The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life today published a 50-page instruction titled: "The Service of Authority and Obedience." It was presented this morning at an assembly of men and women superiors-general being held at the Salesianum in Rome.
A communiqué released by the congregation reported: "In the first place, the text examines the theme of religious obedience, the root of which is seen in that search for God and for his will which is particular to believers. [...] Christian and religious obedience does not, then, appear simply as the implementation of ecclesiastical or religious laws and rulings, but as the momentum of a journey in search of God, which involves listening to his Word and becoming aware of his design of love -- the fundamental experience of Christ, who, out of love, was obedient unto death on the cross.
"Authority in religious life must be understood in this light, in other words, as a way to help the community -- or institute -- to seek and achieve the will of God. Obedience, then, is not justified on the basis of religious authority, because everyone in a religious community -- first and foremost the authorities themselves -- are called to obedience. Authority places itself at the service on the community so that God's will may be sought and achieved together."
The communiqué noted that the question of religious authority should be placed in the context of a "great shared commitment to obedience."
The instruction also considers "the delicate matter of 'difficult obedience,' that in which what is requested of the religious is particularly hard to carry out, or in which the subject feels he sees 'things which are better and more useful for his soul than those which the superior orders him to do,'" the communiqué added. "Drawing from a still-relevant text of Paul VI, the document also dwells upon the possibility of 'objections of conscience' in the subject who must obey."
It continued: "The instruction seeks to recall, above all, that obedience in religious life can give rise to difficult moments, to situations of suffering in which it is necessary to refer back to the Obedient One par excellence, Christ. [...] It must, moreover, be borne in mind that authority too can be 'difficult,' experiencing moments of discouragement and fatigue which can lead to resignation or inattention in exercising an appropriate guidance [...] of the community.
"The reference to conscience helps people to consider obedience not just as a passive and irresponsible execution of orders, but as a conscious shouldering of commitments [...] which are a real actuation of the will of God."
"If the document contains a serene and faith-motivated exhortation to obedience, it also offers a vast and coherent set of guidelines for the exercise of authority," such as "inviting people to listen, favoring dialogue, sharing, co-responsibility, [...] and the merciful treatment of people" entrusted to authority, the communiqué added.
The instruction, the statement concluded, "gives particular resonance to the religious community as a place in which, under the guidance of the superior, a form of 'community discernment' must be exercised in decision-making. This practice, for the implementation of which important suggestions are offered, does not however eliminate the role of authority. [...] And it must not be forgotten that, by ancient tradition, the highest authority within religious institutes resides in the general chapter -- or similar institution -- which is a collegial body."