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The Jesuits on Obedience

The 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus was held in Rome from January to March. One of its key actions was the election of a new Father General. But the Congregation also discussed and discerned a number of pressing issues in the life of the Society and of the Church.The documents that are the fruit of that discernment are now available in PDF format here.One recalls that Pope Benedict urged the delegates to express anew the Society's traditional commitment to the service of the Church and its special relation with the Holy Father. Here are some excerpts from "Decree Four: On Obedience in the Life of the Society of Jesus."

We will only be able to live our vow of obedience as freedom and true self-realization if the mystical experience of passionate love for Christ, the one who is sent by the Father and who is obedient to the Father's will, remains alive in us and if we daily renew our unconditional commitment to be his companions [#17].The fourth vow, which Ignatius himself defined as "our beginning and principal foundation," expresses what is specific to the Society: total availability to serve the Church wherever the Pope sends us, The fourth vow also makes clear the place of the Society in the Church. It gives the Society structural incorporation in the life of the Church by linking its charism as an apostolic religious order to the hierarchical structure of the Church in the person of the Pope. It is through this vow that the Society participates in the universal mission of the Church and that the universality of its mission, carried out through a wide range of ministries in the service of local churches, is guaranteed [#31].The availability promised in the fourth vow is distinct from the Ignatian spirituality of "sentire cum ecclesia." However, both are rooted in the love we have for Christ our Lord, a love that extends itself to love for the Church and for "the one who holds the place of Christ our Lord for us." That is why we speak of being united with the Pope effectively and affectively. Taken together, the fourth vow and our ecclesial spirituality move us to offer the service asked of us by the Pope [#33].

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Dear Fr. Imbelli, thank you for posting this. It's good to reflect on what obedience we owe to the institutional church, in what that obedience is rooted, and how it takes particular shape in our lives.FWIW, the Gospel for a week from Sunday is Matthew 16:13-20, the "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven" passage. My pastoral experience, FWIW, is that there are many, many folks of Catholic heritage who still believe in God and wish to honor Him and walk in his ways, but who have severed their connection to the Church, or allowed ithe connection to atrophy. They're sincerely religious but don't see the need for the church in their lives.Possibly not the discussion direction you were hoping for, but it's where my thoughts are now.

Mr. Pauweis,thanks for your always thoughtful comments.I recognize the issue you raise in your second paragraph, and it is indeed a pastoral challenge.I think one aspect of the challenge is the "individualism" of our culture. It is not new -- already in the 1930s Chesterton opined that in America even the Catholics are Protestant. But it has taken on ever stronger manifestations: even Charles Taylor laments it.So the task is formidable: how seek to show gently and cogently that Jesus Christ is diminished without his body, the Church? And that the Church is not merely a spiritual assembly of like-minded individuals, but a corporate reality that is incarnate in history: holy and sinful.Of course, the witness of faithful believers is paramount; but a Catholic "apologetics" is also required: of the sort, for example, that one finds in Henri de Lubac's magnificent, "The Splendor of the Church," whose original title is the more evocative and less triumphal, "Meditation on the Church."I realize the response is merely an indication, but I pray that some of my students who are now entering formation in the Society of Jesus, may find inspiration in the words of the 35th Congregation, and their elder brother (or perhaps grandfather) de Lubac.Happy feast of the Assumption -- another Catholic safeguard against what Taylor calls "excarnation."

Many folks "have severed their connection to the Church" because they no longer want to be part of an institution retrenching on Vatican II. They see their fellow laity continuing to occupy the pews and putting money in the coffers but refusing to get off their rear ends and demand transparency and accountability from the bishops. They see "business as usual" and --- frustrated --- decide to opt out, as I did the end of CY 2006. Why continue to "enable" a sick and dying institution? My decision was not painful. It was easy; after several years, I got tired of the crap! I don't anticipate joining any other Christian body because I still hold fast to my Catholic faith. For now, I'm unchurched.I'm very leery nowadays of Catholic "apologetics." If anything, we need informed, intelligent, and vigorous (maybe contrarian?) lay discourse, something our bishops would just as soon see go away. Hey, why rock the boat?It's one thing to acknowledge the sinfulness of the church. It's another thing to do something about it. And I only see "troublemakers and dissidents" trying to do something about it! Maybe we need a new barque of Peter???

Joe,Opting out is not an answer, I submit. "Ecclesia Semper Reformanda", The Church must always reform itself. Let God sift the Wheat from the Chaff. Augustine, of course, butchered this axiom of the gospel by forcing people to do what the thought was right. With soldiers no less. Jesus is always in the Body of Christ despite corrupt leaders.

Joseph, I pray that you and the church may find a path to reconciliation."Im very leery nowadays of Catholic apologetics. If anything, we need informed, intelligent, and vigorous (maybe contrarian?) lay discourse, something our bishops would just as soon see go away. Hey, why rock the boat?"If you'll forgive what may be a trite analogy: many business execs fear this new world of hyper-communication - the world of Web 2.0, where everyone, including customers and consumers have a platform - the web - to speak out publicly about the business's products, services, slip-ups, accomplishments, etc. An enraged customer may set up a website called "(company name)". Or create a YouTube video showing the product as it's failing. Or email his discontent to 10,000 other potential customers. And this communication is beyond the ability of the business to control. So some businesses (including my employer, as it happens) have figured, "if we can't control it, let's embrace it." And so (for example) they have blogs on their website where customers can post anything; employees can respond; etc. Even if it's a slam on the company's products, it's left out there for the world to see. And good companies take the feedback seriously, and will use it to improve existing products and/or plan new ones.We in the church don't "produce" a "product", but the process I'm trying to sketch is one that the church could embrace. Possibly.

Mr. Jaglowicz, You write "Many folks have severed their connection to the Church because they no longer want to be part of an institution retrenching on Vatican II".There are many folk who risk to sever their connection with the Church because of misinterpretations of Vatican II. We see no documents cited for certain practices enforced - enforced, I say - by some bishops, but are told that they are in "the spirit of Vatican II". The rapid decline in Church attendance began after Vatican II; so also the decline in vocations both to the priesthood and for nuns. It is to me a curiosity that while priests and nuns were forbidden to wear religious garb under socialist regimes in France and Spain and Mexico and other countries, the absence of such garb is now routine. Being neither a priest or a nun [or a bishop], I have nothing to say about it. But I may, may I not?, regret it. You add"Why continue to enable a sick and dying institution?". Believe me it doesn't depend on you. The death of the Church has been predicted over the centuries. But are not the sick and dying institutions always the institutions of this world? And we have the promise of Our Lord about the continuance of the Church. [If you are unchurched, to whom do you confess your sins, imploring forgiveness? You can't forgive yourself. It doesn't work]. If you want good apologetics, try Fr. Jaki's APOLOGETICS AS MEANT BY NEWMAN. Good stuff.

JJ asserts:They see their fellow laity continuing to occupy the pews and putting money in the coffers but refusing to get off their rear ends and demand transparency and accountability from the bishops.But good Bill Mazzella trumps that with,Opting out is not an answer, I submit. Ecclesia Semper Reformanda, The Church must always reform itself.I am always annoyed by remarks similar to JJ's. The self-righteousness is too much. Try reforming yourself JJ, and let me know when you get there; I've been trying for longer than I care to admit to reform myself, and haven't gotten very far...

