As a teenager, I spent a decent amount of time babysitting, hoarding away crisp twenties that have long since been swallowed up by my college tuition. I distinctly remember one time telling one of the boys I babysat, who was probably around 8 years old, that I was in charge so he had to obey me. He turned to look at me, clearly puzzled, and asked, “What’s obey?”
I was shocked by his response because I thought obedience was something that every kid knows, almost intrinsically. Obedience is something my parents always ground into me, probably from the very first day I became cognizant.
Disobedience meant automatic consequences when I was a child: time in the corner, no dessert or time out of fun things like movies or the swimming pool. I always thought that every parent instilled the value of obedience into their children. But from that day on, I haven’t been so sure.
Over time, it has become increasingly more apparent to me that even if parents are still teaching their kids the importance of the fourth commandment, there’s a serious disconnect between what people must think obedience means and what it actually is.
Obedience doesn’t mean picking and choosing what papal instructions to follow; it doesn’t mean using your personal judgment to select what state mandates to follow; it doesn’t mean choosing to heed some university policies but not others. According to the Catechism, “we are obliged to honor and respect all those whom God, for our good, has vested with his authority” (CCC 2197).
As long as what is being commanded is not morally opposable or contrary to the teaching of the Church, we are obliged to obey.
Hebrews 13:17 is a passage that really stuck with me in my Principles of Biblical Studies class last semester: “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.”
Leaders are important. They are what keep society from falling into absolute chaos. All throughout salvation history, God has given leaders to his people to keep them from destroying themselves through disagreement. And all throughout salvation history, God has demanded obedience to those leaders, who have represented his own divine authority.
Without leaders, just this university alone would be a jumble of thousands of people with thousands of different ideas all going in different directions. As Catholics, we are called in one direction: heaven. We need leaders to guide us there.
If following the instructions of the leaders of this university is a litmus test for how obedient we Catholics at Franciscan are, then I think the overall lack of compliance to the mask mandate at the beginning of September proves how much we all need to work on that important virtue, myself definitely included.
So we all might need a little encouragement in the practice of obedience, but I don’t think we’re a hopeless case. As Catholics, we have a perfect example of obedience: the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Marian obedience is probably one of the hardest virtues to practice. It is doing what we are told simply because we trust that we don’t have all the answers. Just like Mary, who said, “Let it be done unto me according to thy will,” we all need to submit our wills to the will of God. He has the answers; we don’t.
Through my limited experience with leadership — as an older sibling, a babysitter, working for the Troubadour — I have an appreciation for how hard it is to please everyone. You almost never can.
But we have to remember that leaders have been chosen for a reason. They are absolutely going to fail, as all humans do, but if we don’t follow fallen leaders, we’re going to become a chaotic mess of dissenters, all headed in different directions. We’ll never find the doors of heaven because we won’t be able to see them through the clouds of disagreement.
Disobedience will always have bad consequences, even if we don’t see them as instantly as I did as a child.
I know a lot of you Frannies out there have your sights set on being parents someday, and that is highly commendable. But it is important that we all learn obedience and the value of recognizing proper authority figures now, because our kids aren’t going to be learning it from anyone else.