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Obedience to God through People (ouch!)

October 26, AD 2011 6 Comments

I always thought that I could never be a nun because of the vow of obedience they have. Obey a mother superior that tells me what I have to do and what I can’t do? What a limitation. Even priests, having to obey the bishop on where to go and what parish to move to, seemed like an intolerable cruelty to me. “This must prove that I have vocation for marriage, so that I can do WHATEVER I WANT!” I thought.

So last summer, when I felt my “freedom” was being limited by an unfulfilling job, I decided… all by me, myself and I… to quit and do what I really wanted to do. This was all decided in one evening when I had two friends over for dinner. Right after dessert, I sent an email asking for the job I wanted. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t happen, but if it did I was determined to go for it. Well, the answer was yes and before anyone could stop me, I quit my job. My boyfriend, who I thought would be indifferent, freaked out and advised me against quitting my job. I felt like everyone was against me. Even my mom, who tried her best to support me, confessed a year later she was never really for it. I went ahead anyway, without consulting anyone.

It was only with this decision that my boyfriend and I realized we were polar opposites. We almost broke up… several times. I was a dreamer, head-in-the-clouds, going for what I wanted and he was a realist, valuing stability and accepting life’s terrible conditions. I was going against him and against all others close to me who thought it was a bad idea because I knew what was better for me!

Well, a year later that job didn’t work out. Not only that, but I learned A LOT and completely changed my perspective. I realized that job wasn’t good for me after all and I had committed completely to the unknown. And you can’t really love or dedicate yourself to what (or who) you don’t know. It’s been pretty humbling to tell people, “yeah, I messed up” and “you were right”, but I’m also thankful for the “mistake” I made. I see how necessary (although painful) it was for me to learn what I did.

And the main thing I learned? Obedience. Thankfully, throughout this year, my boyfriend and I stayed together and grew alongside each other. It’s true, we’re opposites… but I realized that’s part of God’s plan! We got to know married couples who are also “opposites” and we learned that really just means COMPLEMENTARY. I’m one extreme, it’s true, and he’s another, but we both become better people when we balance each other out. It was one of God’s intention when he gave Eve to Adam as an “adequate help”. It’s a lot of work, but it happens when husbands and wives are obedient to one another. When you realize the other has something I don’t have and he or she helps me and is my complement. And OBEDIENCE comes into play here just like in a religious community. In marriage, spouses vow to be obedient to one another… it’s the mutual submission that Ephesians 5 talks about. You trust that the other will be God’s instrument in balancing out your extreme, and in this way helps you follow the right path. I imagine that just as a priest prostrates himself at his ordination (a very profound and touching expression of obedience), spouses metaphorically prostrate themselves at their wedding to one another, promising to see God in the other.


My main mistake last summer was deciding alone. I got lost along the way, mistakenly doing my will and not God’s. I experienced dramatically that I don’t know what’s best for me, only God does. And usually my plans go against His (“My thoughts are not your thoughts…” Is 55:8). So my best bet for happiness and salvation is to be obedient to God’s will, and so in an incarnate way to be obedient to His Church, and also to be obedient to those who know and love me disinterestedly and might be there to guide me. Not to say I shouldn’t listen to the still, small voice inside me, but our faith is incarnate and there are very tangible means to help us. Really, obedience isn’t a limitation at all, it’s an incredible gift… and I guess it isn’t only for nuns after all!

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About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

  • Great concept! This is something with which I struggle. Yes, obviously, we should consult God first and try to do His will. But how do we know if it’s His will (as we think it is) when our family or friends don’t like a decision we’re making? I know it’s part of becoming more humble, but gosh, I really wish I had God’s cell phone number.

  • In marriage, spouses vow to be obedient to one another

    This seems to be a popular conception these days, but it simply isn’t true. In fact, according to the Rite of Marriage in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, neither spouse vows or promises obedience. From the Roman Missal:

    The bridegroom says:
    I, N., take you, N., to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

    The bride says:
    I, N., take you, N., to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

    Those are promises of love and fidelity, not of obedience: the vow is made up of its words, as, for just one example, Belloc reminds us (see The Path to Rome, “On Vows”).

