“Moved by the Holy Spirit, they subject themselves in faith to those who hold God’s place, their superiors. Through them they are led to serve all their brothers in Christ, just as Christ ministered to his brothers in submission to the Father and laid down his life for the redemption of many. They are thus bound more closely to the Church’s service and they endeavor to attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Vatican II, Decree on Renewal of Religious Life, 14). The vow of obedience finds its example in Christ, who “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51) and who “became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).
“Our Lord spent three hours in redeeming, three years in teaching, and thirty years in obeying, in order that a rebellious, proud, and diabolically independent world might learn the value of obedience” (Fulton Sheen).
The vow of obedience is the greatest of the three vows that are usually taken by religious (poverty, chastity, and obedience). St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “by the vow of obedience man offers God something greater, namely his own will; for this is of more account than his own body, which he offers God by continence, and than external things, which he offers God by the vow of poverty.”
Even though superiors are by no means perfect, in obeying them, religious are obeying God, from whom all authority comes (Rom 13:1). Similarly, in marriage, St. Paul tells us, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord”(Eph 5:22), even though the husband is just an imperfect creature. It may be hard to see why someone would want to limit their freedom in this way by entering religious life or marrying, but Pope St. John Paul II explains beautifully that this limitation for the sake of love is the true fulfillment of freedom: “Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom – it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another. Limitation of one’s freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful, and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love. If freedom is not used, is not taken advantage of by love it becomes a negative thing and gives human beings a feeling of emptiness and unfulfilment.”
“The power of obedience! The lake of Gennesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again to the water and they caught ‘a huge number of fish.’ Believe me: the miracle is repeated each day.”
–-St. Josemaria Escriva