Category Archives: Filial Obedience

Filial Obedience

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.

MEDITATION

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).

COLLOQUY

“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.”

Love,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura? produces bad fruit, namely disunity & division

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-by Joel Peters

“If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura were true, then it should be expected that Protestants would all be in agreement in terms of doctrine, as the Bible could not simultaneously teach contradictory beliefs. And yet the reality is that there are literally thousands (35) of Protestant sects and denominations, each of which claims to have the Bible as its only guide, each of which claims to be preaching the truth, yet each of which teaches something different from the others. Protestants claim that they differ only in non-essential or peripheral matters, but the fact is that they cannot even agree on major doctrinal issues such as the Eucharist, salvation, and justification – to name a few.

For instance, most Protestant denominations teach that Jesus Christ is only symbolically present in the Eucharist, while others (such as Lutherans and Episcopalians) believe that He is literally present, at least to some extent. Some denominations teach that once you are “saved” you can never lose your salvation, while others believe it is possible for a true Christian to sin gravely and cease being “saved.” And some denominations teach that justification involves the Christian’s being merely declared righteous, while others teach that the Christian must also grow in holiness and actually become righteous.

Our Lord categorically never intended for His followers to be as fragmented, disunited and chaotic as the history of Protestantism has been since its very inception. (36) Quite the contrary, He prayed for His followers: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us.” (John 17:21). And St. Paul exhorts Christians to doctrinal unity with the words, “One body and one Spirit… One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph. 4:4-5). How, then, can the thousands of Protestant denominations and sects all claim to be the “true Church” when their very existence refutes this claim? How can such heterodoxy and contradiction in doctrine be the unity for which Our Lord prayed?

In this regard, the reader should be reminded of Christ’s own words: “For by the fruit the tree is known.” (Matt. 12:33). By this standard, the historical testimony afforded by Protestantism demonstrates that the tree of Sola Scriptura is producing bad fruit.”

Love,
Matthew

35. By some estimates there are approximately 25,000 different Protestant denominations and sects. In the approximately 500 years since Protestantism’s origin with Martin Luther (usually dated at 1517), this number translates into an average of one new Protestant denomination or sect every week! Even if you take a conservative estimate of 10,000 denominations and sects, you still have a new one developing every 2 ½ weeks.

36. Even the original “Reformers” – Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli – did not agree on doctrinal matters and labeled each other’s teachings heretical.

Oct 11 – Bl James of Ulm (Jacob Grissinger/ Griesinger), OP, (1407-1491) – The Art of Obedience

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-paper mache’ covering the remains of Bl James, Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna, Italy.

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-by Br James Wallace, OP, born in New York, James became a Catholic after college, where he earned a degree in applied math.

“I will honor those who honor Me.” – 1 Samuel 2:30

“What would you do? You’ve been working on a project for hours. The end is in sight, and you’ve done well. This might be some of your best work. All that’s left to do is to watch carefully over the final process—a slight error in timing might ruin everything. Suddenly, someone enters the room and tells you that you’re needed elsewhere immediately.

A thousand protests come to mind. Does it have to be right now? Is it really so urgent? Couldn’t it wait for just an hour? Am I the only one who could do this? Who is it that needs me?

It was in a situation just like this that Blessed James of Ulm found himself one day. But he didn’t make any of those protests. The order had come from his superior, and somehow James knew there was nothing to be done but to obey. He immediately left his stained glass window—a labor of love that he had spent days preparing—in the furnace to be ruined. And he went out to beg for his community, as his superior had ordered.

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Someone once said that you can know the depth of a man’s love by how much he is willing to suffer for the beloved. Blessed James’ act of obedience wasn’t a bitter and constrained act, but we can imagine how painful it was for him. This gives us some insight into the depth of his love for his brothers and for God. Today, people have mostly forgotten the windows which James made over 500 years ago, but they remember this story of his love and obedience.

James was used to following orders. He had served for years as a soldier, first under King Alfonso V of Aragon and later under one Captain Tartari. One day, when the army was stationed in Bologna, James, who had always been devout, decided to make a visit to one of the local churches – the one that happened to have the relics of St. Dominic. While praying before those relics, he was suddenly inspired to give up military life and consecrate himself to God as a cooperator brother in St. Dominic’s Order.

Throughout history, Dominican cooperator brothers have been assigned a variety of offices: doorkeeper, housekeeper, infirmarian, cook, to name a few. In his youth, Blessed James’ father had trained him in the craft of making stained glass windows, and to this craft James returned as a religious brother. He had been working at it for a number of years when the event described above took place.

There is actually more to that story. When James returned from his begging trip, he found to his astonishment that the window was intact and the colors were set perfectly—an impossible thing, as he knew from long experience. Sometimes God rewards obedience in remarkable ways even in this life.

James spent 50 years in religious life, beautifying various churches in Italy. After his death in 1491, so many attested to his sanctity and to miracles obtained through his intercession that he was eventually beatified and himself entombed in the church of San Domenico, where he had received the call of God. Blessed James had sought to honor God by religious art and religious life; now, in San Domenico, God has honored him.”

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-reliquary altar of Bl James w/glass coffin & wax figure, Basilica of San Domenico, Rome.

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-St Nicolas & Blessed James of Ulm, OP.

First Vespers:
Ant. Strengthen by holy intercession, O James, confessor of the Lord, those here present, have we who are burdened with the weight of our offenses may be relieved by the glory of thy blessedness, and may by thy guidance attain eternal rewards.
V. Pray for us, Blessed James
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Lauds:
Ant. Well done, good and faithful servant, because Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many, sayeth the Lord.
V. The just man shall blossom like the lily.
R. And shall flourish forever before the Lord.

