Obedience: The Unappreciated Virtue
St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

Obedience: The Unappreciated Virtue

“For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) 

Obedience in modern secular society brings to mind negative connotations. This is because worldly people treasure individual freedom above everything else. It is perceived as a vice – a sign of a lack of love and respect for oneself, therefore it should be renounced. 

Everything in the universe, every star and a grain of sand, every virus and animal, light wave or even every particle of matter, is bound by laws which it has no choice but to obey. Many physicists claim that the cosmos has been playing by the same rulebook since the time of the Big Bang. 

No one of sane mind leaves room for opposition to the laws of physics, chemistry or biology, by all means created by God, just like the other material things. We recognize that such conformity is not a constraint but merely the condition of our leading a normal life. 

God imbued creation with a natural law providing man with the solid foundation on which he can build the structure of moral rules, yet countless generations of people are openly adverse to the Law of God. This transgression has accompanied mankind from the dawn of history. Seduced by the world, the flesh or the Devil, they are fighting against God, against the real soldiers of the Cross, the followers of the Lamb.

Catholics believe that the evil spirit called Satan (the devil) was a good, even superior angel who rebelled against God and responded with “Non Serviam” (I will not serve!) when He put the angels to the test. His disobedience was so great that the devil was cast out of Heaven, along with a large cohort of other angels. In this context how painful and meaningful, the banners in our streets that read “Pride” appear,  thus totally debunking the Law of God. 

In times of the great apostasy, in which we live and act, the words received from Jesus by a contemporary Polish mystic and stigmatic, Alicja Lenczewska (+2012), sound very dire – “Turning away from God, especially by a definite break-up and rebellion against Him, is suicide and deicide. It is killing what is divine in man and thus condemning oneself to eternal, terrible suffering, parallel to ripping out one’s heart.”

By yielding to the temptation of Satan, our first parents “Adam and Eve” committed the sin of DISOBEDIENCE which affected all humanity. Through this act of pride, as John Paul II said  they “destroyed the bond of friendship with God the Creator.”( General Audience, 25 Feb, 1998). That original sin and its consequences could only be reversed by the complete humility and obedience of the New Adam and the New Eve, Jesus and Mary, whom we are all called to imitate. 

The indifference to or denial of God has had lasting consequences in contemporary societies with the decline of moral absolutism and the lack of belief in a transcendent and merciful God. Regrettably, not being able to fill the conscious void in their lives, some people more likely choose suicide as an outlet which upsets the magnificent plan of the Creator. According to WHO statistics of only a few selected countries, the suicide rates range from 9.6 per 100.000 population in Ireland, 11.0 in New Zealand, 11.8 in Canada, 12.5 in Australia, 16.1 in USA, to 23.5 per 100.000 population in South Africa, the one of the highest in the world in 2019. 

Obedience to the will of God was not something added to Jesus’s personality but rather its full expression: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn. 4,34). The Bible is full of verses, more than one hundred, that confirm the mighty virtue of obedience, to name but a few: Hebrews 5:18; John 14:23; Ephesians 6:1; Luke 22:42; 1 Peter 1:14; Deuteronomy 5:33; Colossians 3:22; Mark 14:36; Isaiah 1:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Kings 2:3; Titus 3:1. 

The holy Mother of God, who provides a stellar model for all human beings, sanctified herself through obedience. In Salvation History, the Annunciation was the pivotal point: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1.38) Need one emphasize that her entire life was marked by an unremitting consent – “yes” to God, both to Calvary as well as the Assumption. At Cana’s Wedding, the Virgin Mary seems to deliver a fundamental message to Humanity stating “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5). 

Saint Joseph is a model of total docility to the Divine Will. In denying himself, he decided to comply with the explicit command of the angel  to take Mary into his home. (Matthew 1 20:25)  Only a profound interior life allowed St. Joseph to discover his vocation to be a custodian and safeguard of the Redeemer and Savior of the world yet to be born, and the Virgin of Nazareth. He had to undergo the hardships of being subject to a census by a foreign ruler, having to travel with his expectant wife and having to find a decent place for her to deliver the Child, (Luke 2:6-7) as well as taking baby Jesus, and his spouse Mary, to Egypt because King Herod sought to kill the Baby. (Matthew 2:13). 

