Here’s a new virtue: Obedience

Watercolor in progress, Deacon Matt Newsome

I’m practicing a new virtue. Obedience. During the Saint Francis de Sales retreat at the Catholic Conference Center on April 26-28, I ran across two mystifying comments on obedience in the spiritual classic “Introduction to the Devout Life” (DeSales, Part 3, Ch 11). I had always thought of obedience as something I offer those in authority – my boss, civil authorities, my bishop, or the Church. Whether I obey willfully or begrudgingly, it matters not.   

Saint Francis de Sales says that’s not enough. In addition to obeying superiors, he says to “accustom yourself to yield to your equals, giving way to their opinions where nothing wrong is involved.” Can you imagine a world where people ‘gave way’ to the rightly formed opinions of others without argument?

Here’s an example of how I scored on this virtue last week. My wife asked me to dig holes so she could plant the peppers in the garden. I obeyed, digging the holes immediately after supper. Plus one. The next morning, she asked me to plant the peppers. She didn’t want to get dirty. Before I went to work, I planted the peppers. Another plus one. That evening I asked, “How do you like where I planted the peppers?” She said, “Fine, but they’re too close.” I countered, “It says to plant them 18” to 24” apart. I planted them 18″.” I think to myself, “End of discussion”. Saint Francis de Sales thinks, “Minus two”. Then the next day, remembering that I was trying to practice obedience as Saint Francis taught, “giving way to the opinions of others,” I evened the score, replanting the peppers a spacious 24” apart.

The external act of obedience is not all that matters. My internal disposition is also important. He continues, “Moreover, obey quietly, without answering again, promptly, without delay, cheerfully, without reluctance; and, above all, render a loving obedience for His Sake.” I may have delayed a bit, but in the end, I spaced out those peppers with a smile on my face and hopefully brought a smile to the face of Saint Francis. 

It’s been an interesting experiment. I’ve been waiting for those contrary voices to emerge (your opinion doesn’t matter, you’ve got to prove you’re right, stop being a door-mat…) But so far, practicing obedience as Saint Francis de Sales describes has instead yielded much spiritual fruit in me and I think in the world around me.

Maybe this week, try to “yield to your equals, giving way to their opinions where nothing wrong is involved” and do so “cheerfully and without delay.”