Obedience and love, and loving disobedience

In the Church, what virtues are we trying to cultivate?  Obedience should be second to love, as described in 1 Corinthians 13. Does love require being obedient to the Church? Yes if we see the Church as an entity originating from and sustained by the love of God.
    Then there are times, perhaps, when we need to lovingly disobey the Church for the sake of loving God and neighbor. The Church is supposed to love God and neighbor, but it does not always succeed.  Then it is time to disobey the Church.
David VonSchlichten,
Seton Hill University

                Are young people leaving because of obedience?

In this holiest time, I am reflecting on departures from conventional, i.e., institutionalized, religion (Catholic and other). I found the recent CARA report on young Catholics leaving the Church quite informative.
    Q: Are our younger members leaving simply because they are less likely to commit in "obedience" to institutions which no longer seem relevant or which are no longer 'worthy' of obedience?
Meg Karraker,
University of St. Thomas

                Obedience is relational

What comes to my mind when I think of obedience and disobedience is the vigorous opposition to my final decision (before any action) of my father. I recall the dinner we had in a small Italian restaurant on Shore Road in New Rochelle when he was fully aware of my almost-firm decision. My father, not a man to be be silent when the moral chips were down, said to end our discussion, "Well, if you go out that back door, you'll go out with my foot up your ass!"  Should I have obeyed? He was my father, after all, and even at my 40 years old or so, he was convinced that he retained the headship of the family.  Of course I didn't obey.

   When PaulVI told us in Humanae Vitae that "artificial birth control" violated the natural and divine law, and if we didn't get his point we were nonetheless expected to "obey" the sacred magisterium. Most Catholics thought about it and went ahead, in clear disobedience to that magisterial teaching. Even some bishops quietly refused to push the clear doctrine.

    Obedience is a relational natural virtue subject to the faculty of reason. You can try all you want to make it a supernatural virtue but it won't work. Faith, hope and charity subsume it, and it is subject to them as it is to reason
William Shea,
College of the Holy Cross

Re: Bill Shea
             Parents have a hard time letting go of their hopes for children – and a hard time letting go – period.  I remember feeling displaced when our oldest son came home one day – after barber mom had put off the haircut he needed.  His then girlfriend had given him one  instead.  I realized instantly how mothers love their sons to be priests: they don't have to share them with any other woman.
            Most moral dilemmas are exactly that: choosing between goods that cannot both be realized in the same action. Kohlberg's middle stages (often incorporating obedience) are easier, but they do not exercise the true freedom of sons and daughters of God.
Dee Christie

                 Obedience in religious life, then and now

Obedience was such an all-pervasive notion in the Church and in religious orders when I joined in the 60s, but rebellion against authority then played a huge role in our generation.  All of that scars me when I think of obedience. 
    What I have found helpful, though, is to go back to Jesus' obedience to the Father – not a slavish do-it-or-else attitude but a genuine pursuit of understanding what is asked of him (to be fully human, to suffer and die, to trust the Father).  This hit home for me when I was reading something by Megan McKenna where she speaks of the Biblical notion of obedience as "deep listening."  When I think of Jesus and his relationship to the Father, that puts the lie to my own history and is, quite simply, exciting and terrifying.
 Mark Miller, C.Ss.R. Toronto,

Re: Mark Miller
            To me, as a Catholic Christian, obedience is a dynamic concept.  It means being joyfully on the road to the Father with the Son and the whole pilgrim People of God in the Holy Spirit.  Obedience in Christ, expressed incarnationally through obedience to the Church in her concentric ministries, means liberation from the tyranny of the ego, of my own self and my tendency to turn inward and away from the neighbor in need and the community of faith.
Guy Christopher Carter,
Saint Peter's University, NJ

            Is obedience imposed for the common good legitimate?   

This topic is of too much interest to me to pass up. In just about any other context, I would attack the very notion of obedience as a virtue,  as all modern psychology has done too much to attack our whole conception of obedience as a hiding place for the vicious. But...

    This week I am leading an immersion here in St. Louis.  One aspect of today's itinerary was a visit to the Missouri History Museum's very fine exhibition #1 in Civil Rights. A wing of the exhibit dealt with Catholic (non-) involvement in the struggle for civil rights, including the order from Cardinal Ritter mandating desegregation of Catholic schools on pain of excommunication. That demand for obedience largely quelled the uproar against integration.

    What to do with such a heavy-handed imposition of obedience when I disagree with the process but agree with the product? On one hand, I hardly support the use of fear of eternal punishment to cow people into submission. On the other hand, if that program put more white students and parents in contact with black counterparts whom they would have otherwise opposed meeting, did it justify at least some degree of the abuse of people's freedom?

