The true meaning of obedience

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At the time of the recent wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the media commented that Kate was not including ‘obedience to William’ in her vow formula, but rather publicly, she stated “I vow to love, honour, comfort and keep”, writes Clare Condon SGS (pictured), in The Good Oil.

Considering the changes in gender relationships that have taken place over the past 50 years, one can readily agree with her response. Any form of obedience in a marriage ought to be mutual and expressed by both parties.

But perhaps there is some underlying assumption in the media’s coverage about marrying a future king, a ruler of his nation. In a hierarchical framework, is it expected that all will obey the king?

Language is dynamic. Words change their meaning over time and within differing cultural contexts. This word ‘obedience’ gets some pretty bad press in our current democratic and individualistic society because ‘obedience’ is seen to imply subservience, the giving over of one’s own will to the power and domination of another. It is seen as a sign of personal weakness.

The Catholic Church itself with its medieval and hierarchical structures can also distort the true meaning of obedience. In such a structure of power and dominance, reinforced by a divine legitimacy, obedience can be seen to be simply saying yes to the ‘magisterium’ or the ‘lawful’ authority, in an unthinking and unintelligent manner.

The Latin foundational word for ‘obedience’ is oboedire, which correctly translated means – “to hear or to listen”. This translation implies a relationship of mutuality where members of the community are listening to one another.

In our Benedictine tradition, this word is constantly before us. It is in our human relationships that we come to God, and it is in these relationships that we come to obedience to the Word of God for ourselves, and for one another within and for this community.

FULL STORY Resurrecting the true meaning of obedience (The Good Oil)

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