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Obedience: SJ's and OP's

Two of the best known, not to say notorious, statements about obedience come from the authoritative texts of the Society of Jesus. The thirteenth rule for thinking with the Church reads: "To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed."(I sometimes wonder whether this statement did not in its own way contribute to what Yves Congar called "the incredible inflation" of the magisterium especially that of the Pope, in the modern era.)In his letter to the present General Congregation, Pope Benedict, speaking of Jesuit obedience, evoked the phrase"perinde ac si cadaver essent". Here is the paragraph of the Jesuit Constitutions in which the phrase appears: "Let holy obedience, in execution, in the will, and in the intellect, be always utterly perfect in us; let us obey with great promptness, spiritual joy, and perseverance whatever may be commanded of us, persuading ourselves that all things are just, and by a blind obedience giving up our own contrary opinion or judgment; this applies to whatever things are commanded by the Superior, unless it can be shown that some kind of sin is involved. Let everyone persuade himself that those who live under obedience must let themselves be led and ruled by divine providence through their superiors, as if they were a corpse which allows itself to be carried here and there and treated in any way, or like an old mans cane which permits itself to be used anywhere and in any way that the man who holds it wishes."(The image of the corpse is found in the writings of St. Francis of Assisi and may go back as far as Pachomius.)The evocation of these texts reminded me of a book I read some years ago. In Quand Rome condamne, his massive volume on the French Dominicans and the worker-priest crisis of the early 1950s, Franois Leprieur has a whole section on the discussion of obedience that accompanied the Roman actions that put an end to the worker-priest experiment and that forced prominent French Dominicans, among them Frs. Congar and Chenu, from their posts and into exile. All the Dominicans obeyed promptly and fully what their provincial and Roman superiors required of them. In the course of the discussion of obedience, differences between Dominicans and Jesuits over the spirituality of obedience seemed to emerge.Congar said that obedience meant following the command of a superior because it comes from a legitimate authority in an area in which he has competence. But to submit ones freedom to a superiors command does not absolutely require one to think that the authority is correct. He wanted to write an article on obedience, "a balanced article, which avoids the error (unthinkable for a Thomist) of the so-called obedience of judgment, that is, being obliged to think and to say that what one sees as white is black because the authority says that it is black."Another one of the censured Dominicans, Fret, argued that according to St. Thomas the relationship between superior and subject exists for the sake of the common good of the community in question, and it is this common good that is to regulate the decisions of the superior and to motivate the obedience of the subject. The theory of blind obedience, explicable in terms of the discipline thought necessary in the Counter-Reformation, departs from this earlier and sounder view. Like Congar, Fret also criticized what he took to be the Jesuit idea of "blind obedience."Two Jesuits also published pieces on obedience. A. de Soras found Frets criticisms excessive. He argued that religious obedience required something more than obedience in other contexts. It involves supernatural mystery before which what reason regards as folly is Gods wisdom; in addition, it represents an imitation of the obedience unto death of Christ. There is, them, a "mystique of obedience." Being faced with what one might think is absurd is an invitation to join with Christ in his obedience. The situations in which one might judge that a command goes against the common good of the Church are thought to be extremely rare; and Christians in making this judgment have to be aware how much of the "old man" remains in them and how much they be blinded to what ought to be done.H. Holsteins article was entitled "The Mystery of Obedience." In it he criticized Frets view as naturalizing," this is, ignoring the dimension of mystery..Fr. Chenu is supposed to have been asked whether he found obedience difficult. "Oh no," he replied; "obedience is easy. Whats hard is charity."

