Published on Apr 1, 2014
Canon 601 states: The evangelical counsel of obedience, undertaken in the spirit of faith and love in the following of Christ, who was obedient even unto death, obliges submission of one’s will to lawful Superiors, who act in the place of God when they give commands that are in accordance with each institute’s own constitutions.
The vow of obedience takes religious into the heart of the mystery of Christ that we celebrate in this Paschal season. In faith and love, we enter in a special way into the following of Christ, obedient to death. Undertaken in this spirit, each institute comes to an understanding and practice of the vow that develops over time.
In an age of individualism and autonomy, reeling from atrocities committed in the name of absolute obedience, some find any intervention by leadership into their personal decisions to be offensive. Yet we also know that at times, the vow of obedience has been interpreted and lived as an abdication of personal responsibility for one's life and one's ministry. Neither extreme is healthy or holy.
A right living of the vow of obedience requires maturity and mutual respect between leader and member. Turning to the paschal mystery of and the self-emptying love with which Christ surrendered all, and turning also to the creative love of God which received and honored this gift, we can seek the grace to live the vow in a mutually life-giving way.
The highest governing body of the institute is its chapter, where members gather in prayer and discernment. The chapter sets direction for the community and calls forth its leadership. Receiving their mandate from the chapter, the community leadership then takes on its responsibility.
Leadership is both challenging and life-giving as leaders carry out the mandates of chapter, accompany members of the community in their joys and challenges, and steward the institute, its ministries and its resources.
There are limits on the exercise of authority in the community. It must respect the personal rights and dignity of the members, the norms of canon law and the constitutions. The canonical system does not allow an individual to serve alone in leadership, but recognizes the value and necessity of councilors and assistants. In particular circumstances superiors are required to act only with the advice, or with the consent of their council.
For more on the vow of obedience and the exercise of authority register for May's webcast on The Vow of Obedience in Civil and Canon Law.
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