Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Virtue of Blind Obedience (yes. that's actually a virtue.) Part of a Series on the Ten Virtues of Mary.

Blind obedience is a tough sell these days.

If you're anything like me, it's going to take a lot to even convince you that it's not utterly WRONG, let alone a virtue to be cultivated.

In our culture, the concept of obedience has fallen out of favor. We are hesitant to encourage blind obedience in our children. We want to reason with them, to value their input, to give them choices. We want them to do as we ask because they wish to do so, not because they were MADE to obey without question.

How much less do we hope to cultivate blind obedience in ourselves? Our culture champions choice above almost all other things. Many of us struggle to ask for or follow the advice of our husbands or parents or pastors or spiritual directors. Many of us struggle to follow the Tradition and Magisterium of our Catholic Church, especially when its teaching on important and personal social issues sounds so far removed from what our secular culture believes.

The world out there (and the occasional priest in here) tells us we need to listen to our own consciences alone, not just mindlessly follow the oppressive rules of a dusty old church run by a bunch of old men who don't really understand what these policies MEAN for us, for our bodies, for our lives.

But that's not what the Mother of God tells us. Mary was blindly obedient. Gloriously, blindly obedient. Obedient even to things that sounded crazy. That sounded wrong. That sounded like they would cause her to face ridicule and scandal and unimaginable heartbreak.

Her obedience set her free and sanctified her.

And mine, when I can manage it, does the same thing.

Deciding not to use artificial contraception as a newlywed felt like the craziest decision I had ever made. I made it without wisdom or understanding, without much trust or much hope. All I had to give was blind obedience.

The only reason I'm where I am today is that even though what the Church said sounded completely insane, I just couldn't quite justify thinking I knew better than thousands of years of Church teaching.

And I didn't know better. The Church was right, she was right about it all. I am deeply grateful that God gave me the grace to make that decision in that moment, and that I was somehow able to correspond to it.

I was able to come to understand the teachings of the Church, because I was willing to be obedient BEFORE I understood.

The beautifully counterintuitive thing about blind obedience is how liberating it is.

We don't make decisions in a vacuum. We make them in the world, and often in crisis. It's nearly impossible to make a detached decision on an issue related to sex or marriage or fertility or infertility or life or death, because the moral aspect of these issues is inextricably tangled with our own fears and desires.

In times of difficultly and confusion, we can fall back on blind obedience.

We have a responsibility to form our own consciences, of course, but obedience covers a multitude of sins. If I've chosen wrongly, but in obedience to a person or entity in whom it was reasonable to place my trust, I'm very confident trusting in God's mercy.

But how to find someone to give me good counsel?

1. My husband.

Husbands are mostly better for this than we give them credit for. We're quick to run to our girlfriends or moms or the world wide web when we need advice, but I know that my husband is my greatest source of drama-free advice. And if I can make myself be obedient to it, I'm always better off.

2. My gals.

I also happen to have girlfriends and a mom and bloggy friends who have the same life and afterlife goals as I do. If they didn't, I just wouldn't ever, ever ask them what they thought I should do.

3. My spiritual director.

I am in spiritual direction. When my husband or friends are stumped or not available, or when the situation is too close to them, I take it to spiritual direction. A spiritual director can be anyone you'd trust to advise you well. I've met with both priests and laywomen as spiritual directors over the years. Both have been great. I'm seeing a priest now, and we meet once a month. I believe some priests and nuns take a vow of obedience to their spiritual directors. My situation isn't so formal. I just get good advice. I could choose not to take it, but that would kind of defeat the purpose.

I am striving to cultivate the virtue of blind obedience in myself. For me it looks like knowing when to just stop asking questions and say okay. It likes like agreeing to do it someone else's way, even though I like my way better. It looks like eating what is set before me, be it too much or too little, something I like or something I don't much like. It looks like trusting my God, my husband, my parents, my Church, to know what's good for me.

I am also striving to cultivate that virtue in my children. I want to raise bold, confident, self-starters, who understand that there is a time to ask questions and there is a time to zip it and do as you're told.

Confidence is not at odds with obedience. Both are virtuous. Being obedient doesn't mean being cowed. It means knowing when to say:

How shall this be done, because I know not man?

And when to say:

Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.

Perfect confidence, perfect obedience. All in the same conversation. Not bad for a fourteen year old.


This post is part of a series on the Ten Virtues of Mary, hosted by To the Heights and running every Tuesday until the middle of December. So if you need some help in the virtue department, here's a great place to start ;)

October 7 - An Introduction to the Ten Virtues of Mary - Olivia of To the Heights
October 14 - Lively Faith - Molly of Molly Makes Do
October 21 - Blind Obedience - Kendra of Catholic All Year
October 28 - Constant Mental Prayer - Jenna of Call Her Happy
November 4 - Heroic Patience - Kelly of This Ain't the Lyceum
November 11 - Profound Humility - Carolyn of Svellerella
November 18 - Angelic Sweetness - Regina of Good One God
November 25 - Divine Wisdom - Britt of The Fisk Files
December 2 - Universal Mortification - Abbey of Surviving Our Blessings
December 9 - Divine Purity - Gina of Someday Saints
December 16 - Ardent Charity - Christy of Fountains of Home
December 17 - Massive GIVEAWAY at To the Heights - Just in time for Christmas



  1. Ah this is beautiful, yet again, again! Probably prego hormones, but I teared up at the re-epiphany of understanding blind obedience-- it's easy to say "I BELIEVE!" not so easy to do it, especially when I'm always going "but what if...? Why not something different? Why me? What about?" Liberating, it is. And I'd say a healthier choice, as opposed to worry-warting my life away.

