In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, all of us have been given orders. “Wear masks. Stay at home. Clean and wipe down surfaces. Wash hands.” At some point, even adults chafe at having to “do what they are ordered to do.”
I have really wanted to go up to the mountains to do some hiking and fishing. I can call it “self care.” It’s necessary for a healthy mental state. Yet, in my prayer life, I keep hearing that internal voice say. “I will take care of you. The people in authority have no power unless it is granted to them by me. I have granted them their authority. They speak for me. You do what they tell you.”
Pass the TV remote please.
Last week I began writing on the virtue of obedience. Not the most popular topic, is it? I took some ideas from the book, The Art of Loving God by St. Francis deSales. St. Francis wrote that three conditions are necessary for “perfect” obedience. These are acceptance, promptitude, and perseverance.
DeSales says that we are often tempted to think that we are quite capable of greater things in our life. In some respects that is noble and biblical. It relates to Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply.” Yet, this can sometimes conflict with the third condition of obedience: perseverance. Perseverance deals with the “increase in our spirit.” We love to do something – and then the next thing – and then the next thing. We don’t even look at it as we follow the motivations of our spirit. To do anything meaningful, we need to have the persistent strength of our first resolutions. This is necessary to bare up to difficulties necessary to complete the task.
Yet, are we doing what we should be doing? To increase our ultimate effectiveness, obedience is necessary. We need to submit our ideas to someone in command of the entire situation. They have the bigger picture. They know what has to be done and how we might best help in the situation.
I found it interesting, that DeSales says obedience takes precedence over charity. St. Francis writes that obedience comes under “justice” or “giving someone what is due to them.” Sometimes we are commanded to do something that we dislike or have a disinclination not to do. Obedience becomes an act of love towards the other person. Hence it is better to obey someone else’s command of us, than to perform an act of charity of our own choice.
Obedience is so excellent a virtue, that our Lord wished to direct the whole course of his life by it. He tells us that he did not come to do his own will, but the will of his Father (See John 6:38, John 5:30, Mark 14:36). The apostle Paul says that Christ, “made himself obedient unto death – death on the cross. (Philippians 2:8).
St. Benedict also write about obedience in the Rule of Benedict, Chapter 5, Obedience. He seems to echo Francis deSales’s idea of prompt obedience. Benedict says that the first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This is the virtue of those who hold nothing dear to them except Christ. “This is acceptable to God and pleasing to others especially if it is done without hesitation without delay without luke-warmness grumbling or objection.”
Benedict does not make light of this. Quite the contrary. He says that this is difficult. It is traveling the “narrow road.” Like deSales, it also is an act of humility. The person admits that they do not have all of the answers. Benedict writes,
They do not know the whole picture. Thus they don’t trust themselves. They no longer live by their own judgment, giving in to their whims and appetites. Rather they walk according to another’s decisions and directions. They choose to have [someone in authority] over them. Men of this resolve unquestionably conform to the saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38).
Finally, the disciples’ obedience must be given gladly, for “God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9: 7). St. Benedict:
If a disciple obeys grudgingly and grumbles, not only aloud but also in his heart, then, even though he carries out the order, his action will not be accepted with favor by God, who sees that he is grumbling in his heart.