Some notes on obedience

7 03 2009


Further reflections for Jonathan Prejean

One of the problems with obedience is that, like other virtues with a basis in the religious life, it is practiced in various ways according to one’s station in life. For example, the most compelling obedience for a layman is the one due to his family, and only then does the hierarchical Church factor in when we speak of obedience to an instution. Your local bishop, for example, could not put you under obedience to serve Mass at five in the morning if you have to get up to go to work at 5:30. On the other hand, there are cases in the Apothegmata Patrum (that veritable encyclopedia of human nature colliding with God’s grace) where extreme obedience is shown by monks that is beyond even the realm of common sense. There is one case when a man entered a monastery with his young son in tow who was a veritable terror. While still a novice and under obedience to his brother monks, he had to take care of his son who had also become a novice due to circumstances. One day, his son was acting up, and an elder out of sheer frustration told the monk to take the whining child and throw him into the nearby river. The novice was about to do what he was told when all the other monks pounced on him to make sure that he didn’t complete his obedience. And of course, there were the cases of monks having to water sticks in the desert for five years, or of Blessed Junipero Serra ordering his subordinates to eat a whole chicken, feathers and all. While we can marvel at God being wonderful in his saints, such examples have a quality of “don’t try this at home” when read by 99% of people.
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