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Fascinating read.I wonder whether the whole blind obedience ideal of the Jesuits as presented in the contrasting summaries contributed to the "shadow" perception of Jesuits as being the grey Cardinals. A bit sneaky and duplicitious giving rise to the pejorative term "jesuitical". It seems to me that holding up the ideal of blind obedience might sound all well and good and even romantic from a miliatry perspective. But in practice, it doesn't work and gives rise to all kinds of unnecessary pangs of conscience around difference (and to a certain extent dissent).The Domincan notion appears, clearly, more mature.However this statement from St. Thomas:the relationship between superior and subject exists for the sake of the common good of the community in question, and it is this common good that is to regulate the decisions of the superior and to motivate the obedience of the subject.is also the ideal but one wonders how much the Magisterium has this in mind as opposed to engaging in its own power plays. There does need to be a healthy tension and maybe the Jesuits setting up their own "church within the Church" in terms of experimenting with variety of models and ways of being Church provides a service of obedience to God for the good of the whole Church.To summarize my own rambling thoughts: the domincans are right conceptually but the Jesuits right in the area of practice. (???)

PS:I have more experience with Jesuits - who I very, very much admire and respect (both the men I have met and the authors I have read) than I do dominicans although I have been very impressed with the dominicans I read and, above all, am grateful for Meister Eckhart.but, very, very interesting article on obedience Father.

The Dominicans have a lot of their governmental documents online: http://www.op.org/international/english/Documents/index.htmI'd be interested in knowing the canonical weight of the "Fundamental Constitutions." This document (esp. para. Vi and VII) reflects the understanding of the democratic governance that I've heard spoken of by the brothers and nuns of the Order. But it's not clear to me what force the document has." The communion and universality of our religious life shape its government as well. Its government is noted for an organic and balanced participation of all its members for pursuing the special end of the Order. For the Order is not restricted to a conventual fraternity even though this is its fundamental unit, but extends to the communion of convents which constitutes a province, and to the communion of provinces which constitutes it as a whole."Nuns I know think that the Jesuit form of obedience is part of "the devotio moderna." OP theologians I know think that the Dominican form of obedience stems from the basic Dominican orientation, which grew up against the Albigensian heresy, of the goodness of creation. Yes, human beings are radically contingent upon God--but they ARE. There's a certain optimism about the created order, and a freedom.Many Dominicans take a lot of pride in belonging to the oldest living democracy.

Father Komonchak, many thanks for this fine essay. The idea of obedience is such a complex one--does it not convey a sense of the Latin for "listen"?--and I believe in that sense is at the heart of the Benedictine rule. In writing about Joseph Ratzinger's formative years I was intrigued by his account (in "Milestones," p. 56) of two professors of his and their varying reactions to church authority. In writing about his old seminary professor, the biblical scholar Friedrich Wilhelm Maier, Ratzinger warmly recalled how much he learned from him and how Maiers scholarship, which led to Maiers condemnation and exile from university for many years, was now fully accepted and remains fundamental to me. Although Ratzinger acknowledged that Maiers treatment was unjust, he does not protest the treatment of this man who in the end was right. Instead he criticizes Maier for not getting past the trauma of his dismissal and harboring a certain bitterness against Rome. More to Ratzingers liking was the example of another professor of his, Gottlieb Shngen, who in 1949 argued strongly against the burgeoning movement to have the teaching on the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven proclaimed a dogma. Asked what he would do if the pope did proclaim the Assumption a dogmaas Pius XII subsequently did in 1954Ratzinger notes with satisfaction that Shngen replied: If the dogma comes, then I will remember that the Church is wiser than I and that I must trust her more than my own erudition. For him that was theology done "both critically and with faith." (Ratzinger has, by the way, always defended the primacy of conscience to dissent, especially against "unjust" actions of the Church.) Yet I wonder if obedience is not easier in such "abstractions" as belief in the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, the Real Presence and such, but becomes neuralgic only when we have to conform our behavior, or take a vow to keep a job, or similar. I believe because it is absurd. I obey because it is absurd. The rest gets thorny.

