Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Humility of Obedience

This is the title of a reflection posted here by Mother Maria-Michael at St Walburga's. Even in the context of religious life, it is possible to think of obedience in a way that is subservient rather than a reflection of freedom. Practiced as a form of freedom, obedience involves a mutuality between the superior and the person who is under their authority - and perhaps in both a human/psychological way and as a matter of theology/grace. This is, I think, and implication of the words "They handed on ..." quoted at the beginning of Mother Maria-Michael's post.

The second paragraph of Mother's reflection has echoes of St Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, with regard to making decisions about our state of life. It does, of course, require not inconsiderable humility to recognise a genuine confirming by the Lord of what we want to do. It is easy to mistake "what I want" for such a confirmation. On the other hand, it can be very easy to simply "do what I am told" when, without any disobedience in the real sense, it would be appropriate to ask a superior for something else, to be subservient when one should exercise the freedom of obedience.

A few months ago I described to someone something I had once done in the parish, when I was not happy going along with what was happening there. The comment that this priest made in response was about the importance of keeping the unity of the parish, and of acting in a way that does not undermine that unity. In this situation, I think I had actually done that without articulating it in terms of unity. The expression of this dilemma in terms of preservation of unity has since seemed a very useful principle of discernment, keeping the genuine sense of the idea of obedience yet avoiding a reduction of obedience to subservience.

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