Given recent developments in Kansas City, I couldn’t help but notice that Bishop Thomas Tobin in Rhode Island is offering some timely thoughts on the promises men make when they are ordained to the priesthood — including, of course, obedience:
Obedience to “the bishop and his successors” is another commitment a priest makes to strengthen his union with Christ and provide freedom for service.
I think it’s interesting that on the road to the priesthood a man pledges his commitment to celibacy only once, but to obedience, twice – in both diaconate and priesthood ordinations. That’s not because obedience is more important than celibacy, but because it can actually be more challenging. Once a priest pledges celibacy, that commitment sets him on a determined, focused path that results in a particular lifestyle. Obedience, on the other hand, is tested multiple times, in very practical ways – for example, every time a priest is asked to move to another assignment, or live with a priest he may not know or like, or is denied a personal request, or is required to follow a particular policy or law of the Church.
Again, it’s important to underline the spiritual motive for obedience. In one of his audiences, Blessed Pope John Paul spoke of the practical challenges and rewards of obedience: “Obedience can sometimes be difficult, particularly when different opinions clash. However, obedience was Jesus’ fundamental attitude to sacrificing himself and it bore fruit in the salvation the whole world has received.” Similarly, in his obedience, the priest shares in the humility of the cross and lays down his life for others.