Second Vespers:
Ant. I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock..
V. Pray for us. Blessed James.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

O God, who didst wonderfully adorn Blessed James, Thy Confessor, with the virtues of humility and obedience, make us, through his intercession, to despise earthly things and evermore cleave to Thy commandments. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Love, yet not even closely having mastered the virtue of obedience,
Matthew

The temptation we face to come down from/put down our Crosses…

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Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. – JC

As life goes along, rather light-of-foot/quickly/ too quickly, if you ask anyone with a few years under the belt, this temptation grows stronger as we grow weaker, more feeble, more tired, more infirm.

An elderly woman in a wheelchair once commented, respectfully, to a much younger priest, when the priest reminded her of the Passion of Our Lord in regards to her own troubles, “Yes, but He was only thirty-three.” I, myself, have harbored such thoughts, and I am only middle-aged.

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-by Msgr Charles Pope

“One of the most remarkable aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus is the humble reserve He displayed. As God, He had the power to end His suffering and humiliation in an instant. He had already reminded Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt26:52-54)

And now, as Jesus hung on the Cross, Satan and the crowds give Him one final temptation: the call to come down from the Cross:

Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You Who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if You are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him. (Matt 27:39-44)

The temptation is to pride and power, comfort and ease, to anything but the Cross. They seem to taunt Him by saying, “Since God is powerful, if You were God, You would have the power to come down and not be overpowered by Your enemy.”

The temptation is very crafty and very worldly. To the worldly-minded, the demand makes sense. In effect, they are saying, “If it’s faith You want from me, You can have it if You’ll just come down from the cross. Then I’ll be impressed; then I’ll believe.” In effect and truth, the tempters want to be saved on their own terms.

Why does Jesus stay on the Cross? For three reasons, at least:

1. Humility – Jesus is out to overcome Satan. In the world, we seek to overpower our foes. Does it work? No. Usually the cycle of violence just continues and in fact often gets worse. We think, “If I can just yell louder and outwit or outgun my opponent, I’ll win the day.” Yes, but there’s more to life than one day. The next day your opponent returns with louder and wittier arguments and bigger guns. And the cycle of violence goes on. It is an endless power struggle.

But as was once said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that. And I would add that here at the Cross, pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that.

And therefore, although the crowd and Satan try to coax Jesus into a power struggle, the Lord chooses the only weapon that is truly effective against pride: humility. Humility is like kryptonite to the Devil!

To our eyes, it seems that the Lord is defeated. But in His humility, the Lord is doing more damage to Satan than we could ever imagine. He stays on the Cross to defeat Satan’s pride by His own profound humility. Jesus does this despite Satan’s desperate attempts to engage His pride, and entice Him into a power struggle.

2. ObedienceIt was disobedience that got us into trouble in the first place. And it will be obedience that restores us. Adam said, “No.” Jesus, the New Adam, says “Yes.” It is not essentially the suffering of Jesus that saves us; rather, it is his obedience. And Jesus’ suffering is part of that obedience.

Jesus decides to obey his Father, no matter the cost. Isaiah says of Jesus, “He suffered because he willed it.” (Is 53:7) St. Thomas says that if Jesus had suffered and gone to the cross, but not willed it, we would not be saved. Jesus himself said, “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down freely. (Jn 10:18) Cassian says, “We are saved by the human decision of a divine person.”

Jesus went to the Cross and decided to stay on the Cross in obedience. And it is by his obedience, by his will to obey and to save us, that we are saved.  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!

3. To save ME!!! – On a more personal level, we can also see (based on what has already been said), that Jesus decided to stay on the Cross to save ME. No, really, ME!! If He had come down, I WOULD NOT be saved; you WOULD NOT be saved. We might have been impressed; we might have even had a kind of faith. But it would not be a SAVING FAITH.

Pure and simple, Jesus decided to stay on the Cross and to endure mockery, shame, pain, and death, in order to save a poor sinner like me. An old gospel song says:

When Jesus hung on Calvary, people came from miles to see
They said, If you be the Christ, come down and save your life

But Jesus, sweet Jesus, never answered them
For He knew that Satan was tempting

If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost
If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost

He would not come down from the cross just to save Himself
He decided to die just to save me.”

“I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?”
—2 Corinthians 11:23-29

Love,
Matthew

Mass without Communion, single-life, obedience, etc.

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We are easily confused and forgetful.  Simple creatures, simple used here in its most derogatory sense.  Knuckle-draggers.  How quickly did Adam & Eve given THE Garden of Eden, think it was theirs to do with as they wish?  To abuse?  Unthinkingly?  Unknowingly?  Ingrates!!!!  Morons!!!!  Idiots!!!!  Imbeciles!!!!

How easily no longer a gift with very livable stipulations?   How quickly?  We still do.  We feel we are God made, an oxymoron, all the theists in the audience just shuddered at those words, in the image and likeness of ourselves.  Self-referential is always bad logic, etc.

I AM ALWAYS, HAVE ALWAYS BEEN terrified of a vow of obedience.  I still am.  Given twenty-five years of corporate human authority relationships, THAT HAS DEFINITELY NOT LESSENED, ITS GOTTEN WORSE!!!  SO MUCH EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, ST DILBERT CORPORATE, ORA PRO NOBIS!!! MUCH, MUCH WORSE!!!  I am most willful.  My own way is one of, if not THE greatest pleasure I derive in life, free will, my own.  In the Order of Preachers, there is ONLY ONE VOW:  OBEDIENCE.  There is no need for any other with that ONE.

