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Introduction to the Devout Life
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CHAPTER XI. On Obedience.

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.

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