Obedience – Monks take a vow of obedience to the abbot of the monastery
Saint Benedict says, “It is love that impels them to pursue everlasting life; therefore, they are eager to take the narrow road of which the Lord says: ‘Narrow is the road that leads to life’ (Matt 7:14). They no longer live by their own judgment, giving into their whims and appetites; rather they walk according to another’s decisions and directions, choosing to live in a monastery and to have an abbot over them. Men of this resolve unquestionably conform to the saying of the Lord, ‘I have come not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me’ (John 6:38)” (RB 5:10-13).
Abandonment to God’s will, “Thy will be done”, is the greatest spiritual accomplishment. The Saints, those who reached tranquility of heart and union with God, were abandoned to glorifying Him in whatever way He desired. Whether in life or death, cross or consolation, health or illness, humiliation or exaltation, service to Jesus in the needy or withdrawn, intimate contemplation of His great love and boundless mysteries, they glorified God in the peace that comes from participating in His will for them at each given moment. The Saints have taught us that grace and joy come from accepting ourselves and our calls as they are.
The constant spiritual battle is to discern when our desired paths would be taken out of self-love versus true love. The Christian always wants to participate in the true meaning of life rather than its counterfeits, but accomplishing that pursuit can be difficult.
It requires prayer, study, and spiritual guidance to discern the true meaning to life’s many questions, for we are all untrained, very fallible on our own, and ensnared by self-love more often than perhaps we know, even when aspiring towards noble activities and goods. These requirements are most especially the case for those who want to dedicate themselves to the higher love of contemplation, because in that pursuit the use of lesser goods and activities can more sensitively either help or hinder union with God, depending on circumstances.
Monks have been given a very special assistance for following God’s will in their vow of obedience to their abbot and through him the rules, constitutions, and customs of a monastery. The surest (but certainly not only) way to be abandoned to God’s sublime and perfect will, which seeks our welfare better than we do, is to return one’s free will, our greatest gift from God, to Him through obedience to an abbot and a common rule of life that guide most activities. An abbot holds the authority of an ordinary or bishop in his abbey, and his application of the congregation’s approved constitutions and his interpretations of Saint Benedict’s detailed rule for common life guide the behavior of the monks to God’s will in many matters great and small. Saint Benedict instructs us that the abbot “holds the place of Christ in the monastery” (2:2) and his decisions are made in persona Christi, reminding the monks of Christ’s instruction to the seventy disciples/teachers: “whoever listens to you, listens to me” (Luke 10:16; RB 5:6). By the fact of this vow, the monk also owes a particular obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and the teachings of the Church.
God generously rewards those who turn to Him to the degree to which they do so, and the significant gift of free will to the guidance of his general affairs (while keeping in tact his intellect and conscience) is rewarded with the greatest inner freedom. The monk has been granted the freedom to know God’s will for him most surely, allowing him to focus, with great help, on cheerfully accomplishing it, by God’s grace, for the good of himself, his fellow monks, his Church, his family, and the other recipients of both his prayers and the merits of his redemptive crosses. Saint Benedict notes, though, that “this very obedience, however, will only be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliance with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness” (RB 5:14). Yet, to the extent that a monk can accept this discipline and avoid those pitfalls, he will be blessed abundantly in this life and the next. Such a cheerful gift of self in this substantial way is a very great calling.