The funny thing is…pssst, it’s secret…marriage IS a vow of obedience!!!!  DAMN!!!!  Low-blow!!!  Sneak-attack!!!  Don’t tell anyone!!  No one will ever get married, again!  An implicit, ableit profoundly strong vow to the good of the family, NOT one’s own agenda, preferences, will, willfulness, etc.; the obedience of love.  The obedience of Christ to the Father, of the creature to the Creator simply for the gift of being.  SUM, ERGO AGAPE!!! It makes no conditions!!!  It does not negotiate!!!  Love is NOT reasonable!!!  It wants what it wants, and will never settle for less!!!  It is very demanding/immature that way!!!  Shhhhh…..misery loves company.  We need more marrieds!!!!  (Maniacal laugh, Ha, ha, ha, ha…..!!  Join us!!!  Resistance is futile!!!)

From divorced and remarried, to excommunicated, to conscious of mortal sin, what is Mass without Communion?  Really?

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-by Rev. Matthew P. Schneider, LC

“Mass is not just so you get Communion! For hundreds of years, the majority of Catholics did not receive Communion most Sundays of the year but were expected at Mass. The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Communion perfects this by uniting us to Jesus, but the Mass has value even if you don’t receive Communion. Being present at the death and resurrection is one of the most wonderful things we can do.

Before we even consider Communion for the divorced and remarried, we have to reflect on the value of Mass without Communion – both as a whole Church and with each individual couple.

Many people, at least in Canada and the USA, think that they cannot participate in Mass without receiving Communion. This is false. Communion perfects one’s participation in the Mass, but one can participate without receiving Communion.

I remember the difficulty of explaining to a non-Catholic child at a Catholic high school what value there was for him to show up at Mass with his class. I understood the reasons, but I still had  difficulty in communicating it clearly. A reflection by the Church on this point would help us all be able to explain this aspect of our faith better.

A deeper reflection on single life, especially those called to non-consecrated chastity

We have told single people clearly that they need to live the chaste life. However, there is more than chastity. How can their friendships have meaning? How can they serve? What are they called to as single people? What gifts can they offer the Church?

We need to reflect on those who don’t choose singleness, at least directly or initially. We have had a lot of reflection in the Church on those who consecrate their singleness to God — priests, religious and the like — but not much on other single people.

A single layperson can do a lot to build up Christ’s kingdom in ways married people can’t. There is a pragmatic level I think most can agree on: since single people don’t have kids to raise, they generally have more free time. However, I have a sense of a deeper spiritual significance. Unfortunately, I can’t concisely and clearly indicate what this is. I hope that some reflection on this, either inside the synod or outside of it, can help us all express the significance better.

The ones who’ve gotten the most press regarding this reflection are those with same-sex-attraction, but I think it also applies to many others. For example, someone might dedicate themselves so fully to a cause – anything from the pro-life movement to extending our knowledge in some scientific field – that they don’t have much time to date. Another might simply have bad luck in trying to find the right person. Spiritual Friendship has started to pursue this reflection, at least for those with same-sex-attraction, although I’m not sure of every reflection they make. Reflecting more on non-consecrated singleness will help these people be stronger members of the Church.

Supporting Francis’s initiative to improve the marriage annulment process

Last month, Pope Francis published some norms to simplify the annulment process. I hope these changes help people in this difficult situation and that the synod fathers concur. The rules put forward by Pope Francis might have seemed technical but some of them will have positive impact quite quickly. For example, a friend was telling me about someone who has been waiting 11 years for an annulment because their ex-spouse lives in Russia and the Russian tribunal won’t act. With the new norms, the tribunal here can act without the Russian tribunal because one of the parties currently lives here (before these norms, a tribunal would need to certify other tribunals that could have jurisdiction didn’t want the case before proceeding).

I think we can point to some positive points of the annulment process. For example, John W. Miller wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The annulment … involves facing what happened, not denying it, and the process includes helping you avoid failing relationship patterns in the future… In my entire experience of getting divorced, the church dissolution was the only time someone asked me that raw and caring question: What really happened?” For him, the annulment process helped resolve issues from his marriage and divorce.

Support faith-filled families

Cardinal Dolan blogged about the need for us to support “those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity.” He also referred to those who give up careers to take care of their kids. These families may not be perfect but represent the ideal we hope that other families strive for. If we want to strengthen families, we need to support these families. At times we can fall into the danger of reaching out to each marginalized group that we forget those in the center. Once we support these families we can often use them as an example for other families that the ideal is possible.

Centering on such families helps us also show that divorce can be avoided and having more than two kids doesn’t make you certifiably crazy. Without witnesses to the Church’s teaching on marriage, few people today will accept that teaching.

Explain the value of commitment to young people

Today, the percentage of young people getting married is dropping more and more. Our culture has stopped valuing commitment at all. This can also be seen from a drop in religious life and commitment to the priesthood. I think it would be great to reflect on the value of committing your life to another: whether that other is another person or God himself. Hopefully the synod can help us get away from a temporary culture.

Lack of commitment destroys the family. A family is made by a stable couple that is  fully committing to each other in marriage. Even long-term cohabitation is not stable because at any moment, either one can leave.