Sorry for the italics in the last paragraph. Those are my words, not Bill's.

Bill, the church ---as you've noted --- has always been said to be in need of reform. Acknowledging and saying is one thing. Doing is something different altogether. I don't see the doing.Jim, I like your (employer's) idea. I suspect, though, that a hierarchical-minded, stratified Church of Rome is not about to embrace it. It smacks of collegiality and subsidiarity, and we all know where those ideas have been flushed the past nearly 30 years.Gabriel, you state, "The rapid decline in church attendance began after Vatican II; so also the decline in vocations both to the priesthood and for nuns." A recent CW article by Davidson and Hoge (?) observed that this decline in attendance was simply returning the church to its pre-WWII attendance levels. There was a surge in religious vocations after WWII perhaps because of "the horror of it all." Was there any similar surge during/after the Vietnam War? Has there been a vocations increase among veterans, male and female, of the Middle Eastern wars? I don't know one way or the other."Believe me [enabling a sick and dying institution] doesn't depend on you." True, but continuing to feed this institution does, in fact, enable its continued pathology. Is Christ only to be found among "the churched?" To whom do I confess my sins? To God. Until and unless I see a change in direction of the RCC, I shall not continue my role in enabling by participating in its services and giving it money. The church is both human and divine. It's the human part I'm not going to support. As for the divine aspect, God looks after all of us, church and unchurched.Bob, if you're annoyed by remarks such as mine, so be it. "Try reforming yourself JJ, and let me know when you get there." Bob, don't hold your breath :) I'm simply trying to do my part to help reform a sick (and, yes, dying) institution. If you haven't gotten very far in trying to reform yourself, Bob, I have no suggestions that you likely haven't already tried. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Ahem..............

It looks like Joe's first post has become the theme of the thread.Like many in the drift, he deserves listening and patient support as we say we try to help his alienantion.Fr.Greeley in his current Commonweal article talks about signs of hope and they're not coming from the top! One, of course, is reaching out to alienated catholocs.I agree with Joe that we don't need the new apolegetics of today but the creative stirring of the Spirit Greeley enumerates and other hopeful signs like the Conference on Ministry or the Convention for the Common Good.Which gets me back to the Jesuits, prime educators to a changing Church in the US. as it becomes more brown but also with many in drift.I don;t think a callf or obedience (even if noble0 is what the SJs need.I hearken back to the talk I earlier referenced by Msgr. Bob Stern on the spanish Apostolate in New York. It recounted the great early success of that effort as Church leaders 9Cardinal Spellma, Archbishop <cGuire) listened to the academics and craetive clergy of that time. It waned after Cardinal Cooke was "fearful" of too much lay leadership.Maybe what the Jesuits and Joe and all of us who are disaffected to some degree or other need is to be listened to and taken seriously.

Hello All,My thanks to all for the thought provoking posts in this thread.I think the discussion here and the recent discussions over the 40 year anniversary of Humanae Vitae raise a somewhat more general question: What does it mean to be Roman Catholic? I think that whatever one thinks of Vatican II and HV and their aftermath, I think these two events and what has followed should have raised this question anew in the minds of all. But I don't know to what extent people in general ask the question or try to answer it. After a lot of reflection I don't yet have an answer that satisfies me. Why is this question hard to answer? And why should we try to arrive at a good answer? (By "we" I mean everyone, not necessarily those who are actual members of the Roman Catholic church.) I think we should try to give a good answer to the question because I think without one there is little prospect of healing the divisions among Catholics, and thses days I am acutely aware how deep these divisions have become over the past two decades. Why is the question hard to answer? The actual practice of Catholics suggests we're nowhere near clear on the answer. As many participants here have noted before, only a tiny minority of American Catholics (who I believe prefer to be called "traditionalists") believe in and/or comply with all of the teachings summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The remaining majority are divided between those who in effect "draw lines" and comply with/believe in teachings they can accept (and who are pejoratively called "cafeteria Catholics") and those who stop participating directly in the Roman Catholic Church altogether (and who are pejoratively called "fallen Catholics"). While some claim this is an American phenomenon (*), I know of no evidence that the Catholics elsewhere in the world are that much different from American Catholics. ((*) Some of us may recall a recent interview with Cardinal George of Chicago who in effect said "Blame it on America.".)I'm aware that some claim that only the traditionalists are worthy of the name "Catholic" and that all the rest are simply rebels who will in time receive their chastisement. Indeed, I recently became aware of a web community whose members expect a worldwide warning and miracle to occur within two years that will frighten the majority of Catholics into rejecting their "lax" ways. But I think the situation is somewhat more complicated. Like it or not, the Church teaches that any baptized Catholic remains Catholic for life unless she explicitly renounces the Catholic faith. So in a certain sense, all Catholics are "stuck" with each other, even those who no longer want to participate directly in the Roman Catholic Church. And this I think brings us back to the question with which I began this post.(And advance apologies to all for having no good answer!)

Wow! What's the web address at that community, Peter? I am studying American apocalyptic writing--which is much more a Protestant phenomenon; this group of Catholics is quite innovative!

There are apocalyptic motifs in some modern Marian movements. They were also not absent from what scholars have referred to as "Catholic catastrophism," which read the secularization of society and culture as instantiating the great Apostasy that is to precede the coming of the Antichrist (2 Th 2:3ff). In his inaugural Encyclical Pope Pius X said that the evils he perceived in his age gave "good reason to fear that this great perversity may be as it were a foretaste and perhaps the beginning of the evils reserved for the last days and that the "Son of Perdition" of whom the Apostle speaks (2 Th 2:3) may already be in the world. Such, in truth, is the audacity and the wrath employed everywhere in persecuting religion, in combatting the dogmas of the faith, in brazen efforts to uproot and destroy all relations between man and the Divinity! While, on the other hand, and this according to the same Apostle is the distinguishing mark of Antichrist, man has with infinite temerity put himself in the place of God, raising himself above all that is called God, to such a degree that although he cannot utterly extinguish in himself all knowledge of God, he has despised God's majesty and, as it were, made of the universe a temple wherein he himself is to be adored. "He sits in the temple of God and gives himself out as if he were God" (2 Th 2:2). Cardinal Manning made similar arguments a couple of decades earlier.

Hello Cathleen (and all),The web site to which members of this community contribute is known as Catholic Planet. I believe the URL is . However, while I have learned a great deal about this web community from some of its participants, I have refused to visit this site myself. As I told those who alerted me to this web community, I don't want to be spending my time trying to interpret alleged Marian apparitions in order to try to predict the future when I have students who need to be served, I know of people who need prayers and alms, and so on.By now most participants here know I try to be careful not to generalize unfairly. But I am struck by how some of the same people who scoff at Protestants who expect a rapture to occur sometime soon think that we should take all the apocalyptic stories of reported Marian apparitions as literally true (even if they have trouble predicting some of the most important details of the catastrophe).By the way Fr. Komonchak, thank you for your post. I did not know before that Catholic catastrophism has a history that stretches over at least a century.And Cathleen, good luck with the research and a happy start to yor fall semester at Notre Dame.

Joe and Peter, thanks much!The connection between the Marian apparitions and apocalyptic writings is extremely interesting --and something that is very, very new to me. Is Mary generally portrayed as trying to avoid it all, given her mercy and aversion to destruction?

