St. Francis de Sales devoted a chapter in his Introduction to the Devout Life to the virtue of obedience. He wrote, “Charity alone leads to perfection, but the three chief means for acquiring it are obedience, chastity, and poverty.
“Obedience consecrates our heart, chastity our body, and poverty our worldly goods to the love and service of God. These are the three branches of the spiritual cross, and all three must be raised upon the fourth, which is humility.”
The saint pointed out that there are two kinds of obedience, one necessary, the other voluntary. Obedience to lawful superiors is necessary obedience, whereas obedience to a confessor or spiritual director is voluntary obedience, for we do not choose our own sovereign or bishop, father or mother, but we do choose our confessor and spiritual director.
St. Francis de Sales recommends that we have a submissive spirit not only to superiors, but to equals and inferiors as well.
He wrote, “If you would acquire a ready obedience to superiors, accustom yourself to yield to your equals, giving way to their opinions where nothing wrong is involved, without arguing or peevishness; and adapt yourself easily to the wishes of your inferiors as far as you reasonably can, and avoid the exercise of stern authority so long as they do well.”
Bishop Jean Pierre Camus, a friend of St. Francis de Sales, wrote, “Because we are obliged to acknowledge our superiors as our masters, submission to them is better looked upon as justice rather than humility.
“Submission to equals is friendship and courtesy. Submission to inferiors, however, is the real test of humility, because it is in this act that we actually confess ourselves to be nothing, and prostrate ourselves before the whole world.”
Virtue of great value
St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote, “God, Who is all-knowing and all-wise, knows best what we should do to increase His glory. Through His representatives on earth He continually reveals His will to us; thus it is obedience and obedience alone that is the sure sign to us of the divine will.
“A superior may, it is true, make a mistake; but it is impossible for us to be mistaken in obeying a superior’s command. The only exception to this rule is the case of a superior’s commanding something that in even the slightest way would contravene God’s law.”
Another spiritual author wrote, “We need not hesitate through fear that the superior is asking something less perfect. Even if he commands what is objectively less perfect than its alternative (for instance, to take some rest instead of working), it would nevertheless be the more perfect thing for us.
“By the simple fact that the superior has expressed an order, it is clearly the fulfilment of that, and not something else, that God wants from us at the moment.”
St. John of the Cross said, “Obedience is a penance of the soul, and for that reason a sacrifice more acceptable than all corporal penances. Thence it happens that God loves more the least degree of obedience in you, than all the other services you may think to render him.”
Our Lord told St. Faustina, “My daughter, know that you give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience than by long prayers and mortifications.”
On another occasion Our Lord said, “Anything, no matter how small it be, that has the seal of obedience to my representative, is pleasing to Me and great in My eyes.”
Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, author of My Catholic Faith, wrote, “If we fast, give alms, or lose our reputation for God’s sake, we only give a part of ourselves. But if we give perfect obedience, we sacrifice our will; we give all we have. We have nothing more to give.”