  2. "If I've chosen wrongly, but in obedience to a person or entity in whom it was reasonable to place my trust, I'm very confident trusting in God's mercy."

    YES. It is very frequently better to err on the side of obedience ... not that obedience is a virtue I'm particularly good at yet. :)

  3. I love this bit... it was good food for thought:
    "We don't make decisions in a vacuum. We make them in the world, and often in crisis. It's nearly impossible to make a detached decision on an issue related to sex or marriage or fertility or infertility or life or death, because the moral aspect of these issues is inextricably tangled with our own fears and desires."

    In the beginning it seemed like you were setting up "blind obedience" to be in conflict with "choice." But obedience is only liberating if it is "chosen." It is free will that makes obedience a virtue in the first place :)

  4. This is a new thought for me, Kendra. Blind obedience. Not something I would have categorized as a virtue. At all. This is tugging at my heart though, and I think it's timely. Thank you so much for this.

  5. As a blogger at "Here I Am, the Handmaid of the Lord." I pretty much love this post, especially the second half.

  6. Obeying before understanding - tough stuff, but so good. Thank you for this.

    This line especially resonated with me: "The beautifully counterintuitive thing about blind obedience is how liberating it is."

    I've recently come across several people mentioning a spiritual director, and I am intrigued. How do you go about finding someone to fill this role? Is it an informal mentorship, where you simply ask someone you respect to do this for you? Or is there a list somewhere of spiritual directors in your area, and you make an appointment with one, almost therapist style? I've tried researching this but am stumped. Any advice or thoughts you could share on establishing a spiritual director relationship would be much appreciated!!

  7. I think you are confusing "blind obedience" with "faith".

    Blind obedience can also be categorized as obeying error. When a wicked pope (yes, there have been some!) or prelate encourages sin or heresy we do NOT NOT NOT follow that error blindly! We are bound by Catholic duty to resist ALL error and will be judged by God accordingly.

    1. No, faith and obedience are quite different. Perhaps the confusion comes because we often talk about having "faith" in a particular person or organization. But when we are talking about virtue, "faith" can be only in God.

      From the Catechism: (1814) Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith "man freely commits his entire self to God."

      So FAITH is how we are able to believe in God, as he is revealed to us by his word (the Bible) and sacred tradition. And we OBEY the Holy Church, because the Holy Church is how God has chosen to reveal himself to us.

      There certainly have been some wicked Popes. But we don't have a wicked Pope now. And in any case, Pope Francis hardly ever calls me up and tells me to do stuff. I think we could all stand to work to cultivate the virtue of obedience in ourselves in our daily lives and in our habits, as Our Lady did.

      I would argue that, as a rule, obedience is the more virtuous path than resistance.

      There are so, so many amazing quotes from the saints about obedience.

      Without a doubt, obedience is more meritorious than any other penance. And what greater penance can there be than keeping one's will continually submissive and obedient?
      --St. Catherine of Bologna

      “Obedience, is rightly placed before all other sacrifices, for in offering a victim as sacrifice, one offers a life that is not one’s own; but when one obeys one is immolating one’s own will.”
      --St. Gregory the Great

      “The Devil doesn’t fear austerity but holy obedience.”
      – St. Francis de Sales

      “Obedience unites us so closely to God that in a way transforms us into Him, so that we have no other will but His. If obedience is lacking, even prayer cannot be pleasing to God.”
      – St. Thomas Aquinas

      'A Christian faithful to obedience, knows not delays, but prepares his ears for hearing, and his hands and his feet for labor.'
      --St. Bernard of Clairvaux

      “He who is his own master is a scholar under a fool.”
      –-St. Bernard

      No man commands safely unless he has learned well how to obey.
      --Imitation of Christ

      ”It is better to cherish the humble desire of living according to the rule of the community, and to be diligent in its observance, than to entertain exalted desires of performing imaginary wonders, for such imaginations only tend to swell our hearts with pride, lead us to undervalue our brethren, from an impression that we are better than they.”
      --Saint Pacomius

      My daughter, know that you give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience than by long prayers and mortifications. (894)
      --St Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul

      See more here.

      I repeat my conviction that, even if I err, if it was done in obedience to someone I could reasonably trust, God will extend his loving mercy to me. Clearly, it worked for all of these holy souls.

  8. "I was able to come to understand the teachings of the Church, because I was willing to be obedient BEFORE I understood."
    Yes, a Lively Faith allows us to be blindly (to our eyes) obedient.
    I am discovering this helps me in my conversion process. I don't understand Mary, but I can respect her and learn about her role as the Theotokos. I trust following her example in these ten virtues will help me to be the woman (in all my roles) that God wants me to be.
    I began praying The Rosary, even though I didn't understand it and now it is a true blessing to me--and DH. I am learning how to use it to ponder the events of Christ's life and what God wants me to learn from that particular rosary prayer.
    I look forward to the rest of this series and understanding more of how Our Blessed Mother helps us.


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