- By Fr. Peter
- 3 September, 2011
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This week I am going to take a short break from my ongoing series of talks to offer some thoughts on a topic that we have been discussing in the formation collatio that we have been holding on Saturday nights. Some of this comes out of a dissatisfaction I have had with certain modern ideas of obedience. Let me first recount an anecdote that forms my own thinking about this, to set up the status quaestionis.
Thomas Merton is reputed to have said that the only two members of a monastery that mature are the abbot and the cellarer. As I have heard this reported, the idea is that these two important members are those that have to deal with the world and take responsibility for the community’s needs. Obedience plays into this because, obviously, the abbot and cellarer will need the cooperation of the brothers in order for the monastery to function. It would seem in this case, then, that obedience plays a part in keeping brothers immature and irresponsible.
That this is a danger is perhaps further confirmed by an idea of obedience that focuses too narrowly on a future salvation. The premise here is that our self-will is always going to be corrupt. Since grace of office is enjoyed by our superiors, obedience is enjoined in order for us to not have to risk perdition by making our own choices. This obviously is a deficient notion of obedience, and there was a just reaction to it after Vatican II. But the reaction emphasized personal responsibility and neutered obedience to the point where it became mere mutual accountability, lacking that ‘bright, shiny’ [(Additional installments will follow next week.)