    Nor does even the 1964 Rituale Romanum specify a vow of obedience: indeed, it does not seem to specify the form by which the spouses are to take their vows, only the form by which they are to give their consent to the marriage. So one could, I suppose, take an oath of obedience in the context of an extraordinary-form wedding.

    Nor does the fifth chapter of Ephesians tell spouses to obey one another: it requires that a wife obey her husband and that a husband love his wife “as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it” (or “as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her,” if you prefer the NAB). I submit first that this is a much more rigorous standard, and second that it is the only way in which spouses can be complimentary. A bilateral relationship cannot be defined by both sides being in charge: if there is to be an authority, it must reside in one party or the other. A husband might, indeed should, exercise his authority over his family with a due concern to the well-being of its members and out of love for each of them, especially his wife, but this (and the numerous other obligations he owes to his wife and family) is not an obligation of obedience.

  • It is a very distinct difference – That of obedience to authority and that of obedience through love. Obaying authority is a part of life but it isn’t always easy and we don’t always agree with what we are being asked to accept.

    More and more these days as it goes…

    Loving obedience on the other hand is passing over authority to someone we trust to make the best decisions for us and to guide us truely. This is why monks and friars elect their respective abbots and priors from their own ranks – in order that they can place their trust in a brother who they love and respect to lead them.

    That is true loving obedience – the choice to surrender to someone out of trust. As you rightly say it isn’t limited to the monastic however.

    Every day we can choose to place ourselves in obedience to the Lord. Not because of his authority – although he deserves it puerly on this ground – but because we love and trust him enough to pass over our lives into his care to do with as he will.

    By our own voluntary surrender we place our lives into his hands so that he may use us to touch others. Any way you look at it that is pretty **** cool. [editor bleep]


  • Julie Rodrigues

    Interesting comments! 🙂
    Titus, I would just like to throw out there that although of course obedience isn’t present in the rite in a strict sense, I don’t think it’s out of order to reflect on how it’s present in a broader sense. First of all, because the marriage vows haven’t always been the same. I know that during the Renaissance in Germany the marriage vows were “I am yours, you are mine”, inspired by from the Song of Songs. And if that doesn’t hint at obedience, I don’t know what does. Secondly, although obedience isn’t a vow that people outside of a religious institution make, it is still good for a Christian life to be formed by it, since it’s an evangelical counsel:
    “If, according to a certain theological tradition, one speaks about the state of perfection (status perfectionis), one does not do so on the basis of continence by itself, but in view of the whole formed by a life based on the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience), because this life corresponds to Christ’s call to perfection. (…) It follows that a person who does not live in the ‘state of perfection’ (that is, in an institution that bases its plan of life on the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience) or in a religious institute, but in the ‘world,’ can ‘de facto’ reach a higher degree of perfection – the measure of love – than a person who lives in the ‘state of perfection’ with a lesser degree of love. Still, the evangelical counsels undoubtedly help one to reach a fuller love. Therefore, whoever attains such a love, even if he does not live in an institutionalized ‘state of perfection,’ reaches the prefection that flows from love through faithfulness to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible for every human being, whether in a ‘religious institute’ or in the ‘world.'” (Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 78:3)

  • richard

    Yes. Obedience is a safer path.

  • Michelle

    As ironic as it sounds, I have found great freedom in obedience (to my spiritual director and to God’s plan for me). Have I put up a fight at times? Yes. Did I ever win when I wanted my way? No. And in the end, what I came to understand, is that obedience to God and his will is an expression of love, our love for HIm and his love for us. We obey Him and his plan for us because we love him, and we obey him also because we know he loves us and wants the best for us. And, the funny thing is that in the end, when we have obeyed, everyone is happy!! :0)