Principles of the Spiritual Life
According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin


VENERABLE Father Colin thus defines and recom­mends Obedience to his children:

'Obedience consists in obeying man for God's sake. It enables brethren to live together harmoni­ously, and leads them to heaven by a safe path.'

'That is why all must endeavour to esteem it highly, and to practise it with such perfection that if they allow other religious to surpass them in know­ledge, in mortification, in poverty, they will let none outdo them in obedience. They will thus show them­selves to be the true children and servants of the Blessed Virgin who, though Queen of Angels and of men, always submitted humbly to all with whom she lived.''

To excel in obedience because obedience leads to God by a sure path was one of Father Colin's mottoes. Speaking of these words in the Constitu­tions, the Venerable Father said:

'' It is sometimes thought that those words were put in the Rule by mere chance. That is not so. They were not placed there just for the sake of elo­quence. They were well weighed. And they express my thought very clearly. They are in conformity with the Gospel, with Holy Scripture, with all religious rules which have expressed the same thought in one way or another.'

'' Some people who do not understand the virtue of obedience want to lead themselves. 0, how miser­able and foolish man is I How little does he realize what is really good for him I Among Marists, there are some who possess this virtue of obedience. In writing to me, they beg me not to be influenced either by their inclinations or their requests, adding that they would have life-long regret were I to act other­wise. One may make known one's repugnances, not to change the Superior's plans, but to reveal one's state, and to seek a remedy. A child speaks thus to its mother: 'Mother, look at this abscess. Prick it.' The mother does so. Such conduct is not contrary to obedience.'

'Each religious Congregation has its own special spirit. And it is worth while noting that the Congregations which have done most good, which God has blessed most, are precisely those in which religious obedience was perfectly observed. . . . ''

'We must shine above all by our obedience, according to the example given to us by the Blessed Virgin. Must one ask each one to do what is most pleasing to him? . . . ''

'There is nothing better for us than God's will, and obedience is God's will in practice .... '

Obedience, Venerable Father Colin tells us, gives strength. It is a source of happiness and of grace, an efficacious means of destroying ' self ' and of leading souls to God:

'' One does not realize the strength of obedience: 'The obedient man shall speak of victories. . . . ' Even should God, by revelation, tell you to do this or that, do not do so if your confessor, superior or those to whom you owe obedience do not tell you to do it. God leads men by one another. Obedience is the path which He uses to govern souls. Thus, if somebody living in community performed austerities of his own accord (I do not mean little every-day mortifications) , it would be wrong. . . . Let us have confidence in obedience. For it is more power­ful than one thinks. One must know how to obey and not to listen to oneself unduly. . . . ''

'' . . . How happy one is when acting through obedience ! It is what I call heaven on earth. In obeying, one is sure of doing God's will. Personally, when I am doing something, my greatest suffering is not to know if it is God's will. With obedience one has not that to fear.' 'Let us remember that merit lies less in the order given than in the act of dependence. And that the happiest of men is not he who commands but rather he who obeys for love of God.''

'' Grace flows through many channels in order to reach us. He who has made profession, bas chosen the channel of obedience. Henceforth, grace can come to him by no other channel. If he deviates from the path of obedience, grace will flow, but none will reach him.'

'Religious life is an anvil. Superiors are the hammers. You are the iron. The three vows are the base of the anvil. . . . Your will must be destroyed. . . . Superiors am the hand which God arms in order to destroy you. . . . ''

'A religious must be _like a soldier-ever ready to set out at the slightest signal. Ah, what happiness it is to be a religious! In giving up our will, we have truly got rid of a heavy load l To me, it seems to be that hundred-fold promised to the religious even in this life. Yes, it is heaven on earth.'

