13. Obedience in Practice
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By the vow of obedience, each brother gives his complete allegiance to the community by accepting the Rule of Life as his own. The Rule is the expression of our distinctive way of discipleship. It embodies the values, disciplines and patterns of response that experience has shown to sustain our identity. In the vow we promise to cherish the Rule as a gift, being attentive as we read it together and taking it to heart through meditation.
The vow is a pledge to put our whole heart into the community’s continuous quest to learn the will of God for us and to do it. God has called us to be active co-creators in Christ, not passive recipients of external instructions. Obedience calls us to pray, to search our hearts and minds together, to consult and discuss with one another, to bring passion and commitment to our cooperation as brothers and ministers in the New Covenant. Our hope is to reach a common mind in our discernment and decisions as often as we can. When a brother disagrees with a decision that commends itself to most of us, the vow of obedience gives integrity to his subsequent support of the outcome.
Grace makes it possible for our obedience to one another to transcend mere acquiescence and to express instead the power of brotherly love and unity. In our cooperation with the Superior we should arrive through discussion at a full understanding of the response or task that is being proposed and pledge ourselves to full accountability. If difficulties occur in following through on any project we should promptly consult with him so that the goal can be realistically reset. We should observe the same standard of cooperation and accountability in our response to any brother who has been given authority in any sphere. In particular we are to give our full cooperation to the brother in charge of the house we live in.
We express our obedience also in the way we are receptive to the Superior’s teaching and pastoral ministry, and the openness we have to one another’s contributions to the common life.
The practice of obedience to our own interior wisdom as it is being inspired by the Spirit requires us to search our own desires and motives in prayer. In any case where our conscience seems to be in conflict with something required of us in community, we should open our hearts to the Superior about it promptly. The vow encourages us to listen to our own hearts so that we can take responsibility for setting our own goals in the unfolding of our development as men of God. It requires us to be attentive to our own needs and gifts. It spurs us to be imaginative and hopeful about ourselves as active contributors to our common life.
If we remain alert we will see the signs that reveal whether we are indeed being converted. Where obedience is still immature there will be passivity, complaining, resentment, reluctance to be held accountable, rigidity and lack of candor. Where obedience is emerging from a growing freedom we will recognize the fruits of the Spirit in frankness, initiative, generosity and flexibility. We need to pray for these fruits not merely for our own good but so that our community can be a sign in the Church of what it means to be a living branch of the true vine.
To me this chapter on obedience offers specific and clear direction for me also to be a disciple, to learn the will of God and do it: where our conscience seems to be in conflict with something required of us in community, we are to speak to the person in authority. We are to be imaginative and hopeful about ourselves as active contributors to our own lives and those around us. We will recognize immaturity when we are passive, complaining, resentful, reluctant to be held accountable, rigid and lack candor. As our obedience matures, we will recognize the fruits of the spirit in frankness, initative, generosity and flexibility. These are helpful words and thoughts.