Oh my, I partly fear to tread on this topic, but here goes.Jim Pauwels opens the comments by asking what obedience do Catholics owe the institutional church, and how is that played out? Bob Imbelli notes correctly that Jesus is diminished without the corporate reality of His body the Church (as the People of God?), and recommends the Jesuit model of obedience reflected in the general chapter document. An understanding of my obligation to be obedient is a problematic issue with disturbing over or undertones, as I hear them from clerical authorities.I read some years back that obedience comes from ob audire, to listen intently. Yes, by all means, listen carefully for the voice of God from whatever source. But when I hear a hierarchy that I find in good conscience not to be that voice, then what? Stay silent or under the radar, leave, speak out, abandon my beliefs? We need a community of believers unafraid to embrace questions, and be true to our own lights, however bright or dim at certain times. Or however divergent from the official word, continuing in prayer to seek deeper understanding. I believe in the Eucharist with all my heart, which is what keeps me in the fray. But I look askance at resorts to calls for obedience to questionable positions, just because some prelates say so. And threats of hell no longer pertain to keep me compliant.There is a rightful place for authority since we are not the sum total of wisdom ourselves, but its exercise is open to question. Obedience though has been so distorted in the name of absolute power that something in me cringes as it is enforced a priest tells me he has the scars to show for it, as do many I suspect. People (men and women) are emasculated, infantilized, deeply hurt, kept in line, and not for the service of truth. Indeed, no corporate executive has anything on many bishops when it comes to corruption.

But when my heart burns on hearing those few bishops whose words resonate deeply, I want to obey wholeheartedly. I do want to obey God (an up and down effort in light of damnably persistent flaws, slouching toward Bethlehem), but to equate His will always with that of certain individuals theology is a real stretch. I find the mystical/religious/spiritual language in the Jesuit document cloaks the political realities on the ground. The subtext I see is the reigning in of former liberal tendencies, a tightening of discipline to make sure nothing surfaces to discomfit the Vatican power structure. Everything is under control now from the popes point of view. Get the clear message that you all stay on his message, consciences notwithstanding. And be gracious about it, as Tom Reese is. That may be unfair, but it is the tenor I am left with. Despite all, it is because of the institutional Church that the sacraments are available, and treasures of millennia of wisdom (when carefully sifted**) Holy and sinful, says Bob Imbelli. How to keep the holy part and the reality of Gods saving love more visible? Random thoughts**OK, so its over the top, but here is a quote I find worth sifting: Pius IX on slavery, in 1866!: "Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons...It is not contrary to the natural law and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given." Instruction 20 June 1866 quoted in J.F. Maxwell's "The Development of Catholic Doctrine Concerning Slavery," World Jurist 11 (1969-70) pp. 306-7.

A lot of comments since I last checked in.Peter,your question, "what does it mean to be Roman Catholic?", cuts to the heart of some of the initial comments. I associate it with John Allen's identifying of "Catholic identity" as one of the key issues the Church faces.I think there are two presumptions: first, there is an identifiable configuration of elements that characterize the distinctive reality of Roman Catholicism. Second, there are criteria for adjudicating the adequacy of claims regarding what constitutes such identity.I don't think that a book like McBrien's Catholicism would deny those two presumptions; indeed,, it works from them.My reference to "apologetics" was merely an indication that the task must be always done afresh -- and I instanced de Lubac's "Meditation on the Church" as an example that sets forth the intrinsically ecclesial and eucharistic nature of being Catholic. In re-reading the book this year, if one ignored the dates of the books and articles cited in the footnotes, one could be reading a commentary on Vatican II.Carolyn,I find what you say in this paragraph very much to the point:"Despite all, it is because of the institutional Church that the sacraments are available, and treasures of millennia of wisdom (when carefully sifted). Holy and sinful, says Bob Imbelli. How to keep the holy part and the reality of Gods saving love more visible?"There is no non-institutional Church -- and "institution" embraces more than "hierarchy" (though there is no Roman Catholicism without episcopal and Petrine ministry). Sacraments are "instituted" by Christ.And there is no "unmediated" access to Christ. Catholicism is all about "mediation."A final point lest this go on too long.Carolyn brings her comments round to the original post (finalmente!). I think the Jesuits were rightly concerned with the issue of Jesuit identity -- what distinguishes the Society within the Church Catholic. One of the important conclusions of their discernment was the need to re-affirm "obedience" both within the Society and in relation to the ministry of Peter.Nothing they say obviates the deep sense of obedience as "attentive listening." But it is an attentive listening within the context of "the mystical experience of passionate love for Christ" (#17, with which I began my post).Such affirmation does not "cloak the political realities on the ground." It provides the one context in which we can encounter such "realities" and relate them constructively to the deepest Reality: God's love in Christ.

Bob,I guess my question--and uneasiness --about this thread boils down to this. I see no Jesuit who has commented on this thread--no one who has actually committed themselves to this form of life, taken these vows, or interpreted these vows in the context of their own relationship to God. Furthermore, I'm puzzled that you bring up the fourth vow out of context. No Jesuit I know would say that you can or should attempt to understand the fourth vow out of context, out of relationship to the whole Ignatian chraism, especially the Spiritual Exercises. As I understand it, (CORRECT ME IF I"M WRONG JIM MARTIN OR OTHER SJ) the vow of obedience is not taken by unformed men, men who have not developed a strong sense of their own capacity to discern God's will for their own lives. It's not a way of turning over your independence before figuring out who you are. Precisely the contrary, it is taken by fully formed, fully developed Jesuits who are committing their spiritually mature lives and selves to serve God through the order. I think the Fourth Vow is taken in Final Vows --not earlier. Furthermore, and I think there are hints of this in the passage you pointed to--obedience is not unconstrained by context. It's a vow to GO --missionary work--, where the Pope thinks the Jesuits are needed. It's not a vow to evacuate your own mind, your own discernment and replace it with that of the Pope (or more likely his assistants). Obedience is not loss of identity. Nor is it sycophancy. I have seen, however, many, many people especially on the conservative blogs, use the fourth vow as a way of bashing the Jesuits. Forgive the Star Trek metaphor, but they think of the church like the Borg, a collectivity that obliterates individuality. Obviously, the Jesuits don't- can't mean that--no one familiar with Catholic anthropology can mean that. But a lot of people would seem to like it--ah, let's use the Fourth Vow--the conservative pope has a way of getting his hooks into that order! The Fourth Vow is all that matters to them.Finally, to the extent that you're tacitly calling for more "obedience" from everyone, not merely highly trained Jesuits, I think it is necessary to deal with the dark side of this--especially since the last few posts have revealed scandalous behavior on the part of the hierarchy with respect to the sex abuse scandal. In my view, though obviously not in yours, they have also revealed the use of religious power on on the part of a prelate to serve secular political ends of a particular political party. Obedience--and the call for obedience--has been repeatedly abused in this Church to wreak great harm on people. Priests and bishops abused their office--and authority--and wrongly tried to cover this up in some cases by calling for obedient silence from their victims, or to constrain their own judgments about what the political common good requires. I think if we don't attend to the political realities on the ground--and patterns of abuse of the call for obedience -- phrases like "the mystical experience of passionate love for Christ"," when not applied to highly trained groups like the Jesuits, seems quite dangerous. Calls for obedience, coupled with a blissful common experience, have been misused. The twentieth century in Europe was not destroyed by individualism--it was destroyed by collectivist groups pushing for a collectivist experience. The Church's connections with Franco and fascism don't merely get a "pass." So we have to talk about the dangers of both, in a world ChurchCathy.

