Monastic Obedience

Today we read just a single verse of the Rule of St Benedict, RB 7.34:

The third step of humility is, for the love of God, to submit to one’s superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord of whom the apostle says, ‘He became obedient unto death.’ (The scriptural reference is to Philippians 2.8)

The lay reader often passes over this with a vague sense that it is all right for monks and nuns but hardly applicable to life in general. Those who have tried to make sense of it in a lay context generally end up talking about the mutual obedience of marriage or the multiple levels of authority and obedience in the workplace. All well and good, but I think we touch here one of the reasons why I am hesitant about some aspects of ‘lay monasticism’, as it is sometimes called, because it does not have, cannot have, the same radical obedience at its heart.

For a Benedictine, obedience is of value insofar as, and in the measure that, it incorporates us into Christ. We obey ‘for the love of God’, ‘imitating the Lord’, and the obedience we give allows of no reservation, no holding back: ‘in ALL obedience’ means exactly what it appears to mean. Only sin is excepted (which includes folly, as my Junior Mistress pertinently remarked). The obedience, moreover, is given to a fallible human being, not to some saint or sage (unless one happens to live under a saint or a sage). It is incarnated and worked out in the dailiness of our lives.

We none of us know what will be asked of us when we vow this obedience, but it is there, shaping every moment of every day from our first entry into monastic life until the hour of our death. We surrender our freedom in order to attain a greater freedom in Christ. This paradox of monastic obedience is not easily explained. It has to be lived as one of those ‘small fidelities’ I alluded to in an earlier post. That is why our old monks and nuns are so precious. They show us what a lifetime of obedience can achieve: the formation of Christ in them, their hope of glory.


4 thoughts on “Monastic Obedience”

  1. In a lay context I have considered the idea of obedience as a total giving of one’s will to the Word of God, and to the direction of the Magesterium. Easier said than done (even to know what this would demand of one). Abstract ideas are far from actual and perpetual practice of obedience to a superior. How interesting must be the gradual shaping of the inner self over long time by the practices of silence, humility, obedience… What an interesting inward journey to give up one’s own will to such degree. I pray the Holy Spirit guide you and keep on your journey.

  2. Every day, when I click on the Facebook link, I get a warning that this site may not be safe – does everybody get this or am I doing something wrong? I tell it to ignore the warning but next day it is back!

    • I had that warning for the first time today. The warning seems to be linked with getting some sort of security package. I clicked “ignore” as I’m not worried about catching anything from this site.

  3. Concerning the security of this site: some users are reporting a McAfee warning when clicking through from Facebook. That is almost certainly a marketing ploy I am powerless to prevent. I regularly monitor this site and all our others for malware, hacking, etc.

    The other possibility is that some malicious person/ someone who thinks it a huge joke has flagged up this site as containing ‘harmful content’. I will look into it. Unfortunately, it will take time, which I am rather short of just now.

    For the time being, I suggest you use commonsense. If doubtful about the Facebook links, you could bookmark this site instead and take a look whenever you feel like doing so? Alternatively, click on the RSS Feed and have the content delivered to you automatically in a RSS reader.

    Thank you for alerting me to the problem.

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