Skip to main content


Friday, May 24, 2024
Chapter 5

This very obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to people only if compliance with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness. For the obedience shown to an abbot or prioress is given to God, who has said: "Whoever listens to you, listens to me (Lk 10:16)." Furthermore, the disciples'obedience must be given gladly, for "God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7)." If disciples obey grudgingly and grumble, not only aloud but also in their hearts, then, even though the order is carried out, their actions will not be accepted with favor by God, who sees that they are grumbling in their hearts. These disciples will have no reward for service of this kind; on the contrary, they will incur punishment for grumbling, unless they change for the better and make amends.

If there is one determinant of monastic spirituality, this is surely it: You must want it. You must give yourself to it wholeheartedly. You must enter into it with hope and surety. You must not kick and kick and kick against the goad.

It is so easy to begin the spiritual life with a light heart and then, one day, drowning in the sea that is ourselves, refuse to go another step without having to be dragged. We ignore the teachings or demean the teachings. We ignore the prioress or criticize the abbot. We defy the teachers to teach.

We do what we are told, of course. We come to the meetings or keep the schedule or go through the motions of being part of the community or part of the family or part of the staff but there is no truth in us and we weigh the group down with our complainings. We become a living lamentation. We become a lump of spiritual cement around the neck of the group.

This, Benedict says, is not obedience. This is only compliance and compliance kills, both us and the community whose one heart is fractured by those who hold theirs back. Real obedience depends on wanting to listen to the voice of God in the human community, not wanting to be forced to do what we refuse to grow from.