Cathy,I have my own "uneasiness" about the thread, but it has little to do with the original post.Part of the reason for my post was that I have seen no comments on the documents of the General Congregation and the one on "obedience" in particular -- this after much attention was devoted to the General Congregation while it was in process.Therefore, I fully second the implicit desire you express: "I see no Jesuit who has commented on this threadno one who has actually committed themselves to this form of life, taken these vows, or interpreted these vows in the context of their own relationship to God." My post was a very modest beginning and I would welcome being instructed by those better formed and informed than I.Further, in what way do I bring up the "fourth vow" out of context? Paragraphs 17 and 33 which I quote provide some of that wider context. In addition, I give the link to the entire document: eminently worth reading and by no means limited to that vow. Indeed, one of its merits is to discuss Jesuit initial and ongoing formation.I truly hope that "the mystical experience of passionate love for Christ," is not limited to "highly trained groups like the Jesuits." I thought Lumen gentium deemed it the common vocation of Christians.Finally, you may discern a "tacit" call for more "obedience" from everyone, but my post was focused upon the Society of Jesus and its important discernment. What the implications are for the rest of us, especially those who are attracted by Ignatian spirituality, would be an interesting and important discussion. Perhaps you might initiate a thread to that end.

I sympathize with much that Carolyn has said, and with Cathy's concern about the misuse of calls for obedience in the church, but, for what it is worth, my immediate reaction to the document on obedience is that it is a carefully wrought defense of Jesuit obedience in the orders own terms. Their obedience is first to God. The fourth vow is deliberately framed as referring simply to the orders acceptance of any mission assigned by the Pope and a willingness to go where they are sent. There is a carefully nuanced description of the mutual responsibilities of supervisor and subject in discerning what should be done under obedience. (Rome could learn something from that way of looking at things.) There is a good deal of stress on collaboration in ministry. The tone is respectful, and there are a few mentions of efforts to do better, to improve, etc. But basically, they dont give an inch. And considering the tone and content of the messages from Rome directed toward them before their general meeting, crafting a reply like this took nerve.

Allow me to add some thoughts and also keep the threads together as Carolyn, Kathleen, and Robert have done.It is interesting that no Jesuit has added their thoughts to this blog. Some history that may explain the tension that the Jesuits find themselves in:a) during the "reign" of JPII, he forced the Jesuit general out and replaced him with his own "temporary" replacement (reason given - health?) - the designated monitor was an 80 year old Jesuit;b) in response, the Jesuits put in Kolvenbach with a mandate for papal peace who JPII approved ending the inter-regnum period of 2 years? Kolvenbach was respected by the curia but knew how to continue to guide the Jesuit community in all of its apostolates, projects, etc. without incurring the wrath of Rome. He repaired the lines of communication but did not change the prophetic role of his community;c) the new general has an enviable resume - dedication to the Far East esp. Japan; living with and loving the most rejected of society; modeling this to his Jesuit brothers; thus, recapturing the spirit and direction of Pedro Arrupe but lending a significant Asian prophetic emphasis to the needs of the world, the church and the Jesuit community e.g. Jesuit relief services;d) interesting fact - despite Jesuit constitutions against this, JPII named almost 100 Jesuits as bishops primarily in missionary lands ignoring Jesuit charism & even a few cardinals (Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina was a favored papabile in the last consistory & if elected would have been the first Jesuit pope as was Martini who avoided the situation by blaming his health). I would say that this has had a very positive impact on the local church but even Iggy lobbied to avoid this because he wanted Jesuits to be free to exercise a prophetic role in the Church; JPII couldn't live with the Jesuits but he couldn't live without them;e) by Jesuit constitutions, they are very entwined with the Pope and yet many Jesuits over the last 40 years have been silenced in their role as a prophetic voice, restricted from teaching/publishing, etc. e.g. Dupuis, Rahner, Chardin, Haight, as examples;f) so, agree with Susan's conclusion that in typical Jesuitical style, their obediance is carefully nuaced to respect the Pope but preserve their prophetic role in the world and the church;g) In terms of the earler question, "what does it mean to be Roman Catholic" - well, it means we all choose to live the apostolic tradition of "already; but not yet" theologically; to act on the traditional "et & et" e.g. magesterium and people of God; prophetic Jesuit who listens to the pope.......since Vatican II.....this is what it means to be Roman Catholic:Post-conciliar period itself can justify our hopes by taking account of developments in this period, developments we take for granted, developments we found unthinkable even in the euphoria at the close of Vatican II.Latin-rite married convert Catholic pastors Ecumenical and Interfaith Weddings the Pope at the World Council of Churches or praying in a Lutheran Church to honor Martin Luther or entering with devotion a synagogue or mosque a formal apology by the Pope to the world for the evil done to it by Catholics a majority of Catholic laity in favor of abortion in some circumstances, homosexual committed relationships, a married priesthood, the ordination of women (even though all of these were condemned by three popes in succession) the legal status of homosexual marriages in traditionally Catholic countries a conviction, Church-wide, by most Catholics that one remains a Catholic in good standing and is entitled to communion in divorce and remarriage, in homosexual relationships, after excommunication, resigning from canonical priestly ministry without dispensation, after an abortion Catholics taking a bishop to court, favoring the bankruptcy of dioceses, forcing cardinals to resign in Austria and in the United States world-wide acceptance of the ministry of non-canonical married priests organized communities of Catholics favoring issues Church administrators condemn while insisting they are Catholics in good standing a Pope meeting for hours, in a friendly environment, seeking no retraction, with Hans Kung, a theologian who seriously challenges the legitimacy of papal infallibility Assisi days of prayer with leaders of world religions gathered with the Pope as his equal a formal acceptance by the Pope of the Augsburg Confession, the charter of the Reformation communion at the Vatican, by the Pope, to those who are not Catholic, such as United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair A number of the above items could have led to formal heresy charges against John Paul II by the Council of Trent.Pius X at the beginning of the twentieth century excommunicated Catholic theologians for less than this.In the United States, some bishops, before Vatican II, excommunicated laity for not sending their children to Catholic schools. That, at a time when excommunication was terrifying in the extreme.Vatican II was not prepared to accept the Augsburg Confession or to have a Pope dine with the leading theologian questioning papal infallibility. It did not intend that laity would bring bishops to court or that lay people, opposed to Church teaching, would decide for themselves, without confession, whether they should receive communion.A good deal of this is done unofficially but not without widespread lay and considerable clerical approval. The Catholic laity now see the world as Protestants or even secularists did in 1960. Indeed they take these choices as a matter of course, not worth mentioning. Large numbers of Catholics consider their non-canonical wedding fully Catholic if a married priest celebrates it for them. Such a statement could not have been parsed theologically in 1960.

