Obedience versus Disobedience

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)

"The Fall of Man" - Michelangelo

“The Fall of Man” – Michelangelo

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

No. 144 – To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself.

No. 397 – Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.


Our primary motive for obedience should always be the love of God and the desire to please the One we love. The greatest joy that can come to a faithful Christian at the end of his life will be to hear Our Blessed Lord say: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)

Our Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in his obedience to the Father. If we desire to imitate Jesus, then we need to obey God. The Most Holy Trinity of God – Father, Son, together with the Holy Spirit – have shown us the way to perfect obedience, contained in Holy Scripture and in all the teachings of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. If we want to imitate Our Lord, if we want to become more ‘Christlike’, if we want to live the new life that God has promised us, we must be obedient to all that God has told us to do.

Mary's "Fiat"

Mary’s “Fiat”

Our Lady is the perfect model of obedience in all things to God. From her very conception, till her momentous “Fiat” when “the Word was made Flesh” in her sacred womb, through her joys and sufferings during the earthly life of her Divine Son, until her final Holy Assumption into Heaven, Mary was the humble maidservant of the Lord. Raised by God to the greatest heights, crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth, she is our motherly advocate on our own journey to God. She will assist us in our endeavours to imitate her perfect example of loving obedience.


“If you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:13). Paul gives us exactly the same choice as God did through Moses: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Obedience leads to life; disobedience to death and separation from God for all Eternity.

Man’s propensity to sin will lead us to disobey God countless times throughout our lives. God sees our many weaknesses but looks into the depths of our soul to scrutinise our hearts’ intentions. If our real desire to obey the Divine Will is honest and sincere, and our innermost yearnings are for His love and saving grace, He will lead us to seek forgiveness for having transgressed the Divine law. Through His Divine Mercy, poured out most especially in the Holy Sacrament of Confession, we can be led back time and again into communion with God. While we have breath in our bodies, there is always time to repent, turn back, and point our lives towards holiness and God once more. Perfect obedience is not easy, willful, headstrong creatures that we are, but with prayer and humility we shall grow in our love for holy obedience – and the path that leads to Life Everlasting in God’s Presence.

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D., author of “Divine Intimacy“, states:

“One of the greatest obstacles to full conformity of our will to God’s is our attachment to our own desires and inclinations. Obedience, because it asks us to be governed by the will of another, is the best way of accustoming ourselves to renounce our own will, of detaching us from it, and of making us cling to the divine will as revealed in the orders of our superiors.

The stricter the form of obedience to which we submit — that is, the more it tends to govern not only some particular detail but our whole life — the more intense will its practice be, and the more surely will it make us conform to the will of God. This is the great value of obedience: to unite man’s life with the will of God: to give man in every circumstance, the opportunity to govern himself, not according to his weak, fragile will, which is so subject to error, blindness and human limitations, but according to the will of God. This divine will has such goodness, perfection and holiness that it can never be mistaken nor will what is evil; it aims only at the good — not the transitory good, which today is and tomorrow is not — but the eternal, imperishable good.

Obedience makes us this happy exchange: renunciation of our own will for God’s will. For this reason the saints loved obedience.

If it is costly to nature to give up one’s own will, to renounce a plan, a project, or a much cherished work, the interior soul will not stop at this act of renunciation, but will realise that by suffering and struggling to overcome itself, it will be carried much further. The soul is fixed in the will of God which comes hidden in the voice of obedience and it tends toward this will with all its strength, for to embrace the will of God is to embrace God Himself.”

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10 Responses to Obedience versus Disobedience

  1. John says:

    This is a really great post as it deals so directly and without compromise to what we need to do to be close to God.

    Since having been moved to take the step to conversion, it has been thus far, the most intensive period of self-analysis, questioning, and self discovery I have ever experienced.

    For anyone serious about being a Catholic, there is I feel little room for compromise, and this will always ensure both clarity of vision, the fostering of an intense humility, and immense reward as we are supported by divine assistance if we stay true to the paths we have chosen and believe in utter forgiveness for true repentance and submit to his will as part of our daily existance.

    The depth of our sinfulness and unworthiness is terrifying, and there have been times recently when I have felt far too unworthy to continue on my journey, as my sins are (in the words of my old prayer book) “manifold” and I have not even yet considered my sins of omission!.

    Perhaps it is easier to say what sins I have not committed, and even then I am moved to question whether, in the terms of the brilliant purity of God, even those sins I think that I have not committed, have in reality also stained my already black soul still further.

