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Obedience, the First and Foundational Virtue
by Bro. Ignatius Mary
(a Hermit of St. Michael)


Obedience is not always an easy thing to do, but when I converted to the Catholic church after being a Baptist Minister for 15 years, it was not to strandle the fence (ouch!).

Be a Catholic or don't be! Jesus has some things to say about lukewarmness. The problem of lukewarm obedience is found among people of all brands—on both so-called left-wing and right-wing factions. Indeed, OBEDIENCE “is” the issue of our time.

In St. Benedict's “Twelve Steps to Humility”, the very first step is: Obedience to God.

St. Benedict says:

We are forbidden to do our own will for we are to “Leave (our) own will and desires” (Eccl. 18:30), and “...beg the Lord in prayer that His will may be done in us” (Mt. 6:10). Thus we learn not to do our own will for Scripture warns us: “There are ways that seem right to men, but they lead, in the end, to the depths of hell” (Prv 16:25).

The Second of St. Benefict's Twelve Steps:

(Humility) is reached when a man, not loving his own will, does not bother to please himself, but follows the injunction of the Lord: “I came not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38). It is also said that “self-will has its punishment, necessity its crown” (Acta Martyrum).

In the Third Step:

(Humility) is attained when a man, from love of God obediently submits to a superior in imitation of the Lord. As the apostle says, “He was made obedient until death” (Phil 3:8).

The fourth:

(Humility) is reached when a man, in obedience, patiently and quietly puts up with everything inflicted upon him...

Skipping to the Twelfth Step:

(Humility) is reached when a monk shows humility in his heart and in his appearance and actions...

These Twelve Steps have been codified in our Rule. We also have this quote in our Rule from Pope Pius XII, from his Apostolic Constitution, “Sedas Sapientiae”:

Let all those who have taken the vow to seek evangelical perfection remember this fact, then; let them weigh it in the sight of God: to fulfill their obligation it is not enough for them to avoid grave sin, or even, with God's help, to avoid venial sin, nor materially to obey the orders of superiors, their vows and obligations in conscience, or even their particular constitutions according to which, as the Church lays down in the sacred canons, “each and every religious, superiors as well as subjects, must ... model their lives and so tend to the perfection of their state” (1917 CIC, can. 593). All these things religious must accomplish with their whole heart and with ardent love, not merely out of necessity, “but also for conscience sake” (Rom 13:5), since in order to reach the heights of sanctity and to be for all men so many well-springs of Christian charity, they must be devoured by an ardent love for God and neighbor and full of every virtue.

In the past year [the essay was writtn in 1994] of doing “Internet apologetics and evangelism” I have been struck by just how “Americanized” we are as Catholics. The American spirit is that of individualism and fiercely independent thought that only grudgingly accepts any authority beyond itself. This is not that Catholic spirit.

Of all the time I spend on computer talking with satanists, occultists, “liberal” Catholics, devout orthodox Catholics, ultra-traditionalist Catholics, heretics, and the like, the ones that need the most attention are the devout orthodox Catholics. I find it often the case that these otherwise good and orthoox Catholics have little small ways in which they choose to assert their opinions above that of the Church. I expect this disobedience in fact or spirit from the liberals and the ultra-traditionalists. Alas, it is even with the ordinary devout and orthodox Catholic sometimes. Obedience in spirit and in fact just doesn't seem to be in the air these days.

I have found obedience to be a salvation. Two examples:

  1. My Conversion to the Catholic Church: When I finally sat down and took a look at Scripture honestly (and literally) I found that it was the Catholic Church, not the Baptist Church who truly interpreted Scripture literally. (i.e., the Real Presence, the Chair of Peter). When I looked at history I found that, too, the Catholics were right after all. When confronted with these Truths, I had a decision to make. Either obey Truth, or follow delusion—either become Catholic, or remain Protestant. I obeyed the Truth even though I didn't understand it all.

  2. My devotion to Mary: Although I was convinced of the authority of the Church, the Real Presence, and all, I was not so convinced about the communion of the saints and the doctrine on Mary. That took a little while longer. But since I knew that the Church had the AUTHORITY to declare these doctrines, I simply OBEYED.

Was my “belief” from the heart? No. Did I “feel” the devotion to Mary? No. I merely obeyed the Church and believed in the doctrine of Mary and the communion of the saints out of shear cold obedience.

But then something odd happened. Almost immediately after I obeyed the Church on this and submitted my mind and will to the Church's teachings, all of a sudden, I began to understand the doctrine. It was almost like magic. I began to “know” what these doctrines were about. In short order I found myself no longer obeying in cold submission, but in understanding also. I had come to understand and to agree with the doctrine through the reason of my mind.

Still, something was missing—the devotion of my heart. Within one month after the cold obedience, followed by the revelation of intellect given to me to understand (only after the obedience), finally came an understanding of the heart.

Within five months of confirmation I had joined the Lay Carmelite Order and now I am a professed brother (in private vows) in the Order of the Legion of St. Michael working with Mary in spiritual warfare.

I can give other examples of this, but the chronology is always the same:

  1. shear cold obedience
  2. understanding of intellect
  3. understanding and application of heart and spirit

Without the obedience, the undersanding and application of heart would not have happened. Now, most of the time, my obedience is warm, not cold, but I do sometimes come up against some things that I want to resist. It is then that the cold obedience must happen.

God tells us in Scripture that obedience is greater than sacrifice.

Our Lord told this to Sister Faustina. One day Jesus told Faustina that he wished her to wear a hair shirt as mortification and asked her to go ask permission from her superior. The superior said absolutely not, that Faustina was NOT to do this. The superior knew that this was a request from Jesus Himself, nevertheless she forbade it.

When Faustina came back to report this to Jesus saying she was sorry but the superior would not let her wear a hair shirt, Jesus replied that he was pleased because he wanted her obedience more than her mortification.

Obedience can be possible without love, but love cannot exist without obedience. Obedience is the foundation from which all other virtues are built.

How can we impart this truth to our generation? Even to ourselves who have been so socialized in this American culture to consider ourselves our own authority to one degree or another?

Lord help me to obey! And then upon that solid rock of Yourself with my obedience laid upon it, indeed even molded into it, help me to build the house of Your Love. Amen.

 



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