from Whispers in the Loggia under the post On Day One, Father-General Looks to the "Nations" .... With the vow of obedience slated to be a major topic for the remainder of the Congregation's discussions, Nicols said in a 2005 interview that while "obedience can be very creative and very helpful when it is open, when there is inner freedom... blind obedience, I think, as a norm would be a disaster, for the Society or anybodyThis is part of the interview that is connected through the highlighted 2005 interviewASIA UCAN Interview - 'We Need To Be Very Close to the People, Our Ears Close To the Ground' MANILA (UCAN) -- Father Adolfo Nicolas, the 30th superior general of the Society of Jesus, was serving as president of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania (JCEAO) at the time of his election on Jan. 19.About 16 months before the election, a Jesuit scholastic interviewed Father Nicolas about his preferred leadership style, conflict resolution, challenges the Jesuits face and leadership values he wanted to inculcate in young members. Jesuits are supposed to follow their superiors. What are your experiences as a superior regarding this? I'd like to correct that. We are not expected to [blindly] follow superiors. We are expected to study the issue, discern and search together with the superior. Who decides in the end, if there is no agreement, will be the superior. Someone has to decide, but it's a process of involvement. I personally think obedience can be very creative and very helpful when it is open, when there is inner freedom. This is what Saint Ignatius very much supported. If there is no inner freedom, it is very difficult to make the right choices. The immediate issues are not so important as the purposes and goals, and what comes after that and so forth. Blind obedience sometimes is what people think of as true obedience -- whatever the superior says, right or wrong, you have to follow it. However, blind obedience, I think, as a norm would be a disaster, for the Society or anybody. For Ignatius it is an exceptional case, in times of crisis. ... This is very rare. Obedience without imagination is not good, neither for the Church, for people nor for oneself. It can be very helpful if people agree, but this requires discernment, study, dialogue. What about in the context of a decision after consultations have been made? In this case the superior can make a mistake. I don't think we can say that everything the superior decides is the will of God. If the superior is open to the Spirit, takes seriously the consultation, the data and the understanding of the data that has just come up from the consulting, then his decision may be the closest thing we have to the will of God. But it's not infallible, it's not automatic. That's why there is always an opening. That's why for Ignatius, there's representation, etc. On that note, how do you deal with conflict? The way, I think, is similar to the way I consider leadership has to be done. Each conflict is different. Each situation is different and requires a different approach. You have to study the conflict and after studying see as many alternatives as possible. This applies not only in conflict situations but also in spiritual direction. Very often people get stuck because they don't see alternatives. One very important facet or role of leadership is to see new alternatives that other people do not see ... because real dilemmas are very, very few. We create the dilemmas because we get stuck. In conflicts, therefore, always look for solutions, and for these solutions we need to have a middle ground in which both parties or both positions can be acknowledged as having meaning. In every opinion there is something good. In the middle ground we can find a win-win situation; not right-wrong. That's why dividing people into the axis of evil and the axis of good makes alternatives very, very difficult, as there's no middle ground. Also the alternative does not mean we always have to find the perfect solution. There is no perfect solution. In this imperfect world, how we can move imperfectly but make sense and make the best of the situation is important -- even in situations where, whether in canon law, Jesuit law or so forth, there are what you call prescribed solutions. But even in these situations, I like to look for other options, because the law does not consider every possible case. It gives you a general line. These things traditionally or in past experience have proven beneficial. That's why they have become prescribed solutions for particular problems. But people are different. Therefore, even if there are solutions in the law, I'd like to think outside the law -- not against the law but outside the law. Are there other alternatives? I am convinced that very often [in solving conflicts], we have to compromise. Compromise is not a negative thing, to say: "Oh, I give up." No, in compromise you don't give up. You accept reality, realizing at this stage this is the best that we can do. Maybe we need to come up with another strategy [to change] the way people think. Maybe at a different stage, say two years from now, something different can happen.

It is surely a good thing that the Jesuits have on their agenda at their General Congregation the interpretation of St. Ignatiuss notorious concept of Jesuit obedience. I hope they will discuss it freely and without feeling unduly burdened by Cardinal Rodes heavy-handed advice to them in his opening homily. They seem to have made a fine beginning in their choice of Fr. Nicolas. We should keep them in our prayers as they carry on their discussions. They need all the help they can get.

