As we’ve passed through the midpoint of Perfectae Caritatis, the bishops speak of that matter of obedience. As we’ll read, it is much more than a question of subservience, a quality often mistaken for obedience.
In professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their own will as a sacrifice of themselves to God and so are united permanently and securely to God’s salvific will.
After the example of Jesus Christ who came to do the will of the Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; Heb. 10:7; Ps. 39:9) and “assuming the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7) learned obedience in the school of suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8), religious under the motion of the Holy Spirit, subject themselves in faith to their superiors who hold the place of God. Under their guidance they are led to serve all their (sisters and) brothers in Christ, just as Christ himself in obedience to the Father served His (brothers and sisters) and laid down His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matt. 20:28; John 10:14-18). So they are closely bound to the service of the Church and strive to attain the measure of the full (adult)hood of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
Christ’s example of submission to the Father’s will is the root of obedience, not necessarily a well-ordered society free from inconvenience.
Religious, therefore, in the spirit of faith and love for the divine will should humbly obey their superiors according to their rules and constitutions. Realizing that they are contributing to building up the body of Christ according to God’s plan, they should use both the forces of their intellect and will and the gifts of nature and grace to execute the commands and fulfill the duties entrusted to them. In this way religious obedience, far from lessening the dignity of the human person, by extending the freedom of the (daughters and) sons of God, leads it to maturity.
Part of the quality of obedience is to place one’s gifts at the service of God’s plan, not to submerge them in a false sense of sacrifice.
Superiors, as those who are to give an account of the souls entrusted to them (Heb. 13:17), should fulfill their office in a way responsive to God’s will. They should exercise their authority out of a spirit of service to the (sisters and brothers), expressing in this way the love with which God loves their subjects. They should govern these as (daughters and) sons of God, respecting their human dignity. In this way they make it easier for them to subordinate their wills. They should be particularly careful to respect their subjects’ liberty in the matters of sacramental confession and the direction of conscience. Subjects should be brought to the point where they will cooperate with an active and responsible obedience in undertaking new tasks and in carrying those already undertaken. And so superiors should gladly listen to their subjects and foster harmony among them for the good of the community and the Church, provided that thereby their own authority to decide and command what has to be done is not harmed.
This is an important paragraph, as it implies that the relationship of obedience is mutual, and religious superiors are bound to imitate the magnamity, generosity, and love of the Father.
Chapters and deliberative bodies should faithfully discharge the part in ruling entrusted to them and each should in its own way express that concern for the good of the entire community which all its members share.
Democratic bodies also have their place within the counsel of obedience.