Tina Mayeux examines the virtue of obedience, which has, at times, been neglected – in the Church and in marriage and the family.
In a world saturated with noise, each voice clamoring desperately for our attention, it is necessary for us as Christians to withdraw at times in prayer to dispose ourselves to hear the one voice that truly and utterly matters – that is, the Voice of God. It is in these times of silence and communion with the Lord that we hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us about the things we may have missed in the busyness and distraction of our daily activities.
Having recently withdrawn from much of my social media interaction, it has been easier to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit and to hear His voice in my heart. Through this retreat, along with experiences with my teenaged children, I am rediscovering my own need for a lost virtue that, I believe, needs to be recovered and reintroduced in our 21st-century culture. This virtue is something that many may believe is old-fashioned and outdated; however, I believe that for those who see its value, a hidden treasure lies within the practice of this forgotten virtue. This virtue is obedience, and the secret treasure it contains is the peace of God.
Today, it seems that our culture celebrates vice and rebellion, and disparages truth and virtue, causing confusion and leading souls, especially the souls of the young, astray. Our culture’s values have become topsy-turvy, causing discord and sin. Much of this chaos and disorder, I believe, comes from society’s lack of obedience and deference to legitimate authority, especially in marriage and family and to the authority of the Church. Although we are not called to obey laws that are contrary to God’s law, we are required to submit to the just authority of those who govern us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that obedience is, in fact, an obligation, as it states,
The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will. (1900)
Not only are we to obey proper authority, but we are also to submit cheerfully and willingly, and not grudgingly. Rather than seeing obedience as a burden or a limitation, we should recognize that in faithful obedience is found freedom. When we remain in obedience to lawful and just authority over us, this should lead us to a sense of freedom and peace. At times this may be difficult and require some sacrifice; however, when we deny our own will and sacrifice for the good of others, we also experience the grace and peace of acting in Christian charity.
Obedience to the Church
For any institution to function properly, there must exist a structure or hierarchy within it, containing a system of governance. When Jesus commissioned Peter to be the head of His Church, He established the papacy and began the succession of the popes which continues to this day. As Catholics, it is important for us to recognize the Church’s authority and to humbly practice our Faith in obedience to her teachings. In doing so, we are assured the peace and confidence that we are following the right path, and we also set an example for others who may not understand or agree with the virtue of obedience to this higher authority.
Obedience in Marriage
Obedience and mutual submission in marriage is a concept that many have forgotten or have become averse to. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians beautifully instructs us on the importance of loving deference to one another in marriage in his letter to the Ephesians.
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:21-24)
Husbands are not excluded from the instructions given by St. Paul. He continues, encouraging husbands,
Love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
In other words, husbands are to love their wives and sacrifice for them, even to death, as Jesus did. These words of guidance are given in order to help us to fulfill the purposes of marriage, which are, according to St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio, to achieve holiness, to give worship, and to build up the Body of Christ.
Obedience in the Family
There is a crisis in obedience of young people to their parents and authority figures over them. The disorder that can be observed within families is, in part, due to a lack of respect and deference to authority by children. Parenting teenagers in this day and age is challenging because our culture stresses autonomy at all costs and no longer nurtures or encourages virtues such as obedience. In Scripture, young people are instructed in this manner,
Children, obey your parents [in the Lord], for this is right. Honor your father and mother. (Ephesians 6: 1-2)
As a child, Jesus, who was God incarnate, remained obedient to His earthly Mother and father, demonstrating the respect that children should show to their parents to maintain peace and order within the family.
Our Lady’s Obedience
Of course, we look to Our Lady as the primary and perfect example of obedience. She responded to the Angel Gabriel’s joyful news with complete and immediate obedience. In her “fiat,” she accepted the will of God humbly and courageously. We can call on her help if we are unsure or struggling with the virtue of obedience, and she will assist us in understanding and acquiring this virtue.
The Example of Abraham
I am always amazed at the absolute faith and obedience of Abraham in the Old Testament, as he offered his only son Isaac to be sacrificed at God’s command. He was willing to give up even that which was most dear to his heart in order to obey what God was telling him to do. The story of Abraham’s sacrifice can be an inspiration and strength for us to look to in our own struggles with faith and obedience. Like Mary, he is a tremendous example of trusting God when we are tested and of following Him, even when it seems difficult or nearly impossible.
In a society characterized by willfulness and independence, the world may question or ridicule our pursuit of the virtue of obedience; however, I believe that through practicing this virtue we can more perfectly attain our sanctification. In examining our consciences, what are the areas in our lives where we may be lacking in the virtue of obedience, and how can we work to become more obedient to those who are in authority over us?