As ever, good stuff from Fr. Komonchak. But two things to remember in this conversation. First, that the vow of obedience is made, as are all the vows, to God. "Almighty and Eternal God," is the beginning of the Jesuit vow formula. Second, the famous "fourth vow" to the Holy Father, is made "with regard to missions." And, finally, pace Father Chenu, obedience is not always that easy. Just ask Pedro Arrupe, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Matteo Ricci.

I thank Fr. Komonchak for this wonderful essay. It has provoked me to ask any other diocesan priests who either post on or visit this blog what type of formation they received in regard to obedience. Essays such as this make me believe more each day that diocesan priests need more instruction and guidance on what obedience entails.I know that my formation experience is limited, but it would seem that the development of some sense of obedience had to be a matter that the seminarian initiated somehow.

Thank you for a challenging reflection and extremely thoughtful responses that tap into deep knowledge, wisdom, and varied spiritualities. I have not had occasion to reflect this specifically on this virtue of late.although I did many years ago in a situatin that required obedience and I obeyed --though I yet believe it was neither a wise or just resolution. Those scholars like Fr. Komonchak and others have surely thought about the origin of the word, Christ's own "obedience to the Father," and the countless ways that this virtue has been corrupted by the power of those whose authority does not reflect that grace of Christ. Isn't there some dimension of discernment within this virtue also? At any rate, thank you to all contributors for provocative postings.

Fr. Martin:I asked this on an earlier thread, but didn't get an answer. Are you distinguishing the Jesuit vows from those of other religious orders when you say that they are directed to God? And how does the Society itself enter into the statement of commitment? E.g., do you say something similar to this, namely, that you are vowing, to God, obedience, chastity, and poverty within the Society of Jesus? Jesuits are often described as great individualists, but they also have a powerful sense of community--I've seen how quickly they circle the wagons if one of theirs is criticized! I notice how often in the correspondence between Jesuits that I've studied--e.g., John Courtney Murray, H. de Lubac, etc.--they refer to "Nos" and to "Nostri"; I think one of their major scholarly journals once had on its title-page: "Pro nostris" (for Our Own).

I'd like to thank Clara Dugan for a terrific post with good nuance and sense. I hope she posts more!I just have one other thought here - much of the discusssion revolves about those bound to obedience, But what of those who command it? It seems simple, but to use obedience as a tool to promote servility (as opposed to Ignation "creativity?") is immoral.

A couple of random thoughts on obedience.1. I spend my days in the corporate world. Corporations have the top-down, hierarchical management model that any large organization requires. But whatever her/his formal authority, a good corporate manager knows that the best way to motivate her people and achieve the team's goals is to include them in the decision-making process and, when possible, to gain their freely given commitment to the project or goal. This is not merely manipulative: there is often wisdom and freshness of ideas to be found among one's subordinates. This is taught in b-school, and it works well in practice.2. As a diocesan deacon, I am subject to reassignment by my bishop; on a whim (or for a very just reason), he could, I suppose, assign me to a parish 50 miles from my home, effective immediately. Yet all bishops in all dioceses that I know of show great restraint in moving deacons around - much more so than with diocesan priests. One reason, I am sure, is that most deacons are married and many of them have dependent children, and most deacons' families seem to be reasonably settled and happy in their current parish (which in many cases was their parish before the husband entered diaconate formation). A reassignment could provoke conflict and force a deacon to choose between his vocations to his family and the church. Understandably, bishops are reluctant to be the cause of such problems, and so they hesitate to exercise authority which they unquestionably possess.