'Perfect obedience leads to God,' writes Vener­able Father Colin in the Constitutions of the Society of Mary. There is no authority other than God's. And those whose duty it is to exercise authority legitimately on earth have received that power from God alone. We shall see later how strongly Vener­able Father Colin insisted on this point, and all it means to every religious, especially to every Marist. There must be nothing servile in the obedience which a Marist gives to his superior. It must be an obedience of the heart, of faith, a child's obedience. . . . '

'We should be like little children, especially where obedience is concerned. 'Unless you become as little children,' said Our Lord to His apostles, 'you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.' 0, what a depth of meaning there is in these words I We must be like a child of about four years of age. It seems to me that God could refuse him nothing. A young child may sometimes cry very bitterly. But he soon cries his tears when mother kisses the sore spot. . . . Let us profit well by the time at our disposal, so as to form ourselves to that state of childhood, to simple, artless and frank obedience. One does not realize the merit, the grace attached to the asking of a permission. . . . No, one does not realize it. . . . '

A Marist's obedience must also have other qualities. Venerable Father Colin goes so far as to say in the Constitutions of the Society of Mary:

Perfect obedience, in submitting us to men, is directed towards God, for whom we obey. It must he• humble and entire, simple and complete in execution prompt to the point of leaving a letter unfinished in order to carry out its call, strong and virile in all circumstances-especially in those which go against the grain and are contrary to self-will and self-judgement.' '

In exacting obedience to legitimate authority, and in stating that obedience to authority is obedience to God, Venerable Father Colin is merely echoing the words of Christ and those of the Apostle, St. Paul:

'He who listens to you, listens to me; he who despises you, despises me; and he who despises me, despises him that sent me.'

'Every soul must be submissive to its lawful Superiors; authority comes from God alone, and all authorities that hold sway are of his ordinance. Thus the man who opposes authority is a rebel against the ordinance of God, and rebels secure their own condemnation.'

Nevertheless, he who, in God's name, demands my submission, may make a mistake. Am I still bound to obey him? To that question, Venerable Father Founder gives a reply as complete as it is precise and which excludes all commentary:

'Were private judgement to creep in, I should have but one thing to do: to destroy the Society. . . . Authority no longer exists when one queries a Superior's commands. Government soon becomes impossible. The main point is to submit one's will, one's actions, one's judgement. ... One may, per­haps, say: 'How can I submit my judgement in everything? ' Listen to my answer. In obedience there are three things to consider: the Superior, the subject, and the thing commanded. The Superior is not infallible. He may, therefore, make a mis­take. And there will be circumstances in which he will make a mistake. But notice carefully: he makes what is called a subjective mistake, because there are circumstances of which he is ignorant. But as regards you, can he make a mistake? No, be does not err, he never errs as regards you, unless he com­mands what is sinful. No matter what the thing commanded, it will be useful for you unless it be clearly contrary to God's law. Furthermore, you have no right to question the authority of your Superior. If Christ bas forbidden us to judge our neighbour, still more strongly does He forbid us to judge our Superior. And even. should the latter make a mistake, his error will, according to God's plan, work out to your advantage. God will not ask you to render an account of your Superior's orders, but of how you have carried them out. The thing is good for you although it may not be bene­ficial to the object in view.'

' I add: it is impossible for the Superior to please everybody. For what pleases one, displeases an­other. We all have our own ideas and our own way of getting what we want. The Superior's way is that which suits him best. It is according to that way that God will bless him, for a Superior can see only with the eyes given to him by God. Should your Superior act contrary to your wishes, you must limit, for such is the will of God. May these ideas take deep root amongst us. I foresee all the good which the Society can accomplish, if it is always animated by this spirit. And I also foresee all the graces which such conduct will draw down upon each of its members.'

'No matter how imperfect the Superior may be, he who attacks him, attacks God .... '

'Let us consider God in the Superior-Christ, rather than the human person. Alas, were we to do otherwise, we should lose all merit, and expose our­selves to great misery. The Superior is a man. He will often be distinguished from others merely by a more severe judgement from God. Yet I am fully convinced of these words of Our Lord: 'He that heareth you, heareth Me.' This thought, inspired by faith, will preserve us from a host of murmurs and troubles which offend God. . . . '

Venerable Father Colin goes on to say:

' Obedience is not sufficient. One must have deep interior and exterior respect and deference for Superiors. One must see in them Our Lord, Jesus Christ, whose place they hold. One must love them as fathers, and pity the heavy burden which weighs them down .... '

How easy obedience becomes when it is the result of love. How simple and loyal, without any hypo­critical motive, obedience is when it is God whom we obey, Him alone whom we try to please. And if my obedience to my Superior is that of an affec­tionate child, it will not be sullied by vile :flattery or falseness with the secret aim of bringing myself to the fore: '

Give your human masters the obedience you owe to Christ, in anxious fear, single-mindedly; not with that show of service which tries to win human favour, but in the character of Christ's slaves, who do what is God's will with all their hearts. Yours must be a slavery of love, not to men, but to the Lord; you know well that each of us, slave or free, will be repaid by the Lord for every task well done.''