The questions dealt with here will be almost prerequisite questions: Why commit? What value does commitment add? Can commitment last a lifetime? Why commit to another person or to God in a vocation? In the past, these questions were presupposed, but they are often not today. The younger generation has certain values it can teach us but it struggles in this area.

Conclusion

This list is obviously not exhaustive. To a certain extent I’ve presented areas I know we can reflect on and improve without certainty on the best route for improvement. I felt that the proposals getting most media airtime either change doctrine or dangerously bordered on doing so. Instead these are five areas that the Church has a general teaching on, but where there is still a large area open for further reflection. All of these improvements begin in reflection and theory but have a concrete and practical application to help the family or those around the family (such as single people). Whether the synod talks about these or not, each of us can reflect on them more deeply and hopefully improve the Church’s pastoral practice.”

Love,
Matthew

Obedience & Informed Conscience

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Rev. Thomas Petri, OP
Vice President and Academic Dean
Instructor of Moral Theology and Pastoral Studies
Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception
Dominican House of Studies, Wash, DC

from Interfaith Voices, 2/12/15

Listen here:

Moderator:   

“One of the oldest spiritual struggles experienced by serious Catholics is the struggle between following Church teaching and following one’s conscience when they’re in conflict. Earlier, we heard from Father Tony Flannery, an Irish priest who was recently silenced by the Vatican for openly questioning Church teachings on the origins of the priesthood, women’s ordination and homosexuality. The Irish hierarchy said he had broken his vow of obedience, but Father Flannery believed he had to follow a higher authority, his conscience.

For another view, we turned to another priest named Father Thomas Petri, OP. He’s an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. When we presented him with Father Flannery’s dilemma, he had a very different answer.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, to put it very succinctly, priests take a vow of obedience or make a promise of obedience because they’re public representatives of the Church. They’re public persons. So when a man is ordained, he can no longer claim to be a private person. He may still have elements of his life that the faithful don’t see, but he still is in some ways representing the Church publicly.

So the vow of obedience and the promise of obedience to say Church teachings or to what the Church believes and teaches, helps him to live that way and to authentically then witness to what the Church puts forth as the Gospel and teaching of Jesus Christ.”

Moderator: 

“So if you were Tony Flannery and you disagreed on some of the things that he does, what would you do?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t broadcast it to begin with. I wouldn’t broadcast it. I would take it to prayer. I would take it to spiritual direction. I would take it to my superiors. I would want to study it. I know a very prominent, for example, sister who is now on the International Theological Commission who was once in favor of women’s ordination. She studied herself out of that position. She was, for the longest time, one of the few nuns in America who had a PhD in theology in the late 70s and early 80s, because her mind was open to looking this up and trying to figure out why the Church teaches what it does. That’s what I hope I would do if I ever were to come across this bridge.”

Moderator:

“And of course I don’t know who that nun is but I know an awful lot of people who work on that issue. I don’t know anybody that’s argued themselves out of it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, Sister Sarah Butler would be the one you’d want to look up.”

Moderator: 

“Yes, okay. That’s a name that I’ve heard, I must admit. Now, as we mentioned in the introduction, there are many Catholics over many centuries who have come into conflict between this idea of obedience and the idea of conscience. The conscience tells them something other than what the Church teaching is. So how do they relate to each other in Catholic teaching? What’s the official word on that?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, when we talk about conscience, so often it’s used as a substitute for personal opinion. It’s my personal opinion that this is true or that is true. So we have to mean something different about the word conscience than we do personal opinion, and the Church’s position, down through the century, has always been faithful living in conscience, that their conscience is formed by living the life of the faith, living life with Jesus Christ. Living life in worship of God day in and day out, Sunday after Sunday, going to Mass, preaching, studying the word, being docile to what the saints and the fathers have said, that this forms their conscience.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about conscience in a certain sense. When we talk about a priest’s obedience and his relationship to conscience, well, we’re talking about a priest who in good conscience made a public commitment to the Church and to be faithful to the Church. And certainly there can be times in a priest’s life when those do come into conflict in his own existential experience, his own living the life. Absolutely. But how do you handle that, that’s a different question.”

Moderator:

“And Father Tony Flannery did what – certainly he’s not the first, he went public –”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Sure.”

Moderator:                  “– with some of the struggles that he was having with various teachings of the Church, but a Catholic I believe is supposed to have something called an informed conscience, what does that mean?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, it means just those things I was talking about. To have an informed conscience is simply to not walk around blindly. Well, whatever I think is right that must be right. That’s not an informed conscience. It doesn’t mean not questioning, it doesn’t mean being a robot and just taking everything in blindly and without question, but it does mean giving the Church the benefit of the doubt and allowing it to sink in so that it informs my life.”

Moderator:                  “So Church teaching and someone’s conscience might not always coincide or else conscience would be totally redundant, wouldn’t it?”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Well, that’s right. Also, a person’s conscience cannot simply be the blind guide either because culture –”

Moderator:                  “No, no, I’m talking about an informed conscience, somebody who knows what the Church teaches, has reflected on it, maybe prayed about it, all that sort of stuff. I know plenty of people who have done that and still have conflicts.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, still have conflicts. So the question would be when you have a conflict, how are you going about living your life within that conflict? Right. And the Church’s traditional teaching has always been that Catholics who have difficulty in conscience should be docile to the wisdom of the centuries and the wisdom of the Church, of the wisdom of the Church, and then to try to work through their difficulties with their pastors, with the Saints, with the (writings of the historical) Fathers of the Church.”

