In a climate passionate about freedom and autonomy, the virtue of obedience can be misunderstood or even brushed off. Nowadays, obedience can be seen as an obstacle to someone’s freedom – a poor understanding of what the virtue means. Jesus Christ is the perfect model of Christian obedience. To what extent was he obedient? He was obedient to death on the cross.
Holiness is growing in all virtues – including obedience
On our Catholic faith journey, we are all striving to be Christ-like by growing in all the virtues. The Gospels give us concrete examples of how to exercise Jesus’ patience, kindness, and generosity in daily life. Striving to be in the image and likeness of Christ means imitating him in all the virtues – including obedience, and not just the ones that was like. Imitating Jesus in His heroic obedience, as well as all the virtues, is a way to live the Catholic faith completely, instead of cherry-picking or magnifying the aspects that naturally appeal to us.
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”
In the Gospel passage of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), Jesus’ disciples tell Him to eat after a long day of walking in the heat. Jesus responds by saying, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” He continues, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”
For Jesus, the will of God the Father was His food and His strength. The will of God the Father wasn’t a limitation to Jesus’ freedom. He didn’t see it that way. Instead, Jesus’ will, and the will of God the Father was one and the same thing.
What obedience is not
The virtue of obedience is not blindly following instructions. It is to seek the good in and to understand the propositions set before us to expand and enrich our sense of perspective. Seeking to understand is not the same as exercising an unhealthy suspicion or skepticism before a commandment and the person it came from. A real obedience is taking the time to pray and discern in silence, so that we can be enlightened by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us see the truth, rather than our own limited point of view.
Christian obedience is more than compromise
Christian obedience goes beyond compromise – it is so much more than that. It is the grace to have a will that is fully identified with God’s. It is the grace to want something as much as God wants it. This isn’t always easy and doesn’t always come naturally. That is why Christian obedience is a grace we need to ask for every day.
When obedience goes beyond conforming and compromise, a cheerful and supernatural obedience becomes possible. We commonly lack the faith to believe that God’s plan is far better than our own. He can see our lives through a wide perspective and a bird’s eye view, while we can sometimes only see one piece of the puzzle. We need to ask for the grace of faith, patience, and discernment so that we can grow in the virtue of Christian obedience.
Obedience in the Gospels
Mother Mary and St. Joseph are also stellar models of Christian obedience. Contemplate how Mary lived obedience during her Annunciation. While her ‘yes’ was prompt, sure and full of faith, she wasn’t afraid to exercise a healthy curiosity at first to understand the Angel Gabriel’s proposition. St. Joseph protected the infant Jesus from Herod by fleeing with Him and Mary to Egypt after he was instructed in a dream. Detachment from our own will and the humility to entrust our lives to God is a way that we can live obedience and carry our daily cross.