Chapter 1 – Obedience

I.—Obedience

boy in school

           Once upon a time there was an old schoolmaster, who at the beginning of the year, wrote the word Obedience in big letters upon the blackboard in his classroom, and this inscription remained there, before the pupils’ gaze, for some time, as a reminder of their first and most important duty, the duty to obey. Obedience is not only necessary for being a good and virtuous pupil, but it is also the means of how to succeed in anything you undertake or do, at home, in church, at Sunday School, even at play, and you will need it particularly in that grand work which you have before you, the preparation for your first Holy Communion.

All the perfection which we ask of you is contained in that one word that was written on that blackboard, Obedience. Nor is this difficult to understand: You young people are necessarily kept under orders from some one or other; at home it is your parents; and you leave your parents’ orders only when you come under the orders of your teachers or of the priest; so that there is hardly a moment in your day when you are not under orders to do something or other, and as you are never asked to do anything but good, the result is that if you obey you will always and without error do the right things.

Obedience is like a long road that leads through the country: sometimes the road is straight, sometimes winding, it turns to the east or west, it may be up and down hills; it disappears beneath the shade of a forest, then reappears in the open; it skirts a precipice or lake. All this matters not. It is the road, and from the moment I take it I am certain of reaching the place to which it leads. This is obedience, and nothing more is needed than the intention, “I will obey,” to make a child thoroughly good. There is a difficulty, however, that lies in the way of obeying, and it is a great one. To overcome it, remember that there are three qualities that make true obedience, and they are: You must understand, you must be willing, you must know how.

First of all the understanding. Some children are like puppets—mechanical dolls—that are made to move by pulling a cord or by turning a crank; they, too, obey, but without sense. When pushed or pulled they move, and that is all. Do not be like these puppets. Let your obedience be a reasonable one; that is to say, make it clear to yourself why you should obey this or that order.

Your youth and inexperience, for instance, are the chief reasons for obeying. What do you know? What can you do? Are you not greatly in need of being guided? Nor can you fail to know, from your own experience, that for want of advice, or maybe from disobeying orders, many small, and perhaps great mishaps have already befallen you. If you had minded when told not to overheat yourself by fast running, would you have caught that bad cold? Would you have cut yourself so badly if you had listened when your mother or father forbade you to play with knife or scissors? But even if you had the experience of age or the knowledge of a philosopher, you have not the privilege; you are subject to your elders, and if you oppose the authority of your parents and teachers you will be called little tyrants, and with good reason; a tyrant is an unlawful monarch, an usurper; if you refuse to obey you are no better, the more so if you wish to be master purely for your own pleasure, to every one’s annoyance, and to your own harm.

Let me tell you that obedience is imposed upon everybody, with the exception of God. There is not a created being in the universe who is not obliged to obey some one, or some thing. Nobody can always do as he pleases. Formerly there were mighty kings who said: We want things done according to our good pleasure. Louis XIV., King of France, was one of them, but when his armies suffered defeat in his wars, when the winter of 1709 brought great distress to France, the king realized that he could not do just as he pleased, and he humbled himself before God. Kings, princes, generals, priests, teachers, all mankind have their superiors whom they must obey, with greater reason therefore must you obey who are only little children.

Secondly, you must be willing to obey. There are persons who do not like obedience, because it means the doing of what others tell you, without asking your own inclination. These persons are mistaken. Obedience manifests, on the contrary, a great inclination to be good. Always to do just what others command is not easy. We love liberty so much! Liberty appeals to our pride; it is so pleasant not to be obliged to obey any one. The snake appealed to Eve’s pride by telling her she would be like God, and that is why she disobeyed God’s command. It is very pleasant, too, to do just as we like, to follow our inclinations. To obey we must overcome all this. Obedience requires great will power, a determined resolution often renewed; the utmost fidelity to prayer in order to obtain the strength necessary.

Do not imagine therefore that you can become obedient all at once without any trouble, neither be discouraged at your failures in this respect, they are inevitable, and they will, no doubt, be frequent. Confess them sincerely, remembering that each act of disobedience is really a sin against God, for which you ought to be sorry with your whole heart, and then redouble your efforts, and you will surely make great progress.

Finally, you must know how to obey. There is a way of doing everything, and much depends upon the way a thing is done. The manner of giving is better than the gift itself. Suppose some one would give you a handsome book at Christmas, but at the same time would tell you, “I had to give you this present because it is customary, but I did not like to do it, it was expensive, and I could have used my money to better purpose.”

You would reply: “Sir, take back your book, if you offer the gift in such a way I do not care to accept it.”
To obey is to give; it is to give one’s will to God, and to those who represent Him; it means to sacrifice one’s pleasure and one’s desires, and it is the manner of obeying which adds to or diminishes the merit of obedience.

There are three ways of obeying which are bad and which should be avoided:

There is, first of all, what I would call the manner of a whipped dog, or of a punished slave. That is the manner of those who obey when a hand is raised to strike, when they are threatened, but once the master’s eye is no longer watchful and the fear of punishment is removed they think no longer of obeying.

This obedience does not deserve the beautiful name of obedience; what merit can it possess before God and before men? None whatever. It is only an act of fear, and as such it is unworthy of a Christian child.

There is, secondly, the insolent and rebellious manner. That is the manner of those who obey grudgingly, asking the reason why. The reasons given are disputed, they are found insufficient, objections are raised, they think obedience unnecessary, absurd, get angry, and pout, and finally obey, but with every possible sign of impatience and ill humor. This is not real obedience.

It suffices to know that we must obey, we have no right ot ask for reasons and explanations from the one to whom we owe obedience.

Finally, there is a third faulty manner, and that is an obedience after the manner of the turtle or of the snail. This is the manner observed in those who intend to obey, who do not complain or get angry. But what a tardy obedience it is! How often must they be told to do a certain thing before they set about it, and when they do obey it is most slowly.

Be sure and avoid carefully all these defects. Obey promptly, cheerfully, silently, and then you may be quite certain of God’s blessing, and, as Holy Scripture says, obedience will gain for you the victory.

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