there was a bench outside the principal’s office where the ‘bad’ kids sat after school. As soon as class was out at 3:30, they headed to the Goof-Off bench and sat. Their moms were called and told to expect them to be late coming home; the kids were told to stay there 30 minutes, and everyone went home including the Principal and staff.  Amazingly, the kids sat on the bench as required! I was only ‘condemned’ once in my entire elementary school career, whereas my older brother of course was a more frequent visitor. There really is a difference between boys and girls in spite of the twisted lies our modern culture tries to engrain in our minds. 😊

We obeyed because we accepted that there are natural consequences for our actions. It would frankly be stupid to think otherwise, and even as kids we knew that.  We often heard the word’ character’ and the importance to building it. Too young to understand what that meant intellectually but certainly spiritually and in our lived experience, we built steadfastness when accepting our natural consequences. Own it. Do it. Learn from it. Move on.

 “The modern secular state will not persecute Christians in the same way that the Romans did, but it will ask Christians to compromise their morals, their sense of justice, their belief in human dignity and freedom, and their commitment to evangelize.” (Cardinal Wuerl) [ii]

As adults, we can maneuver around those natural consequences. Because of this, compromising our values has become the new “American way”. The notion of obedience, whether it be to a boss, a spouse or the Church, is all but extinct in our daily lives today. Think about this: when was the last time you had to ask permission for anything? Those living a religious vocation have obedience wonderfully embedded into their existence. For the rest of us, we need to embed that into our existence by setting a structure of ‘morals’ against which we weigh choices, small and large. The Scriptures and teachings of the Church give us the true morals that act as our litmus test. Each act of obedience, or waiting for permission to take an action, bring forth an added level of depth in the context of the experience itself once that action takes place. Such is the difference between doing what we want (the lesser-good choice) vs. asking permission or mulling over the act’s true obedience to virtue (the better-good choice).

St. Ignatius of Loyola, being the military man, was known for his men taking the 4th vow of obedience to the Pope. He understood its necessity to humility.  “Let us then not depart from obedience, which I earnestly recommend to you, together with that other virtue [Love].” (p. 105)[iii]

 “[the servant of God] must move in God’s presence with respect and reverence. His purity must be angelic, his activity untiring. His obedience must be ready, his service continual. His dependence must be so entire that he await only a nod from the Master.” (St. Ignatius of Loyola to Father Acquaviva SJ on Renovation of Spirit)[iv]

 Asking permission and giving permission go hand-in-hand. The more we give permission to God to enter the heart, that transformed heart naturally is not just other-centered but actually has eyes to see the dignity of others more than ever before.

 “…let him keep the law of obedience, for that law is the security and support of all things in heaven and on earth.” (St. Gregory Nazianzen quoted by Fr. Vitelleschi SJ)

Our ability to grow in obedience to God doesn’t come solely on our own. It comes from God’s grace, the fullness of which is only given by Him through His church He established in A.D. 33. Frequent communion with the Eucharist and confession are important to this. Let’s continue to pray for our worldwide Church, especially Pope Francis, all of our clergy and religious.

 Almighty and eternal Father, accept our prayer of thanksgiving for your Beloved Son, our Saviour and Lord. As we recall his Sacred Passion, send the Spirit of Christ into our hearts, we beg You, so that whether we pray or work we might do all in union with Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

(Stations of the Cross, Opening Prayer response)

 Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam 😊



[i] Selected letters of Our Very Reverend Fathers General to the Fathers and Brothers of the Society of Jesus, Vol. 1., (1900) Fr. Vitelleschi on the Centenary of the Society. St. Hilary p. 108; St. Gregory Nazianzen p. 113.

[ii] Cardinal Wuerl

[iii] Letter XXIV of St. Ignatius To the Fathers and Brothers at Coimbra dated Rome, May 7, 1547. In Letters and Instructions of St. Ignatius of Loyola, O’Leary. (1914) p. 105

[iv] Selected letters of Our Very Reverend Fathers General to the Fathers and Brothers of the Society of Jesus, Vol. 1., p. 73.