Mr. Nunz raises a good point: what of those in authority? Bernard Lonergan, in Method of Theology, speaks of the danger to the unity of the Church that arises from the absence of intellectual, moral and religious conversion in those who lead and teach the Church. As I remarked in an article on the matter, the literature on this subject is not large..The absence of any one of these three conversions is a serious matter; more serious if two of them are absent; bordering on the catastrophic if all three of them are lacking.Some people argue as if authority exists in order to dispense the people subject to it from the obligation of being intelligent, reasonable and responsible themselves. In fact, however, choosing ones authoritywhich means choosing whom one will trustis an exercise of self-responsibility. Those who are intelligent, reasonable and responsible are likely to choose well; those who are not are likely to choose poorly. Thus, the unreasonable are likely to trust people they shouldnt and to distrust those they should trust. There is no substitute for intelligence, reason and responsibility. We are all responsible for the authorities in our lives.Obedience, to be meritorious, has to be free, and it should be an exercise in responsibility. We are responsible for those whom we obey and for the acts by which we obey.

A friend of mine, not a Jesuit, has sent me the following as the wording of the vows which Jesuits take. I, N., make my profession, and I promise to Almighty God, in the presence of his Virgin Mother, the whole heavenly court, and all those present, and to you Reverend Father Provincial, representing the Superior General of the Society of Jesus and his successors and holding the place of God, perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience; and, in conformity with it, special care for the instruction of children, according to the manner of living contained in the apostolic letters of the Society of Jesus and its Constitutions. I further promise a special obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff in regard to the missions according to the same apostolic letters and the Constitutions.May I ask a Jesuit whether this in fact is the wording? If it is, it would appear that the promise is made both to Almighty God and to the Reverend Father Provincial as representing the Father General.

The link Kathy provided leads to an interesting discussion of obedience in the Dominican Constitutions:http://www.op.org/international/Curia/ConstOP/Const1_1.htm (page down to Article 2, which starts at para. 17)As I understand it, the Dominican approach to obedience is very different from the way we generally think of it. Obedience is promised so that the superior can free individuals to serve their mission to preach. It is not to be intrusive, but freeing. (That is an overly optimistic way of putting it, past the point of credibility even, but it is in that direction)

A young Dominican Father told me that before he's assigned, his superior will come and say, "I'd like to send you to this certain assignment. Let's talk about that next Tuesday." So they would have time to think and pray. Then they would meet and the friar could say, "I don't think that is where it is best for me to go right now. Would you consider x instead? Here is why I think this is better." Then the superior would go away and think about it and consult. Then he would come back with a response. If the response was, "No, let's go with my original suggestion," that would be an order, and then the friar would go under obedience. The friar indicated that according to his understanding, this was the Dominican way of allowing the Holy Spirit to be involved.

Fr. Komonchak: Your comments on obedience as an exercise in self-responsibility are so thoughtful and well-put. You mention an article you have written. Would it be possible to give us the citation? I would like to read more of what you have to say. The only problem with blog discussions is that they are so ephemeral, and sometimes the quality of what is said just deserves further pondering.

Dear Joe,Congar was surely no "mystifying" Jesuit when it came to obedience and suffering, but what do you make of those entries and that letter to his mother that appear in the last section of Journal d'un theologien: 1946-1956? (apology for lack of accent-mark) These passages--written during the worst year of Congar's life: his 1956 exile to Cambridge, England, after having been removed from his teaching post in 1954--do outline an embrace of the cross and its foolish wisdom. He certainly had no illusions about the stupidity and thuggishness of some in ecclesial authority, but he also consciously chose to turn to the Cross and trust that God would deliver him and his labors. This hope, born of patience (think of Romans 5:1-5, on which Congar wrote), seems--at least at first blush--to be similar to de Soras' "mystique of obedience." For instance, on September 20, 1956, after the death of his father, Congar reflects in his journal on areas in which his faith must deepen. After mentioning "loving and joyful communion with the Will of the Father" and "the mystery of providential direction. [...] The wisdom of the cross," he writes, "The Cross. Not only to admire it, not only to take it up and bear it, but to die beneath it. To truly live Easter."Congar, I believe, was different from Chenu in this 'embrace' of the Cross. A Dominican I know who lived with both men in Paris in 1974 said that, while both had made their peace with their ecclesially-induced suffering, Congar still bore the scars of that era; he was angry not for his own suffering, which he had forgiven, but for the suffering and lost opportunities inflicted upon the church and the world. Chenu, this Dominican said, had a serenity that overrode whatever pain he had endured. Congar did not have the same serenity. But, he did have the wisdom born of the Cross, and perhaps that is one reason why his work and witness bore so much fruit at Vatican II.