Bob, since the original post was yours, I take it for granted you weren't uneasy about it!By taking it out of context, I mean by not contextualizing the Fourth Vow in terms of the other formation received by Jesuits in your post itself. I think this is a controversial and neuralgic subject, which people tend to view in an isolated manner if not given more context up front. I also think it lends itself to Jesuit=bashing on the part of conservatives, something which is neither your nor my intention. But that's just my view. I think Susan is right about the carefully crafted nature of this statement. The question is, from perspective, what does one need to know about the Jesuits to be able to assess the Fourth Vow --or to talk intelligently about it? Are people as interested in the other vows, which are literally more fundamental to them? Or is it simply the vow of obedience that garners all the attention--because it's so easily used as weapon in church battles? I think all Christians can be concerned about the mystical love of Christ. But you are not talking about the mystical love Christ in general--you're talking about what the Jesuits mean and do not mean by obedience to the pope in relation to that love. I think it's one thing to comment on mystical unity in general, it's another thing to assess whether a highly trained order to which we don't belong are implementing that love in the right way or not in the vow of obedience. So my question for you is, why is this vow, of all the vows Jesuits and ordered priests take, so important for those of us who are not Jesuits to discuss? Which brings me to my point about your tacit concern for increased general obedience, you are, of course, the ultimate interpreter of your own posts. I point out however, that the first response to the post took it precisely in this way: "Dear Fr. Imbelli, thank you for posting this. Its good to reflect on what obedience we owe to the institutional church, in what that obedience is rooted, and how it takes particular shape in our lives."Your response seemed to me, at least, to welcome that turn to obedience in general in the conversation.

There some hilarious aspects of this thread.The word "obedience" has raised many hackles. I suppose this comes from resentment at having to be obedient to our secular bosses, or risk getting fired. During the 39/45 War, the greatest successes came from men following orders. The Sex Scandal persists. Sex always does that. [I note the curiosity that it seems to have been with pubescent boys]. And it seems to me that it takes American Puritans to get so worked up about sex. I don't know why. Priests, I take it, are supposed not to have hormones. Priests are not part of our fallen human nature. If ever there was a case for applying Our Lord's words about the first stone, this is one. The accusers are a tad too riled up. If you want sex scandals in the church, try a little Church history. The Americans, as the Europeans properly note, are puny pikers in the matter. Mr, De Haas notes that many Catholics now see the Church with Protestant eyes. There is precisely the point. Private judgement rules. The question is whether our private judgement is reliable. One might usefully study the course of the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Our Lord. A majority of the bishops were Arian; the emperors were Arian; and even the recently converted barbarians were Arian. Eventually the heresy died down [falsehood always does] until recently feebly resurrected in the Church of England.

Lots of terrific posts here by Peter, Susan(who I wish would post more often), Carolyn and Bill not only on the Jesuits and obedience, but the problem of obedience in general in the muddle of being catholic today.Whicj brings up the question of rule and conscience again - Monday, Fr. Boiurgois will be examined at Maryknoll by his superiors for preachin gat a woman's ordination.The story is well documented at the NCR website.Once more, we'll see the current tensions in action. (Those who know better may ramble on about heresy, but the process of how we get to Christ's will, with the struggles entailed seems to be playing out once again.)While we've done well, I think, of limning the problem(s) here of the divisions, the way forward stiil seems quite dark and perhaps gloomy.

I've heard old Religious say that obedience is the hardest vow, and the last to be fully realized. Chastity is a young man's struggle; poverty is sorted out in midlife. Obedience is gained, if ever, late in life.Why would anyone freely hand over their power of self-determination? That's the challenge that the Jesuit document offers. In the Holy Week liturgy there is a recurring antiphon from the canticle in Philippians 2: Christus factus est pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis. The Lord became obedient even to death--death on a cross.One interesting thing about this canticle is its context: St. Paul has been exhorting the Philippians to greater love for one another, and says that in order to be able to do this, their minds have to become more like the mind of Christ: obedient. The more famous word in the canticle for this attitude of Christ is "kenosis" or self-emptying. Empty the self of self, in order to be full of love. Once I happened to do a word search of the Septuagint and NT uses of kenosis and its cognates, and to the best of my understanding, this is the only positive use of the word. Usually it is very negative: it means running after empty things, running away from God. But here, in the absurdity of the cross, it is the virtue that makes charity itself possible.

This is a hard discussion for me to plug into.Maybe it's my inability to understand "obedience" and "individualism" the way Catholics speak about these things.Is obedience to God different from faithfulness to the mission of Christ? Am I sugar-coating obedience by preferring to think of our doing God's will because we love him and he loves us rather than seeing obedience as something we are obliged to do or God will send us to hell?And when Catholics talk against "individualism," what does that mean? I understand the dangers of materialism, the "cult of me," materialism, etc. But it seems to me that each of us has different talents and gifts. Understanding who we are and what we're good at is important to understanding how God wants us to fulfill his will. I remember Sister Wendy Beckett, the art maven and hermit, explaining to Bill Moyer in an interview some years ago that her personal unhappiness in her original order prevented her from fully serving God. I wish I had her exact words, but essentially she said she realized that God didn't want her to give up being herself; rather that he wanted her to be what he had meant for her to be.And certainly the saints, taken collectively, illustrate that there are many ways to serve God, all dependent on knowing who one is and finding a way to use it in service to the Lord?

In "A People Adrift" the suggestion is made that the two competing narratives that have governed the debate within Catholicism since the Council lie exhausted on the field. Though they still seem to twitch on blogs, both left-leaning and right-leaning.So the document from the Jesuit Congregation, excerpts from which I posted above, and which I continue to recommend heartily, is taken by some to show the Jesuits "not giving an inch" (a singularly non-Ignatian sentiment!) or tacitly supporting "Jesuit=bashing among conservatives." I posted the document because of its intrinsic interest, and because it may contain insights that might aid all of us in moving together towards "a new narrative."Of course, only Jesuits take a "fourth vow," but the wider context of that vow, a passionate love for Jesus (yes, Jean, love is primary) and the Catholic (not merely Jesuit) need to "sentire cum ecclesia" are identity-markers for all Catholics. Just as the "Spiritual Exercises" are not meant for Jesuits alone, though few of us are blessed enough to be able to make two thirty-day retreats in the course of our ongoing catechumenate.So there must be lessons that each of us can take on the importance of "obedience" in Christian living. That was not the focus of my post, but it certainly would make an interesting (hopefully non-polemical exchange.)A final point: Jean raises the issue of "individualism." I take it that a critique of "expressive individualism" or "the imperial self" is common coinage for both left and right: both Charles Taylor and Christopher Lasch (to name but two).Does not a Catholic understanding of ecclesial identity have resources to counter this aspect of the prevailing ethos? What role does "obedience" (not Jesuit, just plain Catholic) play in such an identity? Such a conversation might begin to forge the language of a new narrative, and not merely fall back into entrenched defenses.

"Does not a Catholic understanding of ecclesial identity have resources to counter this aspect [the imperial self] of the prevailing ethos? What role does 'obedience' (not Jesuit, just plain Catholic) play in such an identity? Such a conversation might begin to forge the language of a new narrative, and not merely fall back into entrenched defenses."I think such a conversation would bear some interesting and nourishing fruit for Catholics struggling to grow in their faith--or those of us just trying to figure out how our faith squares with Catholicism.Hopefully, that fruit would be digestible to those of us whose intellectual abilities are less Olympian than Lasch and Taylor.

I myself don't think we find common ground by working on the most neuralgic aspects first. And I don't we can proceed very far without looking at how requisite "obedience" has been interpreted in the past in the Church in this context and other contexts. I don't think it's ever sensible to ignore the past, and lessons of both danger and opportunity that come from it. I know "second naivte" was popular at our alma mater, Bob, but I don't think it's either a good idea or even possible. I have too great a sense of sin for that.