    It is true I have not killed anyone, but how often have a killed a part of someone’s heart with a harsh or cruel word? Oh to my utter shame, so many times.

    How many times have I stood in the pulpit preaching, and not “heard” the words I have spoken, and acted like the Pharisees of the Old Testament. Oh again so many times. May God Forgive me! I have not been obedient.

    How Many times have I allowed pride to encroach on my Piety?, or my sense of duty overtake my sense of love for the Lord in the practice of my Church responsibilities. Yes I am guilty.

    Being aware of the gravity of our sin, then makes us question who we are and makes us hate what we have become, and does indeed move us to ask how can we change and become more obedient
    Yes God knows we are weak and fallible, but it seems no excuse for us when we know that we do have the ability to change and be something other than the greedy, selfish, self-centred, and cruel hypocrites that we can be and frequently are (and of which I certainly am) – all signs of Gross and wicked disobedience since they are amongst the worst offences gainst the Lord.

    For someone who has professed their faith in an outwardly visible sign, acting in the name of God and his Church, such self-discovery is horrific in the enormity of its gravity, and I for one feel empathy for Jacob Marley.

    Reading and understanding the teaching of the Church on the matter of reconciliation, makes it impossible to then ignore it, hard though the path to reconciliation may be, and a Good Confession must be the only confession, lest the whole process not only be a waste of time, but a further stain on the soul.

    May God Forgive me, and may he teach me to be more obedient and less self absorbed.


  2. kathleen says:

    John, I must thank you once again for your self-deprecating, heartfelt and surprisingly honest description of your struggles of conscience. Never an easy thing to bare the secrets of the soul to the world. But I am sure many of us, once self-pride is swallowed, could echo your words. No one finds perfect obedience easy; overcoming our own willfulness to humbly obey in times of temptation is where the challenge lies. I often feel I shall never ever learn the lesson! But I’ll keep on trying. 😉

    Never forget, that it was the sinner at the back of temple, who recognising his sinfulness, lowered his gaze, beat his breast and pleaded: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). He was the one who went home “justified”.

    The mistake – and thus the tragedy – would be so see oneself as sinless and in no need of God’s loving mercy and forgiveness.


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    “How many times have I stood in the pulpit preaching…”

    I’m wondering if John is/was an Anglican minister? I thought, at first, that he was just a lector. No wish to pose the question directly, and no response is necessary. But it sounds, to me, that John, in his present struggles, is being used by God:

    “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

    GBS, Man and Superman (Introductory preface by the author)


  4. If only this post on the subject of obedience could be read – and acted on – by every cardinal, every archbishop, every bishop, and every lay person in the world. In this regard, I think especially of the attitude many of those in the Church hierarchy have, for example, toward “Summorum Pontificum.”


  5. John says:

    No problem in clarifying my past role, I am happy to do so.

    As you rightly understood I was a Reader / Lector, with a view to possible ordination into Anglican Orders starting with the Diaconate.

    As part of my training, I was expected to get involved in much of the non-sacramental Liturgical activity as I was able, which in my case involved preparing and giving a set number of sermons in a certain period, under supervision and assessment but NEVER at a Eucharist, ( where I practised as a Server, Intercessor, and Epistle Reader only.

    I would frequently, under Licence from the Bishop, Lead Choral Evensong (Vespers) and give the sermon there. It was a kind of in house training.

    My hope to enter into the Ministry ended rather abruptly when my parents became very ill and required significant care. After this my role in the Parish diminished proportionately as my secular and care activities had to take over.

    After my parents passed away, I found that my Church had become a place where I no longer felt I was in full communion with God – Much had changed, including myself.

    It was, and remains a source of extreme and bitter regret and sadness that I was never able to fulfil my desire to enter the priesthood, (Formal Ministry) and to have also now lost the ministry I had as Reader / Lector by reason of my conversion to Catholicism;

    however to have continued within Anglicanism in any form of Ministerial capacity would have been wrong given my beliefs and what I felt the Holy Spirit was guiding me to do.

    Sadly I am too old now to hope for any form vocation within the Roman Catholic Church, which although saddens more than I can say, I nonetheless accept it as being God’s will, though I have been moved recently to ponder on what direction my life would have taken had I been born into the Catholic faith. I believe I would have been a much happier chap, and would almost certainly have found at a much younger age, what I have only found now.


