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April 6, 2009

Obedience is for children. When we grow up, we can make our own rules. That, too often, is the way we think.

A little observation will lead one to the contrary conclusion – children are prone to disobedience. The mature person is one who has ordered his or her life according to a law greater than oneself. It is immature to disobey, mature to obey. Those adults who are liberated from obeying other people's rules are actually the least mature.

Jesus was the ultimate obedient one. "I always do what is pleasing to (God)," he said (John 8.39). "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work" (4.34).

Imagine that! Jesus, the fully liberated one, does not do his own will. He obeys "the one who sent me."


For St. Paul, obedience is one of Jesus' defining characteristics. It is what makes him Lord. Once Jesus became human, "he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death" (Philippians 2.8).

Because of his total obedience, God exalted him to such an extent that everyone should bow before him. His obedience transforms him into the one who is to be obeyed. In fact, his always doing what is pleasing to the Father is the basis of his authority. He is to be obeyed because he obeys.

This has great significance for how we ought to live our lives. Paul contrasts his beloved Philippians – "you have always obeyed" – with the "crooked and perverse generation" in whose midst they live. Their obedience is a sure sign that God is at work in them (2.12-15).

Our call is not to be "creative," to be freelancers raising our own opinions above the truth given by the Holy Spirit. It is to be obedient to God's will, indeed to live within that will.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the last two popes, urges us to fall in love with obedience. "Obedience is the key to God's heart," he writes (Life in Christ, p. 192).

The more we obey, the more God will ask us to obey. "When God finds a person determined to obey him, he takes the life of that person in his hands. . . . Minute by minute, he defines the gestures and words of that person, his way of making use of his time, in short everything" (p. 189).


Authority – not worldly power, but real authority – comes from giving one's life over to God. Endeavour to make not only the large decisions of your life, but also even the small daily decisions, instruments of God's will. Turn to him at every moment and he will more and more make you his own.

The little word "obey" pops up repeatedly throughout Paul's letters. There is the obedience of faith (Romans 1.5, 16.26), obedience to the Church's teaching (6.17), obedience to the good news (10.16), obedience to the truth (Galatians 5.7) and obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10.5).

When Paul writes, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2.20), he is not simply imagining Jesus living inside of him. Rather, he is talking about a life whose every breath is breathed by Christ. It is God's will, not his, which constantly gets acted out.

It was on a donkey that Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem – an unassuming, unpretentious donkey. This humble, obedient animal gave glory to Jesus without putting itself at the centre.

The spirituality of obedience is donkey spirituality. It is loyal and calm. It has no aspirations to being "creative," to putting itself at the front of the parade and demanding that God tag along.

When we are full of pride, we may snicker at the donkey. But the donkey loves God and carries him into Jerusalem. In the final analysis, there is nothing higher to which one can aspire.