I keep coming back to Joe J.'s post at the beginning, as he was not under any religious promise or vow of obedience,but like many in general in drift and perhaps out.Ialso think of Fr. Bourgoiis and the many who have disobeyed, clearly blatantly, on the issue of women's ordination -neuralgic indeed, but enjoyning a fairly good sawth of support outside the religious communities and maybe tacitly within.I further think of how much more powerful leaders in government, business and, yes, inside the church have become, butressed by PR men and legal advisers .Yet many continue to follow what they strongly belkeive is right, their conscience, despite the obstacles and for those under control to pay a price theefor.So clergy and religious can be labelled as heretic or silenced for their disidence.Many also see a power in that witness and a "emptying of self" in an obedience to what they perceive as God's will, not men's.So, how inded to move forward?Is Cathy's "savvy" suggestion to engage and dialogue rather than command and shut down a way out of the muddle? Would it catch the ear of someone like Joe who's just tired of the same old c---?"

Bob Imbelli's last post was another attempt to get people interested in the thread he opened, and I take that to refer to the place that obedience has in the Christian life, in the meaning of being a Catholic Christian, of belonging to the Catholic Church. So I second Jean Raber's second and think it would make for a good conversation. Those not interested are free not to take part. Those who think it should be undertaken in a different way are free to start their own threads.

Fr. Imbelli - excellent synopsis and parallellng Jesuit and Catholic calls to obedience. Here is my concern. I am no expert on Jesuit consititutions but their obedience is to the "Pope" - Catholics obedience is to the apostolic church (issue as you say between left & right - left sees Pops as part of Church (bottom up) - right sees only the Pope (top down)) I am exaggerating but as you say, the Jesuit vow of obedience as articulated in these documents does suggest a nuance approach to obedience that may speak to the rest of us.How does the current Father General maintain obedience to B16 when he has directives to support the East Asian bishops conferences; Jesuit missions/retreat centers/etc. that study and co-exist with buddhism, islam, etc. (is this syncretism?) How do the Jesuits obey the "mandatum" as they govern and administer thousands of universities, colleges, and high schools knowing that many of their current theologians, teachers, professors do not agree with the orthodoxy of the Vatican?So, you are back to how you interpret and live obedience as an honest attempt to "listen" - but then you seriously move forward with your community's directives, your mission needs, your own conscience.Reality - obedience becomes easier the older you get because by then your superiors have a good idea of what your skills and talents are and are not going to assign you to posts that do not fit your abilities. Also, with age and experience a savvy superior does not just order - they dialogue and ask where the member can best use their charism for the good of the church. The days of just ordering and assigning folks is dead and gone. That is not how obedience is defined.

My last post here - and a tie to the Cardinal George Deposition thread also.Fr. Tom Doyle has a reflection on Msgr. Harry Byrne's piece on "the dihonoring of my regiment" at his Archangel blog. He refers to the Crdinal as a criminal!Father Doyle's experiences with being told to be quiet and not pursue what was clearly right shows the problem of obedience and how clericalism can easily shade pwerception within our Churcht.So I simply close with the notion of being a real Catholic Christian means striving each day to follow the will of Christ as justly and lovingly as we can.

"God did not choose to sanctify and to save human beings singly, without any connection among them, but rather to constitute them as a people who would acknowledge Him in truth and serve Him by holy lives" (Lumen gentium 9).

To respond to Cathy Kaveny's question (and speaking as someone who has just completed Jesuit formation--after 20 years--and is hoping to soon pronounce Final Vows), I will try to sum up one's Jesuit perspective on the vows. As it happens, I am just back from the Vow Mass in Syracuse, New York, where the Jesuits of the Maryland, New England, and New York Provinces pronounced their vows.After completion of the two-year novitiate, Jesuit novices pronounce their Simple Vows to God. The vow formula, which was just uttered by men across the country yesterday begins, "Almighty and Eternal God..." It is a promise to live the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and to spend one's life in the Society of Jesus "forever." It is, in a sense, an offering of oneself, something expressed beautifully by the final words.Almighty and eternal God, I [name], understand how unworthy I am in your divine sight. Yet I am strengthened by your infinite compassion and mercy, and I am moved by the desire to serve you. I vow to your divine Majesty, before the most holy Virgin Mary and the entire heavenly court, perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience in the Society of Jesus. I promise that I will enter this same Society to spend my life in it forever. I understand all these things according to the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Therefore, by your boundless goodness and mercy, and through the blood of Jesus Christ, I humbly ask that you judge this total commitment of myself acceptable. And as you have freely given me the desire to make this offering, so also may you give me the abundant grace to fulfill it.The vow formula for Final Vows is somewhat different, as it is addressed not only to God, but also to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus. It binds the man not only to God but irrevocably to the Society of Jesus. Here is the vow formula, as currently used by American Jesuits, as it would be pronounced during a Mass before the Provincial, who holds the consecrated Body and Blood before the Jesuit: I [name] 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 theapostolic 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.This formula, as Cathy noted, is pronounced by Jesuits at the end of their training, or "formation." By approving a man for Final Vows, the Society of Jesus accepts the offer that the man made during his First Vows, typically 15 or 20 years before, as a kind of "confirmation" (to use some Ignatian terminology) of his offer of a lifelong vocation. It is the confirmation of the hope of "fulfillment" as expressed in the First Vows. The "fourth vow" is made, as the vow formula notes (that is, the formula approved by the Holy See) "in regard to missions," that is, in regards to the places and ministries to which the Holy Father would send us. St. Ignatius Loyola's decision about this particular vow, after much prayer on the matter, was that the vow of obedience (which actually came after Ignatius and his original companions had separately made vows of poverty and chastity--cf. John W. O'Malley's "The First Jesuits") was in recognition that the Holy See would have a better understanding of the overall needs of the universal church. (E.g., which is more important: a mission to "the Indies" or a mission in Rome?) More specifically, the fourth vow, as the vow formula expresses, is understood in the larger context of the Jesuit Constitutions and the Jesuit documents approved by the Holy See. But of course as Benedict noted in his allocution, we are also called to filial affection and a special bond with the Supreme Pontiff. By the way, everyone present at the General Congregation to whom I spoke expressed surprise (and bemusement) when told that the media had described the pope's allocution as a sort of scolding. Rather, to a man, they told me of the profound affection that Benedict expressed in his address, reminding the delegates how much the church needed the Society, and even going so far to praise Jesuits formerly viewed with some suspicion, like Matteo Ricci and Pedro Arrupe. All the delegates to whom I spoke were deeply moved and profoundly encouraged by their meeting with the Holy Father. To sum up, then, the fourth vow is in regards to missions, but should also bind the professed Jesuit closely with the Supreme Pontiff.

Thank you, Jim, very much, for your helpful elaboration. I have the most profound respect for you and for others who have dedicated your life to serving God through this order.Joe, your last remark leaves me puzzled. Bob quite sharply denied to me that the the thread was about Christian obedience in general early on. I quote him: "Finally, you may discern a tacit call for more obedience from everyone, but my post was focused upon the Society of Jesus and its important discernment. What the implications are for the rest of us, especially those who are attracted by Ignatian spirituality, would be an interesting and important discussion. Perhaps you might initiate a thread to that end."So is this thread about obedience in general, or about the Jesuit Fourth Vow in particular? Maybe Bob needs to decide. I'll comply with the decision, of course.

