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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].


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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.