Moderator:      

“Let me quote you something from the official teaching of the Church. This is from the document on religious liberty at the Second Vatican Council and we all know that official councils of the Church are the highest teaching authority. It says, and I’m quoting, “The individual must not be forced to act against conscience nor be prevented from acting according to conscience, especially in religious matters.” And in another place, it says, “It is therefore fully in accordance with the nature of faith that in religious matters that every form of human coercion should be excluded.” So it seems to me that be excluded.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Absolutely.”

Moderator:                  “So it seems to me that what I always learned as the primacy of conscience, is in fact primary if a person is informed and has reflected on it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, I guess it goes to what we mean by informed here but I would say that the document, the Vatican II document on religious liberty is primary concerned with forcing conversions which you know in the Catholic tradition, as in other traditions, that was a sad part of our history. What we’re talking about is Catholics who are baptized and baptized into the faith of the Catholic Church and presumably baptized and have at some point in their life accepted the Catholic Church as the granter of truth as revealed by Jesus Christ.

Then having a difficulty or some sort of conflict and then following that, publically dissenting from the Catholic Church and what the Catholic Church teaches as you say. That’s a completely different question than coercion. Because then the question is, is this baptized person, has this baptized person really embraced and fully lived the teaching of Jesus Christ as it is communicated to us by the Church?”

Moderator:   

“I’m thinking in terms of Father Tony Flannery’s case, and he’s not alone on this. There are certainly a number of people in recent Church history who when they have expressed a view that is not a 100 percent in accord with the Church’s teaching, get faced with sign this statement of orthodoxy which is a direct opposition to what they believe.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “In conscience.”

Moderator:                  “Right. Or keep quiet and don’t say anything more about it. And it would be against their conscience to sign a statement that they don’t agree with. They would be lying essentially.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Right. So what I would want to go back to on that is my initial point that a priest is a public person. He is a public representative of the Church and I think any corporation. Even if we just take it away from the spiritual and bring it to the secular, any corporation, if you have a CEO of the corporation and saying no, you should be Microsoft and not Apple, can I say that on – we’re not getting paid for these endorsements, but you should buy Microsoft and not Apple, but I work for Apple. That’s a real problem for the corporation.

The same is true for the Church. If you have a priest who has been ordained to be faithful and has made a public commitment of fidelity, he’s given the oath of fidelity; he now then goes out as a priest that others can look at as a representative of the Church. He goes out and says things that are directly contrary because he’s having his own personal crisis or conflict. He in fact is leading people away from the Church.”

Moderator:

“But what would you say to a priest who makes a statement like that out of the deep concern for the Church because he’s out there with the faithful – this particular priest gave retreats and so forth all over the country of Ireland. So he knew a lot of people who were in conflict with the teaching of the Church. He was deeply concerned about the future of the Church and it’s direction. So he wasn’t trying to be obtuse. He was expressing this out of love for the Church. Most people that have been in this situation, that I know, did it for the same motive.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“And I would not disagree with that. I think most people do this out of good intentions and good faith, but when a priest then sets himself up in opposition to the Church, he is claiming for himself a personal authority that he really doesn’t have. He has as an individual but he no longer speaks for the Church. You see? So when the Church says – when the congregation for the doctrine of faith says to Father Flannery, you cannot present yourself publicly as a priest, well, it’s because he really no longer has been. It’s an after the fact sort of thing.”

Moderator:

“Well, most of the priests that I’ve known that have expressed some dissenting view publicly have made it clear that the official teaching is this but these are the questions that I have and I’m concerned about the future of the Church whether it should let’s use some concrete examples. Whether ordained women or treat lesbian and gay people differently or whatever it is that they’re concerned about, it’s because they detect that there is a need for a more loving Church and they’re representing that Church. At least that’s how I’ve heard it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Sure. And I would want to dispute the idea that the Church is not loving because it holds to what it believes to be the revealed word of Jesus Christ. So I would want to dispute that. But I would say that there is one thing for a priest to say. ‘Well, here’s what the Church has traditionally taught. I don’t quite understand it. I’m not sure I agree with it.’ There is quite another thing for a priest to publicly say the Church is wrong.”

Moderator:

“How in the world then does change take place in the Church? If you can’t have open discussion, and may I say Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family, invited all those present to say what they think, even if they thought he didn’t agree with them.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Right. That’s right. Look, there’s some things that simply cannot change. Some things that simply cannot change in the Church, and I realize that’s an unpopular position in today’s culture where we vote in and out politicians and people sometimes think well, the new pope is going to come in, he’s going to change this or – the pope does not have authority, nor do the bishops nor does the magisterium of the Church to change anything that has already been determined to have been revealed by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Other areas, there can be development but nothing that contradicts what Christ Himself has done and said.”

Moderator:

“But you know and I know that there are Church teachings, and I suppose we could dispute about whether they go back to the apostles or not, but there are Church teachings on issues which were considered very sacred at one time which have changed. The position on usury. Charging interest on lending for example. Position on evolution. The ways in which it’s acceptable to interpret scripture; we used to do it literally. We no longer do it that way. Those are significant things which have changed over time.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Yeah, I’m not sure – I mean, they might be perceived as significant, but we never declared those to be divinely revealed, any of those teachings. They would’ve been sort of lower level outgrowths of what we do know to be divinely revealed and what we believe to be divinely revealed. That’s really what I want to say to that. Not all teachings have the same weight. Not all the teachings have the same levels of fidelity and obedience that are required.”

