I read something the other day that refreshed my memory to a discussion I had way back with a Novice-master over obedience. He said to me, it is more meritorious to carry out a task under monastic obedience than to carry out the task because we need to do it. I'm pretty sure it is something St. Augustine wrote, but I cannot find it.
People who are in religious life and also lay people who follow the Rule of St. Francis, or another rule written for Third Orders in general, realize that obedience is the capstone of all virtues. It is by obedience that we follow the Will of God. It is through obedience that we obey the Ten Commandments, so even people who are not members of religious orders are aware of obedience.
Our Lord wants of us obedience freely given. I vaguely recall the underlying conversation that prompted my Novice-master to talk about the merits of obedience. It had been suggested that I should walk two hours a day to lose weight. That was in 1998, I believe. And my superior thoughtfully made it his wish "under obedience" that I should carry out this assignment frequently, almost daily, in fact, depending on the elements. At some later point he told me that Jesus loves those who carry out assignments "under obedience" even though they realize that the assignment is beneficial.
"The good works which we do of our own will, are not so meritorious as those that are done under obedience." from "Maxims of St. Philip Neri for every day of the year", translated by Fr. Faber (written in 1847)
Let me give you an example. Suppose I saw a need to help someone. Perhaps someone who could barely make ends meet. My heart said - take him out to dinner. If I did this, it would be great in the eyes of the Lord. No question. But if a religious or other superior had commanded me to drop everything and take this poor soul out to dinner, my act of charity would have benefited me more, because it was done under obedience. Most of us do not consciously think of the benefit of charity to ourselves, rather than how it may benefit others, so we could offer up this act of obedience for the recipient of our charity.
The redemptive obedience of Jesus -- remember what He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane? "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." (Mt 26:39) That's perfect obedience! Jesus knew this is what the Father wanted of Him. That's the redemptive obedience of Jesus!
If we faithfully follow the poor and crucified Christ we are being obedient to Jesus Christ and that in itself is meritorious.
We can draw this conclusion one step forward - if we as Catholics or as Christians really strive to obey the Ten Commandments, then we are doing God's Will and we will be rewarded for this act of obedience. This is more meritorious than if we merely carried out these Commandments because of any other reason not related to obedience. One of the fine points of obeying God's Will.
May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord show his face to you and have compassion on you! May he turn his face to you and give you peace! (St. Francis of Assisi)
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
2007 rev. 2012