Kathy:For the opposite idea: A priest I know was told that he was to be assigned to, say, St. Eucalyptus parish, in North Podunk, and he indicated that he didn't want to go and appealed to the Cardinal Archbishop. They met the following Monday. The Cardinal said to the priest, "Father, I prayed about this over the weekend, and Jesus wants you to go to North Podunk." I told the priest that he should have replied: "That is very strange, Your Eminence, because I prayed to Jesus's Father, and He said I didn't have to go." Then they could have got the false pieties out of the way and get down to a concrete discussion of matters.

Thanks to Clara Dugan for a very interesting post. It's more about the process of obedience, rather than the theology of it. Most of the people on this thread haven't taken vows of obedience--myself included. Does the process outlined in Clara's post ring true to the way it actually works in practice? I'm asking Jim M., and any other vowed religious who happens to be reading/

Chris:Thank you for your piece. I do think there was a difference in temperament between Chenu and Congar that will account in part for the differences in their thoughts, even years later, about the troubles they underwent.You are right that Congar did in fact face his troubles in a religious spirit and was even of the mind that his sufferings, at the hands of his superiors or, especially, of the "Holy Office (he liked to put the adjective in that phrase between quote-marks because he didn't think it very holy), might in some way contribute to the eventual triumph of the truth. But it is one thing to deal with one's fate religiously and in a spirit of self-sacrifice, and it is another thing to make the necessity of such sacrifice part of the very meaning or logic of obedience. Is the reason for having a system that requires authority and obedience so that those who are to obey are given an opportunity to imitate Christ's obedience in his passion?At the end of his treatise on Redemption, Bernard Lonergan spoke rather wryly of people who might think his reflections, and the subtle distinctions they involved, too abstruse. He spoke of people who "when they learn the excellence of the Cross not only imitate Christ in bearing the cross but also follow the Pharisees and Pilate in imposing it on others." My version: there are people who never speak so eloquently about the Cross as when they are placing it on someone else's shoulders. I do not think superiors should invoke the need to share in Christ's sufferings as the motive for which they wish their subjects to obey them.One last (perhaps) thing from the difficulties the French Dominicans had to suffer in 1954: several people at the time spoke of the problem with regard to obedience caused in France by the experience of the Occupation. Frenchmen found themselves having to face a crisis in responding to the injunctions of "authority" whether in the persons of the occupying Germans or in those of the collaborationist Vichy government. The Rsistance was a repudiation of this "authority" and a call to rebellion. This experience, it was said, de-legitimized "authority" and this attitude and corresponding behavior had a great impact upon young people who, then, were not inclined to a "mystique of authority." During the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Sebastien Tromp, executive secretary of the Theological Commission, told Fr. Congar that he thought what he regarded as a crisis of authority in the Church derived in good part from such wartime experiences. In his Counciil journal, Congar wrote: "He's right!"

Cathleen,the only obedience I have ever vowed was the one to love, honor, and obey my wife. But I think that may be a good model for understanding obedience to a religious superior.In one section, the Dominican constitutions say: " The superior, seeking God's will and the good of the community and "regarding himself happy in serving in charity rather than in governing with authority," should promote the free performance of duty, not servile subjection." The remark about serving in charity is from the Rule of St Augustine, which is the basis for the Dominican constitutions, so this type of distinction goes back a long way.The Jesuit language of blind obedience and carrying corpses sounds supportive of "servile subjection" as an ideal, but I bet in practice they also strive for "free performance of duty". Human dignity would lead almost any group to that basic orientation. Still, imagery mast have some effect.As for me and my vow to my wife, I just read in the newspaper that we do not argue enough...

