SPIRIT: Vow of obedience
Hello to everyone! My name is Carlos and I am a Redemptorist missionary. This means that I am consecrated to God through profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in order to live out the charism initiated by Saint Alphonsus. These three evangelical counsels are instruments to help us live in the way that Jesus Christ lived: loving to excess, giving to excess and trusting to excess; firstly, to God and, in second place, to the world.
The vow of obedience is precisely about this: loving to excess, giving to excess but, above all, trusting without limits. However, when we think about this vow of obedience, the first thing that comes to our minds are words such as: hierarchy, power, orders, submission, lack of liberty… and so on. Of course, this has nothing to do with it… Who would like to live such a life? The vow of obedience goes further and has a deeper dimension that allows us to live it with freedom, humility and joy.
In our constitutions, where we see how we Redemptorists are called to live, under numbers 71 to 75, we can read about the vow of obedience. A quick look through them all makes us notice that the most repeated expression is: “God’s will”, and therefore this is clearly the key and central point.
The vow of obedience, in the first place, is about obeying God; that is, listening to his will for us and following that will. Therefore, it is about putting all our trust in God, who knows much better than we do, what is best for us. If we trust God and follow his will, we know that we walk surely through the path of happiness that he shows us, even though we don’t really understand why, how and when… but we still trust him. The vow of obedience also helps us see that not everything depends on us, that we don’t control everything, and that the future is not in our hands: but rather everything is in God’s hands, who leads everything to its ultimate good. That is why the vow of obedience helps us live humbly trusting in God. Trusting blindly, without limits, in God’s will gives us an internal freedom, that comes from the conviction of knowing that we are under the loving guidance of his commandments. Following the example of Christ, who, trusting in God, fulfilled the Father’s will until the end (or indeed Mary, who also trusted in God without understanding).
However, God’s will is sometimes difficult to discover: it requires a personal relationship of prayer with God, a deep discernment, spiritual direction… and despite this we cannot be sure about it wholeheartedly. That is why, in the second place, our Constitutions say that, by virtue of the vow of obedience, we should obey our superiors, when they command us something included in our Constitutions. Every Redemptorist community, province and the whole Congregation has a superior: that is, he who has been elected to take care of the local community, the province or the Congregation, and to whom its administration has been entrusted. With the vow of obedience, we have faith in the Holy Spirit, who is behind this election or nomination, and we believe that he has been put in charge for some reason. Therefore, our superiors become God’s instruments so that his will is fulfilled. When our superiors ask us for something, most of the time they do so in dialogue with us; but there are a few other times we don’t understand why they are asking us for something: then we trust in them with the conviction that God is behind that and that we don’t know (and maybe we cannot know) many of the factors that lead him to ask us for something that we don’t understand. This teaches us again to trust to excess, with the humbleness that we do not know everything and, therefore, we can say: “I trust in you, I do not have to worry about anything”. As Constitution 71 says, we do all this “in a spirit of faith and love for God’s will”.
But also, our Constitutions say that the superior should be moved by concern for his brothers, since they are responsible for all of them. He should use his authority in a spirit of service and, like God loves us, they should be the reflection of God’s love, treating us as sons of God, listening to our needs, our worries, our motivations. Above all, they should be the first ones who listen to God’s will and obey it, with humility, so they can be its channels. When a superior acts like this, it gives us the freedom of knowing that our life is in good hands: in God’s hand through the superior’s, so we can say: “I trust in you because, as well as God wanting the best for me, you, who God speaks through, want that as well”.
Lastly, our Constitutions, in number 73, offer us a third means to discover God’s will: the community. The fraternal communion between brothers, joined by the Spirit, help us see that Christ is there where two or more meet in his name. This means that my confrere can help me see God’s will, and I can help him, through “dialogue and fraternal discussion”. That is how we are able to see that, although we all depend on a superior, we are also all responsible for taking care of the others. By the vow of obedience, I am able to respond to a confrere’s petition (whether my superior or not) with love, freedom and trust, with the faith that it is Jesus himself who is talking to me.
And that is how all Redemptorists, seeking God’s will, being helped by prayer, their superiors and confreres, live a spirit of fraternity that impels us joyfully to fulfil the will of God that all Redemptorists share: the mission towards the most abandoned, especially the poor. The obedience to God’s will helps us go to the world loving to excess, giving to excess, but, above all, trusting without limits.
Autor and Translator: Carlos A. Diego Gutiérrez, CSsR