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Supernatural Obedience

Supernatural Obedience


Presence of God – O Jesus, teach me to see only You in my superiors.


An excellent instruction from St. John of the Cross says: “Never look upon your superior, whoever he may be, with less regard than upon God Himself” (Precautions). If we do not have this supernatural spirit which makes us see God in the person of our superior, our obedience cannot be supernatural. It is necessary to be a soul animated by this motive alone: I obey because my superior represents God for me and speaks to me in His Name; my superior is another Christ to me: Hic est Christus mens. This is my Christ.

We should not obey through the motive of human confidence in the person of our superior: because he is intelligent, prudent, capable, because he understands or likes you, and so forth. That is human obedience, the fruit of human prudence—a good act in itself but not supernatural. Neither should we obey because what we are told to do is the most perfect; again this is not the real reason for obedience. We must obey only because God wills whatever our superior commands. The one exception is an order involving sin, which of course God cannot want, or a command not conformable to the Rule or Constitutions which we have embraced. In either case, obedience would be unlawful. Apart from these exceptions no limit should be put to our obedience. We need not hesitate through fear that the superior is asking something less perfect. Even if he commands what is objectively less perfect than its alternative (for instance, to take some rest instead of working), it would nevertheless be the more perfect thing for us. By the simple fact that the superior has expressed an order, it is clearly the fulfillment of that, and not something else, that God wants from us at the moment. It could very well be that in the abstract we see the possibility of performing an action more perfect than what we have been told to do, and that our idea is better than our superior’s. But in reality there is no doubt about it: nothing can be more perfect for us than what God commands by means of our superior.


O Lord, increase my spirit of faith, so that I will see You in the soul of my superior. May I repeat, spontaneously and sincerely, in his presence, Hic est Christus mens! Only by this way of obedience will a life of continual contact and uninterrupted for "Supernatural Obedience" postintimacy with You be possible. If I find You present and living in the Sacrament of the Altar under the veil of the Eucharistic species, always ready to welcome and nourish my soul, I can also, but in a different way, find You hidden in the person of my superior, through whom You speak to me, always ready to disperse my doubts, to manifest Your holy will, and to direct and guide me along the road You have chosen from all eternity for my sanctification.

O Lord, why should I stop at the human appearances of my superiors? Such an attitude will only serve to keep me from finding You in them and recognizing Your will in theirs. Help me, O God, to pass over all the human aspects of obedience and to put myself in contact with You and Your divine will. Just as in the Eucharist I do not halt at the created species of bread and wine, so I ought not in obeying to consider the person of my superior, but only Your will, which reaches me under the appearance of a human order or command. O Jesus, what a great mystery! The Eucharist gives me Your Body, Your Blood, Your divinity—such is the power of the Sacrament which You have instituted. Obedience gives me Your will and makes me communicate with it—such is the power of the authority which You have established.

Once I have understood this profound truth, how can I still dare to argue or hesitate at the commands of my superiors? “It would be a terrible thing if God were to be telling us plainly to go about His business in some way, and we would not do it but stood looking at Him because that gave us greater pleasure. A fine way it is of advancing in the love of God to tie His hands by thinking that there is only one way in which He can benefit us” (Teresa of Jesus Foundations, 5). No, Lord, grant that I may never act thus. I shall follow You wherever You lead me by means of holy obedience.


Note from Dan: This post on Supernatural Obedience is provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contains one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.

Art: La Vision de saint Jean de la Croix (The Vision of Saint John of the Cross), Jacob van Oost (II), between 1675 and 1700, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • nosidam

    I believe the superiors mentioned were at least those who were in a religious community.
    Lay people reading this today may define superior as anyone ‘in charge’ love me at work etc.
    In the current world extreme caution needs to be exercised.
    We have many people living deceivingly ‘good’ lives when underneath they are wolves.
    Even priests are not all in the right track.
    Some people do not even realize a sin anymore.
    I love John of the Cross but I say please remember the clueless people who follow many things blindly.
    God bless you and thank you.

    • Rose

      Yes, I agree with you.
      I see, every once in a while, RCSD will have a title with the name a a spiritual leader followed by the question, and I paraphrase here: Can We Trust Him? Which leads me to think that they too see that we can not blindly follow, but must always go back to the source of all truth, Jesus.
      For me, His two commandments, to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength, with all God has given to us and to love our neighbor as ourselves joined with the Lord’s Prayer are the guidelines that I try to follow. If my superiors measure up to Christ’s instruction, then I trust their guidance.
      I have not the ability to see beyond the outward presentation people display, so I am so grateful to have our Saviour’s guidance when I am walking through the valley of darkness that is this world.
      It would be ideal to follow blindly the commands of our superiors, but can we in all reality do this? This mentality is the basis of most, if not all cults. How are we to recognize when we are being led astray? Did not the Jews follow blindly the direction of their priests when they crucified Christ?

      • LizEst

        “Divine Intimacy” was indeed written for religious. At the same time, it has a wide application to all walks of life. Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus spoke of the sheep knowing His voice. That’s why it is so important to study Scripture, with someone who is faithful to the Magisterium, and it’s important to know what the Holy Church believes and teaches. In this way, we will come to know and understand the voice of the Shepherd. Certainly, we are not to follow an order that is not consonant with what Christ taught. Besides the great commandment and the Lord’s prayer, which you mentioned, ten commandments, the precepts of the Church, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the virtues, the seven deadly sins, and the life of virtue, the Beatitudes: all these are guides for our reflection and practice. Having a well-formed conscience is also paramount. Generally, most superiors are not going to command what is immoral, or something against the faith. If they do, then we are required, in conscience, not to follow that. Hope that helps. God bless you, Rose.

        Oh, and by the way, it was our sins that crucified Christ.

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