Moderator:

“But where conscience comes up today as we all know has a lot to do with issues of sexuality, and one of the most common – and if you read the polls, widely common, has to do with married couples and contraception. I’m sure you’ve known, too, and I certainly have, plenty of married couples who are much aware that the official teaching of the Church is opposed to the use of artificial contraception.

So they know what the Church teaches, they’re informed, but they don’t believe for reasons of health or finances or whatever, that they can risk having more children. And natural family planning doesn’t work for them let’s say. It doesn’t work for a number of people. So they use it in good conscience. And if you read the polls, it’s about a vast majority.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Oh, it’s pretty high. I can see that.”

Moderator:                  “It’s a vast majority of Catholics. And plenty of priests assure them, at least privately, that this is okay. So how does that fit?”

Father Thomas Petri:  Well, I would say a couple of things about that. First of all, it goes back to what we were talking about, what constitutes a formed conscience? For a person to simply know that the Church teaches that you shouldn’t do it, that’s not really a formed conscience. That’s just knowledge. That’s just information. To have a formed conscience is to live day in and day out the life of the faith, the life of the Church.”

Moderator:                  “And a number of these people do. They’re regular communicants.”

Father Thomas Petri:             “Well, certainly they do but have they ever been exposed to a real rationale, like the real reasons why the Church teaches this? And I think you would agree with me, how many priests talk about this? A few. Very few.”

Moderator:                  “Almost none.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Exactly. Have they ever been exposed to a dynamic priest who can explain why this is better than the other way? Have they been exposed to John Paul’s theology of the body for example which is what he was trying to do with that, trying to get people to see this is actually the more beautiful way to live. What you just said a minute ago. Just because they know the Church teaches against it, doesn’t seem to meet or constitute a formed conscience. How have they lived? Have they ever really studied it? Have they ever really tried to understand why the Church would say that? Most of them – they just know – well, I know the Church teaches against this but we do it anyway.”

Moderator:  

“Now, when I talked to Father Flannery, one of his main complaints was not that the Vatican said that his views were incorrect, but how they dealt with him. For example, his views had been public in Ireland for some time before they censured him. But they didn’t dialogue with him. They didn’t invite him to dialogue. They didn’t respond to him when he said he wanted to dialogue. They simply demanded that he sign this statement of orthodoxy and be silent. They never dealt with him face-to-face. So it raises the question, is this the way to deal with a man whose been a priest for 40 years?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Sure. We have one side of the story; I don’t know the other side of the story. Sometimes there is dialogue and I trust what Father Flannery has said, that that’s his experience, and all I can say is if true, that’s how he experienced it, I think anybody would say that that’s not the appropriate way to deal with a priest or to deal with these issues. Now, from my own perspective, I do know theologians and priests who have gotten into this sort of conundrum with the Holy See and that wasn’t their experience at all. It was completely different.”

Moderator:

“It seems to me that there is however a huge disconnect between what the Church teaches, particularly on issues of sexuality, and what the laity actually do. All you’ve got to do is look at the polls to see that in both North America and Western Europe. So are, “Disobedient” priest like Tony Flannery a symptom of that or is he some kind of a wakeup call that maybe the hierarchy should pay more attention?”

Father Thomas Petri:

“No, I don’t think he’s a wake-up call because you refer to the polls and polling Catholics, there are a number of Catholics who are nominal Catholics. They self-identify as a Catholic but they’re not necessarily living the life of the Church. They’re not going to Mass but maybe twice a year, they’re not soaking in the preaching, they may not even have good preaching depending on who their pastor or priest is. But they don’t necessarily typify what we would call a true, dedicated, faithful Catholic. They may be baptized, they may be struggling, they may trying to live the faith as best they can but if they’re not engaging these issues from the life of faith, they’re not engaging them at all as far as we’re concerned.”

Moderator:                  “Thank you so much for joining us today.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Thank you, Maryanne.”

Moderator:                  “Father Thomas Petri is an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. where he also serves as an academic dean and vice president.”

“Truth is not determined by a majority.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Love,
Matthew

Obedience

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In the Dominican tradition, even though voluntarily wishing to live the evangelical vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, only one vow is taken. You guessed it, obedience. The one I struggle with most.

Three months before my temporary vows of three years, it was as if God had spoken directly to me. It wasn’t a decision I reasoned into myself. I don’t know how better to describe it than that. Holy Thursday night I went to bed. Good Friday morning I woke up with perhaps the strongest conviction I may have ever had to date. I must go.   Spooky.

Lying prostrate on the floor of the Church before the altar, and then kneeling before the superior, my hands in his, saying “I, Brother Matthew Paul (I would have liked this, the same as my baptismal name because St Dominic carried two texts. You guessed it, the Gospel of Matthew and the letters of St Paul with him at all times; the only two. Choosing a religious name is no longer strictly your novice master’s decision. Supposedly, the candidate submits three suggestions and the novice master and the novice “discern” together. I don’t know how this really works in practice. Never made it that far.)…make profession and promise obedience (facio professionem & promitto obedientiam) to God and to Blessed Mary and Blessed Dominic and to you (Name), (Title), and to (Name), the Master General of the Order of Friar Preachers, and your successors, according to the Rule of Blessed Augustine and the Institutions of the Friars Preachers, that I will be obedient (ero obediens) to you and to your successors until (temp = time period, perpetual = “unto death/usque ad mortem”). (nb Phil 2:8)


-by Br John Sica, OP

“Riding the metro this summer, I saw some young men with t-shirts that proclaim: “Obey.” Presumably (and here I speculate), it’s a sarcastic jab at supposedly traditional and conservative values, a statement just as likely to come from someone who would proclaim, “question authority!”

