Part III: Obedience

Obedience: Finding a Compromise

Women called to be Jesuits are well-positioned to break ground in our Catholic understanding of obedience.  This is because we are called to a community that has a strong emphasis on obedience, but whose members have continually affirmed that it is not in their interest to invite women to an obedience relationship.  (See here for a thorough and sympathetic history of this dynamic between Jesuit men and Jesuit women.)

This stings a bit sometimes, but it also provides a great opportunity for innovation.  Because this “both/and” experience of canonical obedience – both drawn to it, and exempt from it – could allow Jesuit women be bridge-builders between those affirm that obedience is absolutely essential to Catholic faith, and those who affirm that obedience is irrelevant and even repugnant to a modern life focused on a faith that does justice.

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.  I believe that.  Love helps you see, notice, care.  It keeps you peaceful and willing.  It also and without any apology or embarrassment, makes you cunning and shrewd.  Lovers always are.  Cunning and shrewd for the things of Christ.  Our Father is a God who makes deals.  And so you will make them too.  Because love keeps ideas fully integral – but also keeps them practical.  It forces you to compromises that are holy – and perhaps not lacking in humor.  Because that is what He is like. And certainly, it forces you to compromises that will be misunderstood.  And perhaps not just misunderstood, but bitterly criticized, and even reviled.  And then you are indeed in a good state: clothed with the livery of Christ our Lord.

Joseph P. Whelan, S.J., 1981 (See source here)

Two necessary qualities that we don’t talk a lot about when we talk about obedience: discernment, or clear knowledge of what one wants, and mutuality, or a two-way listening and concern.

There is a lot of joking among millenial Jesuits that obedience “is really just about listening.”  We avoid the “doing what others say” part because it is so counter-cultural, and in mainstream culture is associated with weakness.  The opposite of desirable. But it’s true that listening is both the literal meaning of obey, and the foundation of true obedience. I also understand that obedience in its truest form is a vow of mutuality.  This is the part that religious communities have down. We change our behavior because we understand and are understood, even if we don’t completely agree on the best course of action. Obedience is also best expressed when roles are fluid – when the listening and doing is not only unilateral, or changes from time to time.  (Tim story – Ryann saying, “your shared value was that you listened to each other.  if we all shared that value, we could hang together a lot better!”)  True obedience is a form of mutual conversion through listening – a turning away from self-centeredness toward the greater good.

Obedience as the reduction of resistance.  Obedience as the ability to see God’s desire and be sensitive to it, even when it seems to be contrary to my opinion.  A good obedience practice is noticing how well things can work out when I don’t get my way.  Which reduces my attachment to getting my way, which can be a big obstacle, and makes me a better listener.  Obedience is very close to humility.

Object Lesson: