Diocesan priests make the following promise to their bishops upon ordination: “Do you promise filial respect and obedience to me and my successors?” That word filial IS specific, intentional, and important. It is there expressly to distinguish between servile, or that of a slave, and filial, that of child to their parent.
“…Obedience in the Church is never contrary to the dignity and respect of the person, nor must it ever be understood as an abandonment of responsibility or as a surrender. The Rite utilizes a fundamental adjective for the right understanding of such a promise; it defines obedience only after mentioning “respect”, and this with the adjective “filial”. Now the term “son”, in every language, is a relative name, which implies, specifically, the relationship of a father and a son. It is in this context that the obedience we have promised must be understood. It is a context in which the father is called to truly be a father, and the son to recognize his own sonship and the beauty of the fatherhood that has been given to him. As happens in the law of nature, no one chooses his own father, nor does one choose one’s own sons. Therefore, we are all called, fathers and sons, to have a supernatural regard for one another, one of great reciprocal clemency and respect, that is to say the capacity to look at the other keeping always in mind the good Teacher who has brought him into being, and who always, ultimately, moulds him. Respect is, by definition, simply this: to look at someone while keeping Another in mind!
It is only in the context of “filial respect” that an authentic obedience is possible, one which is not only formal, a mere execution of orders, but one which is ardent, complete, attentive, which can really bring forth the fruits of conversion and of “new life” in him who lives it.
The promise is to the Ordinary at the time of ordination and to his “Successors”, since the Church always draws back from an excessive personalism: She has at heart the person, but not the subjectivism that detracts from the power and the beauty, both historical and theological, which characterize the Institution of obedience. The Spirit resides also in the Institution, since it is of divine origin. The Institution is charismatic, of its very nature, and thus to be freely bound by it in time (the Successors) means to “remain in the truth”, to persevere in Him, present and operative in His living body, the Church, in the beauty of the continuity of time, of ages, which joins us enduringly to Christ and to his Apostles.”
– by His Eminence, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Titular Archbishop of Vittoriana, Secretary, Congregation for the Clergy, Vatican, November 18, 2009, “Letter to Priests”
-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964
Presence of God – O Jesus most obedient, make me understand the value of obedience.
St. John of the Cross has said, “God wants from us the least degree of obedience and submission, rather than all the works we desire to offer Him” (Spiritual Maxims: Words of Light, 13). Why? Because obedience makes us surrender our own will to adhere to God’s will as expressed in the orders of our superiors; and the perfection of charity, as well as the essence of union with God, consists precisely in the complete conformity of our will with the divine will. Charity will be perfect in us when we govern ourselves in each action–not according to our personal desires and inclinations–but according to God’s will, conforming our own to His. This is the state of union with God, for “the soul that has attained complete conformity and likeness of will (to the divine will), is totally united to and transformed in God supernaturally” (Ascent of Mount Carmel II, 5,4).
The will of God is expressed in His commandments, in the precepts of the Church, in the duties of our state in life; beyond all that, there is still a vast area for our free choice, where it is not always easy to know with certitude exactly what God wants of us. In the voice of obedience, however, the divine will takes on a clear, precise form; it comes to us openly manifest and we no longer need to fear making a mistake. Indeed, as St. Paul says, “There is no power but from God” (Romans 13:1), so that by obeying our lawful superiors, we can be certain that we are obeying God. Jesus Himself, when entrusting to His disciples the mission of converting the world, said, “He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me” (Luke 10:16).
He teaches us here that ecclesiastical superiors represent Him and speak to us in His Name. Furthermore, St. Thomas points out that every lawful authority–even in the natural order, such as the civil and social spheres–when commanding within the just limits of its powers manifests the divine will. In this very sense, the Apostle does not hesitate to say, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords … as to Christ … doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:5-6).
“Oh! how sweet and glorious is this virtue of obedience, which contains all the other virtues! Because it is born of charity, and on it the rock of holy faith is founded, it is a queen, and he who espouses it knows no evil, but only peace and rest. The tempestuous waves of evil cannot hurt him because he sails in Your holy will, O my God…. He has no wish which cannot be satisfied because obedience makes him desire You alone, O Lord, Who know his desires and can and will fulfill them. Obedience navigates without fatigue, and without danger comes into the port of salvation. O Jesus, I see that obedience conforms itself to You; I see it going with You into the little boat of the holy Cross. Grant me, then, O Lord, this holy obedience anointed with true humility. It is straightforward and without deceit; it brings with it the light of divine grace. Give me this hidden pearl trampled underfoot by the world, which humbles itself to submit to creatures for love of You” (St. Catherine of Siena).
O Lord, I have only one life; what better way could I use it for Your glory and my sanctification than to submit it directly to obedience? Only by doing this shall I be certain that I am not wasting my time or deceiving myself, for to obey is to do Your will. If my will is very imperfect, Yours is holy and sanctifying; if mine has only the sad power to lead me astray, Yours can make holy my life and all my acts–even the simplest and most indifferent–if they are accomplished at its suggestion. O Lord, the desire to live totally in Your will urges me to obedience and compels me to love and embrace this virtue, in spite of my great attachment to my liberty and independence.
O holy, sanctifying will of my God, I want to love You above everything else; I want to embrace You at every moment of my life; I do not want to do anything without You or outside of You.”