This leads me to wonder: what do these young men think when they pass someone– like myself– in garb which symbolizes a very traditional kind of obedience? As all the world knows, we practice a very particular kind of authority to a very crusty, old institution. “I, Brother John, make profession and promise obedience…”

Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) recently inquired about women’s attitudes on joining religious life. One of the personal comments exemplifies an attitude which, I think, sums up this negative view of obedience. When a woman was asked why she was not interested in being a sister, she replied, “I’m not willing to be totally submissive to the rules and obligations of the order’s leader.” Now, there’s an objection! Perhaps this could be the heart of their possible objection. Obedience, described as a repression of individuality and abandonment of responsibility, hardly seems virtuous.

The Scriptures, though, speak of obedience and disobedience in the context of the fall of man. Our first parents, in an act of disobedience, tried to seize what was proper to God. The Catechism summarizes and explains the Church’s teaching on the fall:

“He [i.e., Adam] chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to ‘be like God,’ but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.’ (CCC 398)”

From the beginning God destined man to share in the gift of divine life, to be “divinized.” The fault of our first parents lies not in wanting the fullness of life and goodness, but in wanting it apart from God — a metaphysical and moral absurdity. God, although all-powerful, cannot make a creature that is not totally and utterly dependent on Him.

It is ironic: seeking the fullness of life apart from God, they grasped as fruit only death. St. Paul, that inspired interpreter of salvation history, sums up the fall of Adam and Christ’s redemption in this way: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). And he offers us a corresponding irony: Christ, submitting Himself obediently to death (cf. Phil 2:8), won life and salvation for all men.

I suspect that many resent obedience because they see it as a restriction of what is good in life. There is a sense in which the initial objection is true: there is a necessity of true death to self in order to live to Christ. This is why Christ says, “enter by the narrow gate… for the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14). But for those who do enter by the narrow gate, Christ also tells us that “if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” where we will “have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10: 9-10). Our obedience takes the pattern of Christ’s, which bears fruit only in death and leads to true freedom in eternal life, for “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

Solemn vows

-Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC, solemn vows

Love,
Matthew

Blind obedience – inconsistent with virtue

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“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you.” -Mt 21:28-31

-by Philip C. L. Gray, JCL
http://www.catholiccanonlaw.com/Blind%20Obedience.pdf

“Many people believe that true obedience is blind. That is, they believe if a person in authority makes a decision or gives a command, that decision or command should be followed without question simply because a person in authority gave it. Within the Catholic Church, many laity believe that whatever a priest or bishop says should be followed without question.

While there are limited circumstances and situations in which a person would be obligated to follow by trusting only in the source of the directive, authentic obedience is never blind. As a virtue related to justice, the exercise of obedience requires the use of prudence and knowledge of rights and obligations. Without such knowledge, a person risks acting in a manner inconsistent with virtue.

Human Act

The exercise of virtue is a human act. According to principles of Moral Theology, for an act to be considered “human” three elements must exist.

  • The person must have adequate knowledge of the situation, the options available, and the consequences of each option of acting.
  • Second, the person must be free to choose.
  • Finally, the person must intend to perform the act with its consequences; that is, he must actually exercise his knowledge and freedom within his choice of action.

While other outcomes often inevitably arise, the morality of the act and merit gained hinges on the intention, even if circumstances hinder the intended outcome from happening.

As a human act, all virtues require adequate knowledge, freedom, and intention. If one or more of these elements are missing, good effects may come about because of a particular action but virtue was not expressed.

Virtue

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good and avoid evil (Catechism, 1803). As a habit, a person must consistently practice a particular manner of acting before it becomes a virtue. However, virtues are more than just habits. Habits are related primarily to functions of the body, and frequently arise quickly due to feelings of pleasure or avoidance of pain. In contrast, virtues are habitual dispositions.

As a disposition, they primarily arise through the use of those qualities associated with our spiritual nature, namely free will, knowledge and intention. By right use of these qualities we develop virtues in our lives. As a disposition to do the good and avoid evil, a virtue runs contrary to our sinful nature.

To exercise virtue, we must have adequate knowledge of God’s law and the situation at hand, the freedom to choose a path, and the right intention to follow God’s law in our decision. With consistent use of our intellect and free will to choose the right course of acting, we become inclined to act a certain way that is good. We identify this inclination to act in accordance with the good is known as “virtue”. Through the practice of virtue, we overcome sin in our lives and tend toward God.

Following classical moral theology, John Paul II describes virtue as in terms of integration of the whole person. We all have certain urges and inclinations associated with our bodies and our passions. If we recklessly follow these urges, we may or may not do good things. But we can be certain not to develop virtue. Rather, we would live like higher forms of animal life that allow their urges to dictate their actions. If we integrate the urge with proper knowledge of God’s law, and make a choice in conformity with His law, then we use our whole being to act and develop an inclination of placing God above ourselves (Cf.: John Paul II, Love and Responsibility).

Obedience is a Virtue

As a virtue, obedience belongs to the Cardinal Virtue of Justice. “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor….The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor” (Catechism, 1807). As understood by the Church, the exercise of Justice presupposes adequate knowledge of the rights of others. That’s what it means to give a person their due, we respect their rights. We cannot respect them if we do not know them. If we give them more or less than their due, we no longer act in justice.

