Why we should humbly obey our superiors

January 30, 2022 • 5 min

From Practical Piety Set Forth by St Francis de Sales, page 17
By St. Francis de Sales



Theologians distinguish in God two wills: the expressed will, and the will of His good pleasure. The expressed will comprehends the commandments of God and of the Church, counsels, inspirations, and constitutions. We cannot be saved with out obeying the commandments of God and of the Church, because God wills that we should observe them in order to get to heaven. As to counsels, He wills, indeed, that we should observe them, yet not as commandments, but only by way of desire.

The will of God is also manifested to us by inspirations; still He does not wish that we should judge of them by ourselves, but that, in things of importance, we should have recourse to those whom He has set over us, to guide us, and that we should be completely subject to their counsel and opinion. The rules also manifest to us His will, as being so many fit means for leading us to perfection.

There is, moreover, the will of the good pleasure of God, to which we ought to look in every event, I mean, in whatever happens to us, agreeable or disagreeable, in sickness as in health, in affliction as in consolation, in death as in life; in short, in all things which are unforeseen, provided they are not manifestly contrary to the expressed will of God, for that always comes first. Well, we should always be ready to submit ourselves to the will of His good pleasure, no less than to His expressed will.

The counsel of self-abnegation, so much recommended by our Lord, what else is it but the renouncing of our own will, of our own particular judgment, to follow the will and judgment of another; excepting always cases wherein one would be offending God?

But you may say, I see clearly that what I am bid to do proceeds from a human will and a mere natural inclination; and consequently God has not inspired those who ask me. I reply, that it may well be that God has not inspired them to ask it of you, but that He does inspire you to do it.

But you may again ask, Why should I rather do other people’s will than mine? Is not mine as conformable to God as theirs? For what reason am I bound to think that what they tell me to do is more an inspiration of God than the will which I feel suggesting to me to do the contrary?

O God! it is here where the Divine majesty desires to make us gain the prize of submission. For if we always saw very distinctly that people had good reasons for ordering or begging of us to do this or that, we should neither have great merit nor great repugnance; but when the reasons are hidden from us, then it is that our will is repugnant and our judgment resists, and we feel the contradiction.

Now, it is on these occasions that we ought to overcome ourselves, and with a simplicity altogether infantine, set ourselves to the work without discussing or reasoning about it, and say: I know that the will of God is, that I should rather do another’s will than my own, and so I submit myself.

If we ought thus to comply with the will of every body, much more ought we to do so with respect to that of superiors, whom we should regard and esteem as the person of God Himself, for they are His vicars. It is for this reason, that although we knew them to have natural inclinations, or even passions, by the movement of which they commanded or reproved us, we ought not to be astonished on that account; for they are men, and are consequently subject to all that: but we are not permitted to judge that their commands proceed from their passions or inclinations; we must take heed of that. Nevertheless, if we were to feel palpably certain that it was so, we ought not to be weary of sweetly obeying and lovingly submitting ourselves with humility to correction.

It is, in truth, a thing very hard to self-love, to be subject to all these encounters; but that is not the love which we ought to please or to listen to, but the most holy love of our souls, Jesus, who requires of His dear spouses a holy imitation of the perfect obedience which He rendered, not only to the most just and holy will of His Father, but also to that of His parents, and even to that of His enemies, who with out doubt followed their passions in the sufferings which they imposed upon Him; and nevertheless the good Jesus did not grow weary of submitting Himself thereto sweetly, humbly, lovingly.

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