Abraham is the father of the faithful and a prime  example of obedience  which stems from faith and goes far beyond simple discipline because it entails the free and personal acceptance of the word of God. Abraham heart was  entirely submissive to God. (Genesis 18-23)  

The History of the Church is replete with saints who regularly practiced the virtue of obedience. 

Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica claims: “Obedience is a special virtue. Its specific object is a command, expressed or understood. It is a moral virtue, that is, a will-virtue. Obedience is subordinate to the virtue of justice.” (2B, 104)

Saint Therese of Avila “…I know that what is done through obedience, is the best means of pleasing Him.” (The letters of St. Teresa of Avila)

Saint Faustina writes in diary Entry 894: “Then I suddenly saw the Lord, who said to me, My daughter, know that you give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience than by long prayers and mortifications. Oh, how good it is to live under obedience, to live conscious of the fact that everything I do is pleasing to God!” 

Saint Maximilian Kolbe – “Her will (the Immaculata`s) agreed with and met God’s Will and the two became one in Jesus Christ. This is what St. Kolbe describes as the quickest and easiest way to sainthood, W + w = S.  God’s Will plus our will equals sainthood.” (The Immaculate Conception and St. Maximillian Kolbe by Ebeth Weidner)

Saint Padre Pio – “ The first and principal maxim to be engraved in your mind is the following: obedience must be the rule at all times and your being must submit totally to it. So, don’t analyze your actions and whatever doubts assail you, just carry on without worrying and dispel them through your saintly obedience. Then Jesus will be pleased with whatever you do…” (The Stigmata of Faith: Thoughts of Padre Pio)

Therefore, it seems that the virtue of obedience has divine origins rather than secular ones. It is neither an intellectual nor a theological virtue but a moral one. There is holiness in humble obedience, and through the fiat of every human heart God is able to carry out great works of grace, while the path of pride is a quick and deadly one. Ultimately, obedience to God is not only a proof of humility but also demonstrates our love for Him. 

It is one thing to discover what God expects of us; the other is to be submissive to His will. For lay people generally it is very difficult to clearly discern the will of God and to move forward in the light of His Word. This often needs either spiritual director or a profound interior life, or better, both. Hence acquiescence of the teaching of the Church is sine qua non if we want to achieve salvation. Nevertheless, it is a very broad topic which deserves an article of its own, if not a number of them. 

To a certain extent, the task of searching for God’s will is facilitated for the Catholic clergy. The authority from which they derive, laws and religious obedience to them is hierarchical. Simply this means that a priest is appointed by a bishop, who is in turn overseen by the pope, who in turn represents Christ. It appears that the Italian Servant of God, Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo in his priestly life, out of reverence to God, perfectly carried out the holy will of Superiors. St. Padre Pio called him a saint

To close, let’s reflect on the words of John Paul II given during the 1981 Lenten season and on a short extract from the Catechism. May they serve as a sober reminder to all Catholic politicians who have drifted very far away from the Magisterium of the Church and promote indescribable aberrations completely contrary to God’s plan: killing of the unborn, same sex marriage,  assisted suicide and gender ideology, etc. It becomes clear that in this case the moral virtue of obedience can transcend the rights of conscience, since it has its endurance limits. 

“And so, our Lenten prayer for the sensitivity of the consciences has multiple meanings. The man who has a hardened heart and a degenerate conscience, even when he enjoys the fullness of his physical powers and capacities, is sick spiritually, and it is necessary to do everything possible to give him back the health of his soul.” 

“Man has a wounded nature inclined towards evil. A denial of this fact can only lead to serious errors in education, politics, social action and morals.” (CCC 407). 

Even the Apostle to the Nations, St. Paul did not fully trust his conscience – “I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts,…” (1Cor  4. 4:5)


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Written by
Paul Suski