Obedience in Practice

I originally posted this on the Catholic Apologetics Moral Theology section, but I thought perhaps it would fit better here.

What I want to know is, what are your (Catholicly sound) opinions on how we are to practice obedience in our own lives. I have a few specific examples I’ve been wrestling with myself and would be interested in getting some opinions on.

To begin with my mother in law, has always been a big proponent of obedience to one’s parents, even to what some like my wife and I would call tyranny. (E.g. picking Ellen (my wife) up from college (before we met and were married) under false pretenses and essentially kidnapping her by driving straight home (3 hours) because her and her husband did not want her dating a boy at school. (that boy was not me) . Although she did on the day of our wedding go to the priest whose parish we were having our reception in, voiced her opinion on how deeply against our marriage she was at that particular time (i.e. we need to wait longer). While Ellen and I have put this all behind us, I do wonder how much obedience we do, and Ellen owes to her.

In spite of these instances and others, her argument for it is very coherent and seems doctrinally sound, but there’s something about it that I just don’t like and perhaps that’s nothing more than the pride in me which doesn’t want to have to submit to other people’s stupid decisions.

Here’s the argument: As a Catholic we should always submit our will to someone else, in doing so we ensure that our will conforms with God’s. An example would be: a child submits to his mothers will, God commands children to obey their parents, thus the child is performing God’s will. For the most part I think this base argument is absolutely correct, but then we move into the grey area. She believes the mantra of Satan is “I will not serve” and it makes sense, but it also implies that rebellion against any legitimate authority is making ones will identical with Satan’s, an implication I’m not sure I’m ready to accept. So here’s the nitty gritty, I have a number of problems with these implications.

First, she believes that even after marriage, one should continue to submit their will to their parent’s. I tend to disagree, although I understand perhaps the importance of having someone over you, which can guide you. Still the question remains do we owe our parents obedience even after we’re married? Now don’t go quoting me about how the man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife, I understand that part, but even after we have cleaved, we still owe obedience to authority, and our parents are older and (apparently) wiser.

I should also say that her other argument is that we can do no evil if we are acting in obedience as long as it does not go against our conscience or require us to commit a sin. It makes sense, yet I hate to concede the idea that I should perform an action which to my knowledge is stupid/wasteful or whatever in order to be obedient, but then perhaps that is what saints are made of right?

Finally I wanted to know what you all thought of a wife’s obedience to her husband should be in practice, obviously if her husband asks her to do something in obedience she would be required to do so, but how much farther should that extend? Would it only be in circumstances where the husband specifically asks her in obedience to perform a task? For example would it be unreasonable for the husband to demand that the wife not worry about finances and leave it up to him? (perhaps you can guess what we argue about)

For me the biggest argument against this particular obedience is the gift of reason and logic that God has given us, and that parents should be preparing their children to be independent and make good decisions on their own. I understand the humility required to submit your will to another persons, but should we live our lives in constant submission to others, or is a life in submission to the Church enough?

Finally, I also understand the importance of obedience and I know that the Church would be far more glorious if priests, lay people, religious orders, and just about everybody had been obedient to begin with, the protestant movement is a shining example of the fruits of disobedience. So what do you think?
Reply With Quote

On the husband/wife obedience issue, there have been many many MANY threads on this recently, a quick search will bring those up for you.

The Catechism sums up the teaching of God and His Church about obedience to parents:


**2217 **As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so.

As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them. This respect has its roots in the fear of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I think that it sounds like there is somrthing wrong with your MILs practice of obedience too. I’d be curious to know if she remained that obedient to her own parents after she had a family of her own.

I think that obedience to earthly things always has limits and requires disapline on the part of the one holding the power. That person or institution has to understand the proper limits and scope of it’s authority. The Church is an excellent example of that, since it deserves the obedience of all its members and it even has more authority than other kinds of purly human institutions.

But it still demands only certian kinds of obedience of it’s members. On many things it is silent, or gives only guidelines. And we can even see in history that at times, as an institution, the Church has abused its authority. If it can happen to the Church, how much more is it possible for an individual.

Even a person who is under authority still has human characteristics that cannot be tossed aside or ignored. We often use the language of rights to talk about this, and although it is a language that is sometimes used carlessly, I think it is quite useful. We have dignity as human beings. We have the life that God gave us. We have the free-will that God gave us.

Children are under authority because many of their faculties have not yet developed, and they lack experience - to protect them and allow them mature into fully developed human beings that God meant them to be. And indeed, even as adults, parents are worthy of much respect.

But if a parent demands that their adult child NOT act as a developed functioning human being, then it seems to me the point is being missed. The parental authority is being overstepped. In the example of your wife not being able to date as a college student, that seems not only unwise and bad parenting, but a matter of overstepping rightful use of authority.

And what is another way to say unrightful use of authority - it’s abuse of authority. And the CC does not condone abuse of authority. It is not good for those under the authority, it is not good for those exercising the authority, it is not good for the institutions it is part of (the institution of parenthood in this case is lessened by it’s abuse,) it isn’t good for society, and ultimately it is unjust.

I’d just add - that there is a difference between authority that we think is wrong, and authority that is wrongly used. My priest might make a decision about running our church which I think is a bad decision, but it is his to make. But if he starts trying to tell me I can’t wear pants because I am a woman, that is a different story - he does not have the authority to say that from the Church or his relation to me as my priest.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.