After the distinct differences (or confustion) among so many learned people here and using a broad interpretation of "Ecclesia Supplet" and "In doubt, liberty", I think we can safely say that one should not only revel in the joy of a good conscience, but also be determined to follow it.

James Martin,I certainly agree that the Holy Father's address was a gracious and appreciative one. But he was also forthright in expressing his concern:"The themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family, must be explored and illumined in the context of contemporary reality but preserving that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God.I know and understand well that this is a particularly sensitive and demanding point for you and for some of your confreres, especially those involved in theological research, interreligious dialogue and dialogue with contemporary cultures. For this very reason I have invited you and also invite you today to reflect in order to rediscover the fullest meaning of your characteristic "fourth vow" of obedience to the Successor of Peter, which does not only involve the readiness to be sent on mission to distant lands but also - in the most genuine Ignatian spirit of "feeling with the Church and in the Church" - "to love and serve" the Vicar of Christ on earth with that "effective and affective devotion" which must make you his invaluable and irreplaceable collaborators in his service for the universal Church."I think the General Congregation's Document on "Obedience" is a fine attempt to meet that concern. I pray that it effectively guide the Society's initial and ongoing formation through and beyond the "fourth vow." Having studied in high school, college, and graduate school under members of the Society, and having been closely associated with Jesuits for twenty-two years at Boston College, I have a special respect for Ignatius' urgent call to dedicate ourselves "ad majorem Dei gloriam."

Cathy,as regards my "original intent" (not to be conflated with Mr. Justice Scalia's "original meaning"), I can only echo B.M.'s heartfelt appeal: "in doubt -- liberty!" Stare decisis.

Intresting thread, even though I think Jesuit-bashing tiresome, at best. So what are we talking about here: Obedience in the Christian (or Catholic) life? Or the Society's particular vow of obedience?

David,As on many threads, original intent is honored more in the breach than in the observance. So exercising freely the "Catholic analogical imagination," pertinent observations regarding either the specific Jesuit commitment to obedience or that which is incumbent on every Catholic are welcome.Having reviewed the forty-odd comments on this post, I suggest that any perception of "Jesuit-bashing" is quite in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, members of the Society were twice invited to participate in the discussion; and James Martin, S.J., kindly did so.Speaking quite personally, there was one part of Martin's comment that evoked sadness in me. He wrote: "The vow formula for Final Vows is somewhat different, as it is addressed not only to God, but also to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus. It binds the man not only to God but irrevocably to the Society of Jesus."It brought to mind the many (not least some of my cherished teachers) who revoked that promise causing spiritual harm from which we continue to suffer.We all have a great stake in the fidelity of religious and married people to the vows and promises they take.

Fr. Imbelli - agree with your statements until your last two paragraphs. We agree that we all have a great stake in the fidelity of religious and married vows/promises. Statements such as these continue to sadden me. You use the word "revoke" if it is a simple black and white issue.In terms of religious, a very old, experienced and wise priest once said to me: 'so, you have not lost your faith in the truths of the Church; but you have lost your faith in the "institutional church." Vows and promises are made in a relationship to fellow Catholics not to a set of dogmas, beliefs, or power structures. In fact, dogma, beliefs and how they are expressed and lived changes with the times. It is a noted fact that people change long before the institution of the church and so you have the heart of Catholicism - we are already but not yet. Tension, divorce, separation, dissent, conscience all play a role in promises and vows.Here is a statement from B16 on dissent and conscience in terms of vows and promises:Disagreement with the Magisterium may indeed render a service to the Church, a Church which Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVl said needs not adulators to extol the status quo but folks whose humility and obedience are no less than their passion for truth; who brave every misunderstanding and attack as they bear witness; who, in a word love the Church more than ease and the unruffled course of their personal destiny. We can disagree on whether that means someone chooses to leave his order or marriage but some of the greatest theologians and doers left their orders.This recent link to McBrien's thoughts on the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church:Shortcut to: decisions about life directions and consciense in my experience are not lightly made - it creates tremendous pain, struggle, depression, anxiety, etc. Did they really revoke or did the institution revoke?

Ad Majorem Dei GloriamAt the Last Supper, Christ prayed to His Father in Heaven for unity. (Gospel of John)"If you deny Me, you deny the one who sent Me." Peter denied Christ three times, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.(John 21:15-18) This dialogue between Jesus and Peter after the Resurrection with the Apostles present, gave Peter jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over the whole flock.(Vatican 1)This juridiction comes directly from the Blessed Trinity:"Feed my lambs"-Father"Tend my sheep"-Son"Feed my sheep"-Holy Spirit "

Christ's Church, the Catholic Church, is Holy, although some have brought scandal to it. Christ Has promised to remain in His Church to the end of time.Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Nancy - keep watching EWTN. The gospel of John was written at least 80 years after the death of Jesus. Your interpretation stretches all bounds of any type of acceptable scriptural exegesis - it is a huge leap to take a line from John and decide that Jesus picked Peter as the first Pope. Not sure what your comments have to do with the topic.

With all due respect Bill, the First Vatican Council used these verses as well to confirm that Peter was picked as the first Pope. "It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them and we know that his testimony is true." Read John 21: 21-25. We can presume, due to the fact that the Beloved disciple stayed behind and due to the detailed writing of the Gospel of John, that the Gospel of John was written at this time and not some 80 years after the death of Jesus.My comments have to do with the fact that it is God who chose Peter to be the first Pope and that it is His desire that all who profess to be Catholic are faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium.

I want to repeat this just once briefly: obedience is a help to charity. This can be seen in daily life as well as ecclesial life. All kinds of spite and selfishness and isolation can be overcome by just one small effort to follow someone else's will instead of one's own. Obedience is a key to magnanimity and charitable service.

Kathy - obedience is many things; but to remain silent in the face of evil or misguided power or as a famous politician said - all it takes for evil to reign is for good folks to remain silent.Vatican I was in the past; even Vatican I (if you read the history) was not as universally accepted as one is led to believe 150 years later. Vatican II corrected many of the abuses of Vatican I. Quoting past councils is only valid if you put it into context and understand that the reality has changed.

Bill,Vatican I was an Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, but that has nothing to do with my comment. I wasn't trying to involve myself in any of the meandering ways of this important thread, but to say something that I believe is true about the devout practice of obedience: it's an enormous aid to charity, which is, after all, what it's all about for all of us.

Okay - obedience has a complex history. It involves both those who give obedience and those who receive obedience. Both have responsibilities. In terms of those who give obedience - they must go through a process of reason, discernment, and action; authority must insure that the obedience they ask for is reasonable, that it meets the common good, allows for freedom, and protects the poor, ignorant, and each person's conscience.Obedience to me involves both acts of commission and omission. Authority in their role of obedience can commit acts of omission - fail to protect children; fail to teach & educate; fail to be transparent; fail to be truthful in the name of orthodoxy. These can be acts without deliberate intent but nevertheless are acts of omission. Ecumenical councils can err - history proves that; popes can err - history proves that.

Obedience to the Word of God as He Has revealed Himself in the Deposit of Faith is the key to our unity with God."Nancy, keep watching EWTN."While going through a difficult time with one of my children who is struggling with their Faith, and in a moment of my own despair, I prayed for the wisdom to overcome my fear. EWTN, has been very helpful to me as I struggle as all of us do, to remain Faithful to the Word of God.