The Church recognizes that those in authority have certain rights that their subjects must respect. The highest authority is God, and His Divine Law must be followed without question. All other rights, obligations, and laws remain subject to His Law. When faced with a conflict between obeying a higher and a lower law, we must obey the higher lest we sin. When we respect the rights of those in authority, we exercise obedience. Thus, obedience is the virtue associated with justice through which we give those in authority their rightful due, but their rightful due is never in violation of Divine Law.

Obedience and the Integration of the Person

To exercise the virtue of obedience, a person must properly integrate the three elements of a human act with a particular directive from one in authority. How does this work?

No human person has unlimited authority. Rather, all authority comes from God and must be exercised in a way that reflects His Divine Laws (Jn. 19:11). Thus, the first limit of authority is the limit of Divine Law. Whatever God has ordained must be followed, it cannot be changed. Not even a priest, bishop, or the Pope himself can change the directives of God.

Rather, the Magisterium is entrusted with the task of guarding the Deposit of Faith, not changing it (Cf.: 2 Tim. 1:14). This divine limit of authority operates in two ways. First, there exists Divine Laws that determine particular kinds of authority. Second, Divine Law sets the boundary of authority. It does this by establishing certain rights of individuals that cannot be denied by anyone. For example, parents have authority over their children by Divine Law, but parents cannot force an adult child to choose a particular vocation. Rather, the child has by Divine Law the freedom to choose its vocation, and no one can usurp that right.

One of the greatest rights enjoyed by all men that not even God violates is the right to freely choose. This freedom to choose presupposes knowledge of options and intention. Only when this freedom is allowed can true virtue develop. Only when a person freely chooses to act in conformity with a legitimate directive is obedience exercised.

Directives that violate Divine Law must be ignored, and in many circumstances we have an obligation to resist them actively. For this reason, men and women in China have an obligation to protect the lives of their unborn babies from forced abortion and resist the laws that mandate sterilization, contraceptives, and abortion.

The second limit of authority is the limit of Human Law. Human laws include ecclesiastical laws and secular laws. They have the primary goal of expressing God’s laws in concrete circumstances within a particular culture or society. To the extent human laws reflect Divine Law, they protect the Common Good and must be followed. To the extent they violate Divine Law and harm the Common Good, they must be ignored and possibly resisted. As in the case of forced sterilization and abortion in China, the laws mandating this are human laws that violate Divine Law rights and obligations. We must pray for all those in authority, even civil leaders, that their authority would be directed to the common good and the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Frequently, human laws provide boundaries for the exercise of authority. These boundaries must be consistent with Divine Laws or they are not legitimate. If someone acts outside the legitimate bounds of their authority, they do not have to be obeyed. Remember, outside the boundaries of their legitimate authority, those in authority do not have power over us. Rather, they become our peers.

While a policeman has authority to pull someone over for speeding, he cannot force a person to buy a particular kind of car that won’t allow the person to speed. He can only suggest a kind of car to buy, and his suggestion can be taken by the person as the suggestion of a peer.

Thus, to develop the virtue of obedience, we must develop an adequate knowledge of Divine Laws and those Human Laws that regulate our lives. We have to know the limits of authority. If we do not know the limits of authority, we can be easily manipulated or used by lawful authority. If we freely follow a directive outside the bounds of legitimate authority, we are not acting in obedience (giving the authority its due). Rather, we are making a choice to agree over a course of action.

In a particular situation, we must have adequate knowledge of options and consequences. Lawful authority has an obligation to provide such information. If the authority does not provide it freely, the person has an obligation to seek it. Only with adequate knowledge can a person know what their rightful obligations are in a particular matter.

For an act of obedience to take place, the person must be free to choose the act demanded by authority. If the person is not free, he is being forced, and obedience is not an option. Obedience is always free, and freedom presupposes adequate knowledge.

Finally, a person must intend to obey or he does not obey. By intention, the person freely chooses the required act with adequate knowledge. This intention to fulfill an obligation to authority is critical, or obedience does not occur. It is not necessary for a person to agree with a directive, but only intend to follow it after having sufficient knowledge and freedom to choose. While other intentions may also direct the act at the same time (intention to satisfy an urge), there must be an intention to obey for obedience to be exercised.

Blind Obedience

There are some people who trust lawful authority to direct them without fail. When faced with a directive, they neither seek to know options and consequences nor deliberate their choices. They simply trust that lawful authority will stay within the bounds of its power. This attitude is not true obedience nor is it virtuous.

Because of the freedom we share in Christ, we have an obligation to know the legitimate boundaries of lawful authority in our lives. We have an obligation to know the Divine Laws and what our obligations to God are. Only with knowledge of Divine Laws and the legitimate boundaries of lawful authority can we obey. Without such knowledge, we fall prey to manipulation, coercion, or simply conformity to peers.

Likewise, lawful authority has an obligation to prove their position and to remain within the lawful bounds of their power. If one in authority does not do this, he violates the natural rights of his subjects. To paraphrase a Principle of Law identified by Pope Boniface VIII, one with authority must prove his authority.  He cannot simply claim it. Generally speaking, in the Church such proof usually comes from legitimate appointment or election. We are not bound to obey someone who cannot prove his authority.

Only when lawful authority stays within the bounds of its power do we have to obey. However, such obedience is not blind. Rather, the person who obeys recognizes that the directive given is within the bounds of the authority held, knows that it is not contrary to higher obligations, and freely chooses to follow it for the sake of giving authority its due. Moreover, when options are available, the person must be free to choose between options.”

Love,
Matthew