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Commentaries on The Rule of Life
By Fr. Bruno Cocuzzi, o.c.d.
Article 14 – “The Promise of obedience binds the Secular Carmelites to the observance of whatever the legitimate authority – the General or Provincial of the Order, or the Council of their Community – may lay down in accordance with, and within the limits of, the present Rule.
This Promise will provide the Secular Carmelites with the grace to become interiorly more responsive to the will of God. By manifesting His will through human spokesmen, He purifies our faith, and smoothes the way to union with Him Who, for love of us, ‘became obedient unto death’ (Phil. 2,8)”.
1. What does the promise of Obedience add to the general obligation we all have to obey our lawful superiors?
The general obligation all of us have is imposed by the 4th Commandment. It is included in the words: Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. While we were still underage and at home, we thus had superiors, lawful superiors, that were provided by God through the operation of human nature. Included in the words “Father” and “Mother” are all those people to whom the parents delegate, so to speak, some of their parental authority. When we were of age and on our own, God gave us lawful superiors in virtue again, of the operation of human nature, because as adults we became subject to civil authority, which, like the parental authority in the family society, is also a divine origin.
Then there is the general obligation we have to be obedient that has its origin in Baptism. By Baptism we are re-born into the Family of God. Jesus is our Father and the Church is our Mother. Again, we have Jesus and the Church, our supernatural parents delegating authority to others, its representatives, so that in a general way, we are bound to be obedient to naturally-designated, as well as supernaturally-designated, lawful superiors.
So the answer to the question is: The Promise of Obedience as Secular Discalced Carmelites adds a new group of hierarchy of persons to stand alongside the groups of authority figures that are civil and ecclesiastical, respectively.
2. Why is authority necessary in our lives as members of civil society and of the Church?
In the previous conference, when we spoke, I think, of the “spiritual” reasons why authority and obedience are necessary, namely, as ways of guaranteeing that our wills are united with the Will of God, without which there is no holiness of life, without which there is no evidence that we love God. You see, we not only have to give evidence to God and to Jesus that we love them, we also have to give ourselves evidence, and that is done by being obedient. To be at peace with God and ourselves, we have to be able to point to conduct that “proves” to us that we are united with Him, that His interests and our interests are merged into one. Obedience causes the merger of interests.
But there is also a very practical reason why obedience is necessary in civil society and in the Church apart from the even more essential reason just given and that is because as rational, free creatures, we all tend to have our own personal ideas as to the manner of attaining the collective goals or objectives of civil and ecclesiastical society. And that means, further, that since we are all unique and have our own unique “position” in society and the Church, these personal opinions or ideas or convictions tend to differ. If we all followed our own opinions, there would be utter chaos, and society and the Church would break down, and its goals would not be achieved.
And implicit in this reason, namely, that without authority we would be working at cross-purposes, is the more basic reason that the goals of human society and the Church surpass the power of the individual to achieve all by himself. If we compare the goal of human society to the goal of moving a huge boulder, then it is obvious (suppose we did not have bulldozers or equivalent powerful equipment) that many men have to contribute their individual, inadequate strength to the task. Now if all the men needed were to encircle the boulder and start pushing, their mutual efforts would cancel out one another’s and the boulder would not move. But when they all gather on one side of the boulder and push in the same direction, then the boulder moves easily. It is authority, and obedience to authority, that gets all the members of society to “push in the same direction” so to speak, and so the goals of society are attained at least reasonably well.
3. What are the collective goals of both civil and ecclesiastical society?
I think it is safe to say that they are two-fold. The first has to do with making available to each individual those goods and services that satisfy basic human needs: To grow in body and in soul, i.e. to be nourished and to maintain good health as human beings on the one hand, and as children of God by adoption on the other.
The second has to do with enabling each person to develop and use talents and abilities without undue interference or restrictions, so that the individual is able to achieve perfection and blessedness as a citizen of the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, the Church.
With regard to the first, the organization of delivery systems with a multitude of parts or components that work together with efficiency and harmony is the task of authority, which is expressed in rules and regulations and other means of governing conduct. The conduct in question with regard to the first objective in human society is pretty much outlined by the rules and regulations of commerce, trade and industry. With regard to the second goal in civil society, growth and development of the individual, the rules and regulations are the Ten Commandments, which somehow or other should be at the basis of all civil laws governing interpersonal relationships.
In the Church, the delivery system of goods and services basic to sustaining the life of the soul, i.e. sustaining and preserving sanctifying grace in the soul, is established by organization of Christians into first, the Christian family, next the Parish, then the Diocese, and finally the Universal Church. The Rules and Regulations governing this delivery system are codified in Canon Law.
As to personal perfection and blessedness, the rules and regulations are certainly, again, basically the commandments, but also the code of conduct gathered together by St. Matthew in the “Sermon on the Mount”, which includes Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes, as well as examples of how the “Spirit” of the new law of the Kingdom of God expresses itself in certain hypothetical situations. The evangelical counsels are deduced in part from statements in the Sermon on the Mount, and alluded to in various degrees of other parts of the New Testament. And I should have said that what comprises the goods and services made available through Diocese, Parish and family are the Sacraments and basic education in Faith and Morals, Doctrine and Morality.
4. With all of that available to each individual Christian in virtue of the general obligations and duties conferred by the Baptism and Canon Law and through obedience to Church authority, who needs to make an extra promise of obedience to a new and different group of lawful superiors?
