Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 11
LOVE alone leads to perfection, but the three chief means for acquiring
it are obedience, chastity, and poverty. Obedience is a consecration of
the heart, chastity of the body, and poverty of all worldly goods to
the Love and Service of God. These are the three members of the
Spiritual Cross, and all three must be raised upon the fourth, which is
humility. I am not going here to speak of these three virtues as solemn
vows, which only concern religious, nor even as ordinary vows, although
when sought under the shelter of a vow all virtues receive an enhanced
grace and merit; but it is not necessary for perfection that they
should be undertaken as vows, so long as they are practised diligently.
The three vows solemnly taken put a man into the state of perfection,
whereas a diligent observance thereof brings him to perfection. For,
observe, there is a great difference between the state of perfection
and perfection itself, inasmuch as all prelates and religious are in
the former, although unfortunately it is too obvious that by no means
all attain to the latter. Let us then endeavour to practise these three
virtues, according to our several vocations, for although we are not
thereby called to a state of perfection, we may attain through them to
perfection itself, and of a truth we are all bound to practise them,
although not all after the same manner.
There are two kinds of obedience, one necessary, the other voluntary.
The first includes a humble obedience to your ecclesiastical superiors,
whether Pope, Bishop, Curate, or those commissioned by them. You are
likewise bound to obey your civil superiors, king and magistrates; as
also your domestic superiors, father, mother, master or mistress. Such
obedience is called necessary, because no one can free himself from the
duty of obeying these superiors, God having appointed them severally to
bear rule over us. Therefore do you obey their commands as of right,
but if you would be perfect, follow their counsels, and even their
wishes as far as charity and prudence will allow: obey as to things
acceptable; as when they bid you eat, or take recreation, for although
there may be no great virtue in obedience in such a case, there is
great harm in disobedience. Obey in things indifferent, as concerning
questions of dress, coming and going, singing or keeping silence, for
herein is a very laudable obedience. Obey in things hard, disagreeable
and inconvenient, and therein lies a very perfect obedience. Moreover,
obey quietly, without answering again, promptly, without delay,
cheerfully, without reluctance; and, above all, render a loving
obedience for His Sake Who became obedient even to the death of the
Cross for our sake; Who, as Saint Bernard says, chose rather to resign
His Life than His Obedience.
If you would acquire a ready obedience to superiors, accustom yourself
to yield to your equals, giving way to their opinions where nothing
wrong is involved, without arguing or peevishness; and adapt yourself
easily to the wishes of your inferiors as far as you reasonably can,
and forbear the exercise of stern authority so long as they do well.
It is a mistake for those who find it hard to pay a willing obedience
to their natural superiors to suppose that if they were professed
religious they would find it easy to obey.
Voluntary obedience is such as we undertake by our own choice, and
which is not imposed by others. Persons do not choose their own King or
Bishop, or parents–often not even their husband; but most people
choose their confessor or director. And whether a person takes a vow of
obedience to him (as Saint Theresa, beyond her formal vow to the
Superior of her Order, bound herself by a simple vow to obey Father
Gratian), or without any vow they resolve to obey their chosen
spiritual guide, all such obedience is voluntary, because it depends
upon our own will.
Obedience to lawful superiors is regulated by their official claims.
Thus, in all public and legal matters, we are bound to obey our King;
in ecclesiastical matters, our Bishop; in domestic matters, our father,
master or husband; and in personal matters which concern the soul, our
confessor or spiritual guide.
Seek to be directed in your religious exercises by your spiritual
father, because thereby they will have double grace and virtue;–that
which is inherent in that they are devout, and that which comes by
reason of the spirit of obedience in which they are performed. Blessed
indeed are the obedient, for God will never permit them to go astray.