The Benedictine Way – 4

The Benedictine Way – 4 July 3, 2007

Obedience is a vow, and every vow is intended to be woven into life as one of the basic foundations of our existence. We are obedient simply because we are creatures, not the creator. Every day we must be obedient to a whole range of laws we never question. We are obedient to everything from the law of gravity to the law of stopping for red lights.

To learn obedience and to value obedience therefore, is a way of squelching our natural tendency to rebellion and learning instead to find our proper place in the created order, and therefore our proper place in God’s providence. Obedience is at the heart of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done…” and it should be at the heart of our very existence as the baptized.

If we could only learn obedience, then we would soon find peace, for peace is only found in the Divine Will. “Our hearts are restless til they find their rest in Thee.” It is only through obedience that we find that rest.

Obedience, however, is a difficult virtue to acquire. It is not found when obedience is easy. It is not acquired when the superior is intelligent, sensible and agrees with us. Obedience is only developed when we obey when it is difficult. Do we dislike our parish priest? Do we dislike his style of liturgy? Do we disagree with his teaching methods? Do we dislike and disagree with our bishop? Do we quietly go about choosing our own parish, our own superiors, our own liturgy, our own little church? Fine. I’m sure we have very good reasons for doing so. But don’t expect that you’ll ever learn obedience is you always think you’re right.

Obedience is tested when obedience becomes absurd. Obedience is tested when our superiors are idiots, petty minded autocrats or even downright bad people. Obedience is hardest when the superior goes against what we know, we really know is God’s will. That’s when obedience really starts to bite, and if we can obey when it is difficult–especially when it’s difficult–why then we’ve learned real obedience, and the lives of all the saints bear this out.

When we get into the habit of obedience…when it really gets into our bloodstream…then we start to be in a state of grace and a state of spiritual growth–and not before. Don’t you imagine that you are making spiritual progress if you are being disobedient to your rightful authority. You think you know it all spiritually or liturgically or morally or politically or Scripturally? Has your attitude led you to disobedience? Then you know nothing. You haven’t even started to grow spiritually.

Finally, obedience just might start to be the growth of humility in our life. When we really honestly for real get it into our hard little hearts that we are not the master of our souls, then the small white bird of humility might just be hovering about and might–just might decide to settle in our souls. The obedient soul says automatically–“I’m probably wrong” and from that seed humility grows.

If this post on obedience has made you mad and you are spluttering “Yes, but…” then I’ve hit the target. We forget that the spiritual life is supposed to be hard. It’s the hardest thing in the world.

In fact, it’s the hardest thing in the world because it’s not of this world.

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  • Argy

    Padre Pio would not altogether agree with you.He was a great saint.May I suggest the vow of obedience must be lived out literally for those who make such a vow.For those who do not make such a vow, it must be excercised with wisdom and good conscience.

  • Indeed. The post was hyperbolic to make a point.

  • Jon

    I am sure this question has already been addressed but I am quite literally straining myself over matters concerning a vow of obedience. your quote really touches a nerve.”Obedience is tested when obedience becomes absurd. Obedience is tested when our superiors are idiots, petty minded autocrats or even downright bad people. Obedience is hardest when the superior goes against what we know, we really know is God’s will.”I have not made any such vow but I would place God’s will over the word of a man any day. an especially salient example these days would be the diffenece between Pope Benedict XVI and President Bush’s disagreement over the War in Iraq. I personally hold fast to the pope’s position in stating that Iraq is classified as an unjust war however I have heard from both Protestant and Catholic support for Bush’s position on the war. I know that it’s not mostly due to any particular vow of obedience on the part of those whom I speak to. (almost none of them have taken such a vow) but my question that I have is then where does the vow of obedience place us in a situation that appears so clearly away from God’s will?

  • Jeron

    You hit the nail on the head with me. T-H-E most difficult thing for me in recent memory to say was “I’m probably wrong” in relation to my SSA. When I was coming out of “the lifestyle,” and had to admit not just my behavior but my whole attitude regarding the “rightness” of “being gay” was wrong & the Church was right, THAT was difficult! But that act of obedience has given me such peace. Enjoying your series – keep up the good work.

  • Not having vowed obedience, my tendency would be to follow St. Thomas More’s example (in the American tradition, naturally): The law’s good servant, but God’s first.