The truth is, no one needs to make the promise of obedience in the strict sense, so that there is no “obligation” to join a secular order or to become a religious. The only thing that explains why religious orders and secular orders exist is love, an intense and profound love for God. The promise or vows satisfy a desire to forge a relationship with God and with Jesus that is above and beyond the bonds of relationship created by Baptism. It is almost as if someone wants to be handcuffed to Jesus, so that it becomes almost impossible to be separated from Jesus. The promises keep us closer to God in the sense of making it less likely that the promisor is going to stray away from God and from Jesus.
We said in the previous conference, (which did say a lot about obedience) that the promise of obedience limits our options considerably, indeed, limits them to God’s exact druthers for us, rather than leave us free to choose one of several generally acceptable possibilities, each of which is pleasing to God, but which we choose, and which may not be the one God prefers for us.
Thus making the promise of obedience to God through the superiors of the Secular Order does result in a closer union of wills, a more secure embrace of God and Jesus in love. Once Jesus said: “When you have done all that you are supposed to do – that is, in virtue of the general obligation to be obedient imposed by the 4th commandment – say, ‘We are unprofitable servants’.” So to make a promise of obedience does help one become “profitable” in the service of God. It is doing more than one is supposed to do because a great love for God does not permit one to be satisfied with the bare minimum.
5. Would there be any other effects of making the promise of obedience to the lawful superiors of the Secular Order besides the one just stated?
Yes, the next paragraph of the Article 14 tells us. It helps to purify one’s Faith and I could add also to perfect one’s Faith, which I suppose, are the same thing. When we satisfy our general obligations to obey, we are doing those things that are more directly imposed by God Himself because they come from scripture, the Ten Commandments in the case of the Old Testament, and from the Words of Jesus or St. Paul or St. Peter in the New Testament. When the obedience is imposed through human intermediaries, and thus more indirectly from Scripture or farther removed from our Lord as its source, it requires greater Faith, a more living Faith to be obedient. By giving us a new set of lawful superiors, the promise offers the opportunity to practice greater Faith, and really requires greater Faith in the exercise of the practice of obedience. The other reason why Faith is purified is because it is less likely to be contaminated by mere human motives in choosing to obey.
6. In what sense does the promise of obedience cause the promisor to receive the grace (provide the grace) to become interiorly more responsible to the Will of God?
To answer that, we would have to know what is meant by being “exteriorly” responsive. I think we are exteriorly responsive when the motivation comes from outside ourselves that is from external circumstances. It is very rarely that external circumstances are such that we are “forced” to obey or observe the Ten Commandments, or better, are required to practice a certain virtue or do a good work. Most of the commandments just require us to avoid evil, require us not to do certain things. So the motive to do certain good acts or to practice certain virtues that are not imposed by our general obligation under the 4th commandment has to come from within, from the love that is in our hearts, from the inner urging to be faithful to the promise we have made. The determination to preserve our integrity comes from within us. If we call the “motivation” a grace, then that grace does come in virtue of the promise.
7. Before getting any further into the 2nd paragraph of Article 14, please say something about the phrases “in accordance with” and “within the limits of” the present rule.
Really, those words apply to those things, which the General, the Provincial and the local council re able to command and those are listed in Article 19 for the General and his assistants, by Article 20 for the Provincial, and by Article 24 for the local council. I believe we should consider those articles as they appear in their proper order. Suffice it to say that when what is commanded by any one of the legitimate authorities is not authorized by the corresponding article of the Rule, then the promise does not bind one to obey that directive.
8. What is the meaning of the phrase “smoothes” the way to union with Him?
To answer that we have to imagine that our “path” to union is strewn with rocks, branches and other debris, and that there are pot-holes and ruts and other depressions and rough spots as well. So to “smooth” the way, the promise would have to clear the road of the obstacles lying on the road, and fill in the potholes and the ruts and depressions. The next question, implied in this answer is:
9. What are those obstacles laying on the path and what are those holes or ruts “in the path”?
Since the path leads to “union” with the obedient Jesus, the obstacles are all those things, which impede our giving our minds and hearts to Jesus in the fulfillment of the Rule of Life. They would be people and circumstances that would make demands upon our time and attention and so conflict with the faithful observance of the Rule. To satisfy generally legitimate demands made by others for our time and attention is not wrong, and even, when needs are grave enough, we would be obliged to give that time and attention in virtue of the Highest Law, which is charity. But since the promise creates a priority that is given to the observance of the Rule, that priority effectively does remove some of those obstacles.
The “ruts” in the path are the potholes would then be compared to whatever would tempt us to omit one or another of the obligations of the rule: feeling tired, feeling bored, not being in the mood, lacking energy and motivation. The promise presupposes a “greater”, “stronger” more unselfish love of God, and it is this more intense love that alone can provide the will and the strength to do what weak human nature tempts us or urges us to omit.
10. What, in addition to the remembrance of the Promise and the love that inspired it, can help a Lay Discalced Carmelite to remove obstacles and to supply the necessary motivation?
The Article itself suggests it is meditating upon the extent of Jesus’ love for us. As St. Therese says, Love is repaid by love alone. The more a person loves us, the more love for that person is generated within us. That is a natural law of human psychology. By recalling that Jesus went far beyond what was necessary for Him to suffer in order to redeem us to express the measureless love He bears us, we are able to go far beyond doing what is necessary to be saved, beyond the bare minimum, and we are able to imitate His redemptive death for salvation of souls. Just how far beyond what is necessary to save us Jesus went is suggested by the great saints and theologians from the earliest Christian era, namely, that the blood shed by Jesus in His circumcision as a baby was alone able to save the world, and St. Thomas says the same thing in one of his Eucharistic hymns: Of which Blood just one drop is able to save the entire world from all sins. Out obedience Jesus gave all His Blood. Thus the promise to live by the spirit of His obedience really is nourished best by engraving the awareness of Jesus’ love deeply upon our souls.
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