Bill, etc., I feel an obligation to defend EWTN for the work that they do to help many grow in their Catholic Faith,EWTN helped me to strengthen my faith as well as come to a better understanding of the Blessed Trinity and the Filioque.While I was watching a presentation of the Rosary led by some Catholic school children on EWTN, for a brief moment, the camera panned to the Tabernacle on the Altar. On the Tabernacle, there appeared two, equal, intersecting, circles of light. At first I thought I was seeing a symbol for the Blessed Trinity etched on the Tabernacle and that the third circle was not clearly visable from above. Then, the two intersecting circles of light moved slightly and I realized there were definitely only two circles.I thought this strange and could not get this image out of my mind. I thought that it might be a symbol for the Trinity that I was not aware of. I looked up Christian symbols for the Trinity on the internet. I found an ancient symbol that showed two, equal, intersecting circles representing Christ as the union of the Old and New Testaments. ( there was a Cross through the area of unity in the two intersecting circles. )I found some additional information that gave the ratio of the area that unites the two, intersecting circles. This ratio is 265/153. This ratio, the square root of three, was said to be known throughout the Hellenic world as the " measure of the fish ". It is also believed by some, that this area of unity is where the Fish symbol of the early Christians came from.In the Gospel of John, the beloved Disciple refers to 153 as the number of fish Jesus caused to be caught in the Miraculous Catch of Fish that occured after Christ's Resurrection, when He appeared to His Disciples for the third time. John noted in his Gospel that the net did not break.At the Last Supper, Christ prayed with His Disciples for unity. The Eucharist is about unity. We are called to Love one another in relationship and communion with God, which is unity. John was a witness to the Truth and understood that it was Love that united the Father and the Son as a perfect complement. The Spirit of Love, through, with, and in Him, by the power of the unity of the Holy Spirit...brings new Life.


P.S., at the end of the day, it is still a Great Mystery. Peace.

I knoiw I said my last post on this thread, but..I"m sorry that this has degenerated into another Nancy against the workld ending.I thought there was a suggestion to start a thread on faithful Catholics.If so, I'd say a good idea and should include:why would one frame the question in terms basically of "obedience?"(By the by, since this statted with the Jesuits as a congragation, what to make of the Maryknoll handling of Fr. Bourgois?)what do we mean by living the Philipians message of "emptying oneself?" Is there a kind of selective kenosis in the divide of the Church?-I think we all agree that we work out our salvation in community; do our different ecclesiologies influence our answer to the fidelity question and to what degree?Finally, if we do such a discussion, is it going to push us back to the thread on "are we polarized?" and will it help us gewt to an approach to move on?

Bob - excellent points and questions. Avoiding polarization is difficult in today's church - not sure anyone is serious about "Kenosis" - emptying my position or issue to reach common ground. Would suggest that "obedience" needs to reflect that struggle; a struggle that happens in community (notice we each choose our community so we do not need Kenosis because our community is right, or orthodox, or better e.g. Nancy & EWTN). Unfortunately, ecclesiology does impact any understanding of obedience - think of Dulles' models of the church and how obedience fits into each model.Here is a brief excerpt from a favorite writer of mine - Daniel O'Rourke: "Let me first be positive. There is much in the Bible, in the churches and in logical thinking that is invaluable in our search for meaning, for purpose -- and for God. Like most believers I have favorite texts, hymns and rituals. I also have favorite theologians whose disciplined reasoning about life and the Mystery has nourished my spirit and fed my mind.Our very scriptures, however, can change into an idol to be worshipped. There is much wisdom, beauty and good in the Bible, but there is also a lot of nonsense. Would you expect anything different from a book (its really a library) written over thousands of years by myriad authors in different historical cultures and circumstances? Yet there are those who claim that its every word is inspired and inerrant. They bow down before this book like the idolatrous Hebrews before Baal in the land of Canaan. Or they read the ancient stories literally, missing their poetry, their mythos and deep spiritual meanings. As the Irish scripture scholar Dominic Crossan says with a glint in his eye, It is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told the stories symbolically and we are dumb enough to take them literally. Those who read the scriptures in a strict literal way can end up worshiping them.The next obstacle is the church. Of course, our churches can be helpful in providing a community of like-minded people, in offering support in times of personal crisis, in reaching out in social action to the needy and the poor. Occasionally but too rarely, churches also give counter-cultural, prophetic witness to a self-destructive materialistic and militaristic world.Churches, especially if they or their pastors are authoritarian or controlling, can also become idols. When I was a young man leaving the active priesthood, a wise older priest told me, Dan, dont make the mistake of confusing God with the church. Lots of folks do. Unthinkingly, they bow down before it. Like the Bible the church can be another help along the way, but it is not the end of the journey. God is."Let me end with - obedience is to God; not to anyone else.

Amen, Bill

Bob and Bill: Could it not be that obedience to God requires obedience to others? E.g., He who hears you hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me" (Lk 10:16; see Jn 13:20).

Not to muddy the waters, but in the HRD and related fields, we distinguish between "hearing" and "listening." We hear audible sounds/words/etc. with our ears, but we "listen" to the feelings of others with our hearts. More often than not, I suspect, we hear but fail to listen.Anyway........

Obedience is not an honest attempt to "listen" to the Word of God, obedience is believing in the Word.

"And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true"- Alfred Tennyson

We may also need a thread of proof textsa. I think faithfulness as a catholic means obeing God's word. If a "superior's word reflects the will of Christ (and we know well they always do not) then we should obey.I also continue to question is the notion of obedience a good frame to say whether one is a faithful Christian. Iseem to recall out Tim Russert thread and how importan tfolks thought faithful lives and living Gospel principles were.We've had two funerals here in the past two weeks of men totally respected here ,family men, great professionals in their day, and men who served the comunity with hours of works of goodness as well.I don't think anyone wondered if they were obedient...I'd finally observe that for Church leadership, whose credibility has lessened quite abit ovcer my lifetime, obedience may seem very important. I'd go so far as to suggest that maybe issues of power might enter into that interest.

Fr. K - agree with your insights and quote. But like Bob, "listening" to others gets complicated and messy. I was never (still am not) very good at being "obedient" - strong streak of the maverick in me. As Bob mentioned, though, I recognize and applaud foks I respect and I would say that their lives were "obedient" even though they may not have agreed with this dogma or that papal pronouncement. I would Obey and Listen to these folks.To your is very difficult for me to be "obedient" when I question a leader's, pastor's, bishop's call and I find that call to be "hollow", empty, not reasonable, or that bishop/pastor is someone I do not respect given their track record, current decision making, etc. But, would agree with you that when I make these types of decisions, my mind, my heart can feel heavy and uncomfortable. I find Listening to my heart to be a challenge and struggle. I make it hard for leaders to break in.

Mr. DeHaas: I don't think that anyone who proposes reflection on obedience within the Church is thinking that this means unconditional obedience. We all know that where a command from a superior contradicts or subverts the will of God, it must not be obeyed. It is also the case, as you illustrate in your second paragraph above, that the likelihood of obedience is some function of the perceived trustworthiness of the person in authority. In other words, de facto authority has its prior conditions.Mr. Nunz: I agree that obedience is not an adequate criterion for determining what it means to be a Christian, and I don't think anyone would deny this. I thought the question before us was whether it is one of the criteria.

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