Vatican speaks on “difficult obedience”

June 2, 2008

The Holy See Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has published a new instruction on authority and obedience for religious men and women.

The new instruction entitled, ‘The Service of Authority and Obedience’ examines the theme of religious obedience, “the root of which is seen in that search for God and for His will which is particular to believer,” according to a media release from the Congregation, Spero News reports.

“Christian and religious obedience does not, then, appear simply as the implementation of ecclesiastical or religious laws and rulings, but as the momentum of a journey in search of God which involves listening to His Word and becoming aware of His design of love – the fundamental experience of Christ Who, out of love, was obedient unto His death on the cross.”

“Authority in religious life,” the communiqué added, “must be understood in this light, in other words, as a way to help the community (or institute) to seek and achieve the will of God. Obedience, then, is not justified on the basis of religious authority, because everyone in a religious community (first and foremost the authorities themselves) are called to obedience. Authority places itself at the service on the community so that God’s will may be sought and achieved together.”

The instruction also considers “the delicate matter of ‘difficult obedience’, that in which what is requested of the religious is particularly hard to carry out, or in which the subject feels he sees ‘things which are better and more useful for his soul than those which the superior orders him to do’.”

The instruction seeks to recall that obedience in religious life can give rise to situations of suffering in which it is necessary to refer back to the Obedient One par excellence, Christ.

“It must, moreover, be borne in mind that authority too can be ‘difficult’, experiencing moments of discouragement and fatigue which can lead to resignation or inattention in exercising an appropriate guidance of the community.”

The document also offers a vast and coherent set of guidelines for the exercise of authority, such as inviting people to listen, favouring dialogue, sharing, co-responsibility, and the merciful treatment of the people entrusted to authority, the communiqué said.


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