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    In your case, their loss is our gain. But I don’t think being born and baptised outside the Church should be a matter of regret or unhappiness. We could discuss at length many great Catholics who walked the same path, including my namesake. Coming home later in life bestows a special charism. You were born and baptised outside the Church because that’s what God intended. Anyway, you can still be a lector (probably a better one than me) or even a deacon. Many permanent deacons are ordained as senior citizens.


  7. John says:

    @ johnhenrycn
    You are absolutely right in saying I should not regret having been born an Anglican, and for the most part I have not regretted it, but I do somewhat regret now, not having had the opportunity to see “more” of the richness God’s kingdom radiating from his “universal” Church from the limited perspective of Anglicanism, until later in life.

    I suppose the appropriate adage is that “we never miss what we have never had”, thus we come to live in a world where sadly, as far as social interactions are concerned, certain aspects are predetermined and left unquestioned. – The precepts of social conservatism were still quite strong in certain areas even in the 1970’s

    It is something of an anachronism that it was during my 3 year formal academic training for my Reader’s Licence, and the very real and close prospect of following a vocation, that I began to see the bigger picture, and became, I suppose, unsettled, or disturbed.

    For many years, the perception was that Roman Catholicism was a “foreign land”, wherein strange people dwelt, and in which foreigners were not welcome,- or visited at their peril – something of an imperialist throw back I think, all tied up with the Establishment and the Conservatism mentioned earlier.

    It was I believe this rather narrow view that caused me never to really consider Roman Catholicism as a realistic option for some time, though I always knew that something very important was missing in my religious life. I was, to use a very old fashioned and somewhat unpalatable synonym, in Gods own church in Gods own country, and though, not aware of it, was conforming to Middle England values and expectations through the respectable face of the Church of England. (at least as regards the practice of my faith ) if not my politics !

    Of course it didn’t look like that to me at the time, though as time progressed I did become more and more aware that there was a radical problem with me and my relationship with the church and thus, more importantly to God, insofar as the Church of England was now becoming an obstacle to my communion with God rather than an aid to it

    The strangest thing of all though was that once I made the commitment to convert, which I did one hot Saturday afternoon alone in a Catholic Church, it was as though Our Lord just swept me off my feet and said “ at last” !! and from that time everything changed.

    That strange foreign land I spoke of feels like home now, and the even “stranger” people have become my friends. The fear has gone; the mystery has been resolved, the onward struggle though difficult, is one I relish because I know it is worthwhile, and what God wants, and my faith has been totally revitalised and renewed with joy, happiness, excitement and anticipation.

    As far as the future is concerned, yes it would be the crowning glory to think that perhaps at some point I could contribute and serve God again in some form of capacity in his church, but it would be presumptuous of me to expect that to happen, so I will be content where I am and can only say to God I will be there if needed.


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    Well, John, everyone knows that God is an Englishman, so you’ve a leg up on many converts.

    You write very well, too.

    “…during my 3 year formal academic training for my Reader’s Licence.”

    Holy cow! When I became a lector, Sr Lorraine SSND (RIP) gave me a one minute audition. You will be a godsend for any Catholic parish.

    But I understand (and shared) your intial feeling about being a stranger in a strange land when I first approached a priest about converting. Thanks be to God, he welcomed me with only the slightest hesitation (I intentionally came to him from outside of his parish), because there are quite a few ecumenically (or ecumaniacally) minded priests who are frosty to people from other Christian Schools of Thought, not including my own parish priest who is a wonderful man. For an Irishman.


  9. John says:

    @ johnhenrycn

    Thanks johnhenrycn, your comments are always appreciated, and the smiles that they engender at times

    Yes the training was quite intensive though very enjoyable, involving many many essays ( in the days before word processors !! )

    Comparative Religions, Evangelism, Doctrine, Church History, Theology, Personal Spirituality. Liturgical forms and Practice, Bible Interpretation; and Practical Ministry, all accompanied by a few very uncomfortable retreats in a Chester Convent attached to the Diocesan Cathedral ( and always in mid-winter ! ).

    There were also frequent meetings with my mentor priest who would discuss my progress with me. He was quite partial to Scotch and Soda I seem to remember, a passion which he loved to share with his students….. Those meetings always “seemed” to go well (from what I can remember) though not quite sure if it was as a result of the “Holy” spirit or not !! lol


  10. johnhenrycn says:

    Scotch and Soda?

    Lord have mercy on that sinner.

    The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay or Glenlivet.”

    The author of that epigram (and also of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes) died at age 44 whilst opening a bottle of Chateau Thames Embankment plonk, but that’s another story.


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