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Posted June 29, 2008

Document: The Service of Authority and Obedience
Author: Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
Origins. Vol. 38. Number 5. June 12, 2008

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

“The desire for self-realization can at times enter into conflict with community projects; the search for personal well-being, be it spiritual or material, can render total dedication to the service of the common mission difficult; visions of the charism and of apostolic service that are too subjective can weaken fraternal sharing and collaboration,” the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life says in a new document on authority and obedience. In the instructions released May 28 the congregation also notes that “in some settings the opposite problems are prevalent, determined by an unbalanced vision on the side of collectivity and of excessive uniformity, with the risk of stifling the growth and responsibility of the individuals. The balance between the individual and community is not an easy one and thus neither is that between authority and obedience.”

The congregation says that while many today see any kind of dependence as “humiliating,” religious obedience shows that all are dependent on God and that “to seek the will of God means to seek a friendly and benevolent will that desires our fulfillment.” The congregation says authority and obedience are “two complementary ways of participating in the same oblation of Christ” since these traits are personified in Jesus.

Excerpts from the Document:

“The culture of Western society, strongly centered on the subject, has contributed to the spread of the value of respect for the dignity of the human person, positively fostering the person’s free development and autonomy.”

“When freedom tends to become arbitrariness and the autonomy of the person, independence from the Creator and from relationships with others, then one finds oneself before forms of idolatry that do not increase freedom but rather enslave.”

“It was recognized that this theme calls for careful reflection, first of all because of the changes that have taken place in the internal lives of institutes and communities in recent years and also in light of what more recent magisterial documents on the renewal of consecrated life have proposed.”

“We reach our fullness only to the extent that we place ourselves within the plan with which he has conceived su with a Father’s love. Therefore, obedience is the only way human persons, intelligent and free beings, can have the disposition to fulfill themselves.”

“The mystics and all those who have tasted intimacy with God remind us that the contact with the sovereign mystery is always contact with the Other, with a will that is at times dramatically dissimilar from our own.”

“The unquestionable primacy of love in Christian life cannot make us forget that such love has acquired a face and a name in Christ Jesus and has become obedience. Therefore, obedience is not humiliation but the truth on which the fullness of human persons is built and realized.”

“For the consecrated person it might also come to having ‘to learn obedience’ through suffering or from some very specific and difficult situations: when, for example, one is asked to leave certain personal projects or ideas, to give up the pretext of managing one’s life and mission by oneself.”

“Persons called to exercise authority must know that they will be able to do so only if they undertake the pilgrimage that leads to seeking the will of God with intensity and righteousness.”

“Reverence for the will of God keeps those in authority in a state of humble seeking so that their acting conforms as much as possible to that hole will. St. Augustine reminds us that the one who obeys always fulfills the will of God . . .because it is the will of God that is obeyed by the one who is in charge.”

“To be in the position of promoting the spiritual life, persons in authority will have to cultivate first in themselves an openness to listening to others and to the signs of the times through a daily familiarity in prayer with the word of God, with the rule and the other norms of life.”

“The spirituality of communion presents itself as the spiritual climate of the church at the beginning of the third millennium and therefore as an active and exemplary task of religious life at all levels.”

“True love for the community is really what makes persons in authority able to reconcile firmness and patience, listening to each one, and the courage to make decisions, overcoming the temptation to be deaf and mute.”

“Those persons are certainly not free who are convinced that their ideas and their solutions are always the best; who suppose they can decide by themselves without any mediation for knowing the divine will; who think of themselves as always right and do not have any doubts that it is the others who have to change.”

“Those who seek in their own office a means of becoming greater or affirming themselves, having themselves be served or making others serve them, place themselves clearly outside the evangelical model of authority.”

“In the past the risk could come from persons in authority being directed mainly toward managing the work, with the danger of not taking care of persons. Today the risk can come rather from excessive fear of hurting others’ feelings.”

“The rapid cultural changes in progress do not only cause structural transformations that influence activities and the mission but also can give rise to tensions within the community, where diverse kinds of cultural or spiritual formation cause members to give different readings to the signs of the times.”

“It is in saying these difficult yeses that one can understand in depth the sense of obedience as a supreme actg of freedom expressed in total and confident abandoning of oneself to Christ, the Son freely obedient to the Father, and one can understand the sense of mission as an obedient offering of oneself that brings the blessing of the Most High.”