Fascinating discussion. Reminds me of a French Jesuit who, with splendid Gallic humour, defined the difference between Jesuit and Dominican government as follows: 'Dominican government is anarchy tempered by the good will of the individual Dominicans; Jesuit government is monarchy tempered by the bad will of the individual Jesuits!'

To Joe, et. al.: Sorry for the delay in responding. I didn't think this thread was still active and so haven't checked it in a while. (And why aren't you all looking at America's blog anyway!?) In any event, to offer some answers to your questions, in an admittedly brief way: Are you distinguishing the Jesuit vows from those of other religious orders when you say that they are directed to God? No, not at all. I'm speaking only from my Jesuit experience, but I believe all members of religious orders are vowing themselves to God, whose will is ultimately made known through the decisions of one's superiors. But the key point is that you are not vowing to a person, but to God, whom one relies on to bring one's vows to fulfillment. The same with the other vows. And how does the Society itself enter into the statement of commitment? E.g., do you say something similar to this, namely, that you are vowing, to God, obedience, chastity, and poverty within the Society of Jesus? Yes, you say, as it says above in the vow formula (which is more or less accurate, though I think it's missing a few things at the end) according to the Jesuit Constitutions and our founding documents. So when we vow obedience we are vowing it as we understand it in the Society of Jesus, which is something of an important point when it comes to the famous "fourth vow" to the pope. Also, the Society has accepted you de facto by inviting you to vows--initially, at your first vows; and finally at your final vows. But, as Jesuit novices are happy to discover, you are considered a Jesuit the day you enter the novitiate. In fact, on your tombstone are three dates: your birthdate (Natus), your date of Entrance (Ingressus) and your death (Obiit), if memory serves.One trusts that God's will is made known through a process of discernment with your superior. So your superior is listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit within you as well--your hopes and dreams and desires. Superiors know that the Spirit works from above and below. But in the end it is the superior who decides, and Jesuits trust that even if it seems hard to accept that God is being heard, if mysteriously. Normally, though, it is in the process of conversation and prayer that discernment happens. Rare are the times when you are ordered "under holy obedience," as they say, to do something that you would rather not do, or go somewhere where wish not to go (though it's happened to me a few times). And never, or at least I've not heard of a case, where you are ordered to do something under blind obedience (that is, for reasons you do not know).

I tok Fr. Martin's advic eand looked at America - and found a great article abou ta diocesan priest (who promised reveranc eand obedience to his Bishop, I beleieve) -Neil Connelly.It's worth a read about balancei n the Church apropos of this topic.I can't quit here, because it notes his conection to St. Athanasius in the South Bronx - a church that recently lost its pastor and another dynamite priest, Bill Smith. Therewas a wondeful piece in the Ny Daily News about him sent to me by a friend. I don't see their kind among the clergy coming along today in the diocesan ranks, probably because the JPII priests view obedience as passing on the party line,That also makes me think of Fr. Nicholas talking about how it's all about service.

Jim Martin:Thank you for your explanations and clarifications.

I was wondering if anyone has a good sense of the meaning of the expression "evangelical counsels." The three evangelical counsels are poverty, chastity and obedience. Does the expression mean that following them is an especially effective way of living the Gospel? Or that some form of following them (as a vowed religious or not) is essential to living out the baptismal vows?At some point there is a convergence between the following of Christ and the living out of the biblical injunctions, because the beatitudes describe Him. And the counsels are in His commands, "Avoid greed in all its forms" "Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees" "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."How much of the self-denial involved in following the Gospel (following Christ, living the vows) is about dying to the "old man" degraded by sin--inherited and personal--and how much is about putting on the glorified nature? Paul said, "I give no thought to what is past but press on to what is ahead. My entire attention is on the finish line."What does it mean to learn to bear the weight of glory?

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.