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How to overcome our false selves deep down

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Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 04/02/23

Prayer is a type of obedience and obedience will not enslave us — just the opposite. The essence of all prayer as obedience is the awareness that to be myself I need Another.

The reason it is apt to think about prayer as obedience is because “obedience” comes from the Latin ob-audire: to hear or listen to. To obey is “to submit freely to the Word that has been heard” (Catechism 144). That free submission is what we call prayer. Obedience defines the very attitude of Jesus before the Father, and as such our Lord lived a disposition of prayer.

In our daily experience we deal with the false self constantly creeping in and taking over. The false self is characterized by the masks we hide behind, the lies we tell ourselves, the delusions we let seduce us, the compromises we collude with, our private ambitions at odds with God. The false self must be repeatedly exposed and transformed. Prayer is a begging for that process to happen. The obedience of prayer seeks to undo every trace of disobedience lurking within us.

It is obedience’s job because “obedience is the way we overcome ourselves in our heart” (St. Gregory the Great). When we prayerfully place our heart before God, obedient to all he wants for us, we begin to change. The essence of all prayer as obedience is the awareness that to be myself I need Another. I am obedient to this fundamental fact when I make prayer a fundamental part of my life on a daily basis.

Obedience will not enslave us — just the opposite. It is obedience that sets us free to pursue the One our heart is made for and the happiness He holds out to us. Obedience is our way of remaining available to any prompting of the Holy Spirit. As Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa expresses it, “Obedience is more likeness than submission.”

Prayer as obedience is the way we are proactive in our Yes to God and his divine will. It is a participation in Mary’s Fiat. And as we lift up our hearts and minds in prayer, our holy obedience in turn lifts us up. St. Maximilian Kolbe, that master of obedience, encourages us:

Obedience raises us beyond the limits of our littleness and puts us in harmony with God’s will.

St. John Henry Newman highlights the integral connection between obedience and prayer: 

You have to seek God’s face; obedience is the only way of seeking him. All your duties are obediences. Every act of obedience is an approach to him who is not far off.


Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.

See some of the earlier pieces below:

PrayerPrayer Is:
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