The Gospel of John will teach us to experience obedience as a growing freedom to love all that God desires and wills. Jesus bears witness to this freedom, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise . . . my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” On our own we are powerless to act in selfless freedom in response to God’s desire. Obedience is only possible because Christ dwells in us and we dwell in him through Baptism. His obedience is active within us, drawing us into his union with the Father.
By the vow of obedience we join together to make this loving consent to God’s will the corporate offering of a community. We learn together to listen intently to God, and we support each other in the struggle against all that resists God within and around us.
The vow has many facets. It is a pledge to unite in a common response to God by embracing and fulfilling the Rule of the Society. It is a promise to work together to discern God’s will as a body and act in concert to God’s glory. The vow binds us to cooperate with the Superior in carrying out our mission. It is a pledge to listen to the voice of the Spirit speaking within the heart and to respond to God’s invitations to self-surrender.
Resurrection into the freedom and constancy of Christ’s obedience can be attained only through death and burial in union with him. Our share in humanity’s sinfulness means that we are still hindered by fear of what God desires and resistance to what God ordains. As a community bound together in obedience we support one another through the inevitable pain of dying to our old selves, and encourage one another to trust in the goodness of God’s will for us. The community is a school of reconciliation, conversion and healing for sinners, in which we can grow in our capacity to give ourselves to God.
Obedience is also a path of detachment. We have our own ideas of how best to serve God, our dreams of serving in particular ways. God’s actual call will often be to follow in other ways; as our vocation unfolds we will find that obedience requires us to lay aside again and again the plans we had made for ourselves. Monastic obedience gives us constant practice in letting go of attachment to our individual preferences and learning to trust in the wisdom of the community. It trains us to be resilient and prompt in responding to the Lord in the here and now.
The vow of obedience is fraught with risks. In the name of obedience human beings have gladly abdicated responsibility and taken refuge in passivity and conformity. Unless our obedience is in the Spirit we could be tempted to use the life of the community as a shelter from claiming and using our own responsibility and power as sons of God. The vow of obedience requires us to be constantly attentive to the voice of the Spirit within our hearts, endowing us with our own unique authority and gifts. We are called to be obedient to our true selves as they are being formed in Christ. Only where there is a growing respect for our true selves can there be authentic participation in the community’s common endeavor to discern and carry out God’s will.