    If Marx was even half-correct in his assertion that ideas arise as products of material conditions, how else could ideas about the rightness of segregation be corrected except by desegregating people, by pressure (obedience) if need be? I cringe at Cardinal Ritter's action, but I wonder how else to combat so firmly entrenched and socially legitimated an evil as segregation.
Patrick Cousins,
Campus Ministry, Saint Louis University

                Obsequium as respect, not submission

    “Obedience”  is the wrong word for conforming one's conduct to the command of a superior. Adult Christians are not children or sheep. The word most commonly used in Church documents is not obedientia but obsequium (see Lumen Gentium n. 25 and canons 218 and 753 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law).

   The Flannery translation of the Vatican II documents, for many the most popular one, translates obsequium as "submission" and the first translations of the new Code translated it as "obedience." Many Latinists, including myself, argue that obsequium  does not mean "obedience" but "respect," as it is translated in the Canon Law Society's of America translation of the new Code. To approach magisterial pronouncements with respect, I suggest, means to grant them, not with  uncritical obedience (once famously or perhaps infamously demanded by Pius X of his "flock"), but with a presumption of truth that must be examined  critically and ultimately carefully discerned before any judgment of its obligating truth can be made.

    If we must speak of obedience, then it is obedience to my carefully and honestly informed conscience, and ultimately obedience to what is discerned as God's will for me now. Personally, this approach leaves me free but still obligated to a process of loyal, even religious, discernment before making any decision to assent to or dissent from any magisterial teaching.
Michael G. Lawler,
Creighton University

                Obsequium in the Carmelite tradition

    In the earliest document in the Carmelite tradition the Formula vitae, “obsequium” appears in the formula as a quotation from  2 Cor 10.5 :"in obsequium Jesu Christi." This phrase has been translated as "allegiance to Jesus Christ." A recent Irish Carmelite scholar translated it as "to live as vassals of Jesus Christ."
            Albert Patriarch of Jerusalem, an expert on monastic legislation, chose the word “obsequium” in his legislation for the small group of hermits on Mount Carmel who became the Carmelite Order. It is he who wrote the Formula vitae as a letter to hermits on Mount Carmel sometime between 1206-1214. This formula vitae became with some slight changes the Carmelite Rule in 1247. Near the beginning of this document is the phrase "in obsequio Jesu Christi."
            The word “obseqium” in the letter to the Corinthins, in the Formula vitae and in Lumen Gentium raise the difficult problem of translation.
Keith Egan,
St Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN

                Obedience and conscience

    I'm currently reading Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation with students, and several of them were intrigued by the complexity he brings to a personal investigation of both his knowledge and motivations. Certainly the fact that this is a text written in a monastic setting is important, in that some here have helpfully commented on the particular nature of obedience in a monastic context. Nevertheless, the Christian community has never operated as a pure democracy in belief or practice. For this reason, at least some aspect of the element of obedience in writings by monastics in the context of monastic communities is applicable to every Christian.

    I think that obedience in a raw sense isn't really the focus of the conversation in and of itself. But, bringing obedience up can help to make us refocus on the idea that humility must have a central place in every Christian's life. Every theological disagreement isn't the hill on which we must die, but there are certainly times when speaking one's conscience seems to be necessary--although I often wonder whether it is far less necessary than we sometimes think. It would also seem that our concerns brought forth by love (whether we are actually the weak or the strong) means that we must constantly wrestle with if and how we should curtail our voices and actions, even though we believe in them. Those are issues which come immediately to my mind when thinking about obedience.
Daniel Lloyd,
Saint Leo University

                Obedience to get the job done

    Obedience is a good idea when you when you agree with what one is being told to do, as in desegregate.  As usual, the one in charge always likes obedience more than the one who has to obey.
    Parents want their children to obey.  Teachers want their students to obey.  Bosses want their workers to obey. Good children listen to their parents.  Good students listen to their teachers.  Good workers listen to their boss.
    It is assumed that everyone is looking out for the good of each other.  When the trust breaks down, any kind of obedience will be formal if anything at all.  Obedience assumes a respect for the one giving the command or suggestion.  A healthy discussion about commands is not out of the question, but something has to be done in the end.                            
Gene Finnegan,
Calumet College of St. Joseph

                On obedience to recognized authority

    Lonergan's brief essay on authority makes the case that authority needs to be recognized, and when it isn't, it isn't authority in the full sense. In the practical realm that means that authority can be lost and each case needs its own analysis.
   In A Rabbi Speaks with Jesus Jacob Neusner imagines himself listening to Jesus on the Mount. At the end of the disquisition, Neusner decides he cannot follow Jesus because Jesus disagrees with Moses in the Torah. Neusner goes home to "his wife and his dog" as Jesus goes down to Jerusalem. Jesus goes down because he must obey his Father while Neusner goes home because he obeys Moses and the Torah. Simple and complicated all at once. Neusner and I once decided that the Resurrection was the key to it all. I believe Jesus rose and Neusner did not. Neusner's final remark in that conversation was "We'll know on the Last Day, won't we?"  [Who had final authority?]
William Shea,
College of the Holy Cross