God loves order. It is through obedience to the hierarchy which He has established, rather than by actions of natural caprice or independence, that His grace and life will be communicated to us. Even if better in themselves than those required by obedience, actions prompted by caprice and in­dependence are a disorder for the performance of which God cannot lend the help of His grace.

'For him who has made the vow of obedience, abnegation of self-will and self-judgement becomes a matter of conscience and, in a sense, the channel of God's graces.' Venerable Father Colin is, however, careful to explain that a perfect spirit of obedience does not prevent us, if necessary, making known our views in a simple and loyal manner to lawful authority, pro­vided we submit whole-heartedly to its decision. And there are, he tells us, often numerous and un­foreseen cases in which we have to take a decision as near as possible to that which we feel the Superior would take. Such occasions demand tact, common sense, energy and prudence. Timid hesitation at such times would be quite out of place.

'Have no scruple in making your tastes known. To do so is an act of religious simplicity, which God blesses. Should you get what you want, you will still have the blessing of obedience because of your indifference and eagerness to accept your Superior's decision.''

'Form the habit of doing nothing without per­mission. He who does not habitually ask small per­missions, soon refrains from asking bigger ones: 'He who despises small things gradually falls away.' A special blessing is attached to every action per­formed through obedience. . . . ''

' ... Obedience determines the work. Every­thing which concerns that work is automatically in line with obedience. Otherwise obedience would be a hindrance, a constant nuisance. One would waste one's time without doing anything for the glory of God. Remember that your obedience-that which consists in not taking a step without being guided -would be all right in a child. But it is not the obedience of a man. It would hinder your work for souls, and make you narrow, timid, hesitant. ... '

'Religious obedience must not be too childish. ... Get a correct idea of what obedience really is. One must be broad, decided, yet modest. . . . '

'One must, above all, obey the Superior's inten­tion. My Superior tells me to do so-and-so. I see inconveniences. I must not act without drawing his attention to them. Otherwise I should be acting contrary to his intention. If, despite my observa­tions, he says to me: 'Go ahead,' I must obey.'

Once again, Marists are to take as their models Jesus and Mary. What did Mary utter if not words of humble submission: 'Behold the Handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word.' Such was her reply to the Angel, who came to speak to her concerning the divine maternity. Later, at Cana, she said to the servants: 'Do whatever he tells you. '2 And her hidden life re-enforces those lessons of obedience, were we but able to delve down into the depths of its riches.

Jesus wishes to imprint the spirit of obedience so deeply on our souls that, to give us a striking and lasting example, 'He lowered his own dignity, accepted an obedience which brought him to death, death on a cross.'3 In the garden of agony, it was a word of submission which escaped from His suffer­ing soul: 'Father, he said, if it pleases thee, take away this chalice from before me; only as thy will is, not as mine is. '4 And it was wm1 words of submis­sion that He died: 'It is achieved. '

In imitation of these perfect models, Venerable Father Colin says to all his beloved children: 'Let Marists completely submit their self-will and self-judgement to those of their Superiors. They will thus destroy ' self', source of so many evils and enemy of divine wisdom. And they will acquire per­fect obedience, the most precious of all gifts.'

'' If they consider the abundant fruits of peace and merit concealed therein, they will not hesitate to sacrifice willingly everything so as to find and to purchase this treasure of obedience, by which one constantly offers a most pleasing holocaust to God. Happy the religious who does nothing except through obedience! And, finally, how much more pleasant it is to obey than to command, since he who commands may make a mistake, whereas he who obeys for love of God has nothing to fear.'

'Let us not forget that whole-hearted obedience is blessed by God, that it must be the characteristic of Mary's children, and that it will be our safeguard and source of great merit.'

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15 June 2022

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Source Name
Marist Father John Claude Colin

Source URL
Principles of the Spiritual Life......


Reflect on the theme of 'Obedience'. These thoughts were published in 1950. Realise its context, but realise the wisdom which speaks to us today.

How does obedience shape the lay Marist's life?
To our wives or husbands? To our fathers or mothers? To our pastor or priests? To our mentors or guides? To our bosses or leaders? Does God shape us?

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