Saturday, June 16, 2012
It seems as if everyone has a view about what the promise of monastic obedience means. Usually it's seen as doing what you are told, and it's often implied that, in order to promise it, you have to be the kind of person who is unquestioning and quite happy to give up thinking for themselves. Well, it's not like that at all.
Firstly, it's important to see all the monastic promises as being made in the context of free will. As a consenting, adult person, I am choosing this life. I am choosing to make these promises. I shall make them publicly on July 11, but every day of my life thereafter I shall be consciously recommitting myself to the choice and the promise. So, I am always freely obedient.
Secondly, monastic obedience isn't merely doing what you are told. It is not about being asked to suspend your intelligence and judgment. Essentially, it is about mutual listening. So, for example, if you are asked to take on a new ministry, the question would only be put to you after the prioress or superior had prayerfully considered what the community needed and who might be the person to fulfill that need. The sister would then, in turn, be asked to discern the matter. The possibility exists to explain why you think this might not be a good fit, and to ask for it to be reconsidered. What I'm trying to show here is that monastic obedience is interactive and inter-personal. It's seminal to our life in community, which is underpinned by love and respect for the other. Therefore, it's not intended to negate anyone, but to enable the possibilities that flow from learning not to put ourselves first.
Finally, it's important to remember that, ultimately, our obedience is to God, and that always means taking a risk. In answering this call to make perpetual profession, I am certain that I am accepting an invitation from God and, in that sense, I think I'm right to do it. I'm right ... but in the dark. I don't know where it will lead, I don't know what the final outcome will be. But I am prepared to be obedient to it, trusting in God that all shall be well: that through stability in the way of life, daily trying consciously to turn my life toward God (conversatio) and being obedient to what I hear God asking of me, I will become increasingly aware of the divine mystery permeating all creation.