One of my favourite movies of all time is The Man in the Iron Mask, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Louis XIV is the king of France. D`Artagnon the Musketeer (Gabriel Byrnes) has pledged his life to protecting the young but ever-increasingly evil Louis. Meanwhile it is discovered that the king has a twin brother hidden away in a prison, his face locked within an iron mask. Out of retirement come the three musketeers, played (oh so well!) by Gérard Depardieu, John Malkovich, and Jeremy Irons. They plot to switch the brothers and put the good twin on the throne for the good of France and the good of all.
The question of vowed obedience plays a central role in the plot. Byrnes skilfully shows the moral struggle of D`Artagnon as he wrestles with his vow of obedience to the king. Can he – should he – follow the king`s orders when the orders are immoral? Does he remain true to his word, or true to his conscience?
Fr. Roy Bourgeois is facing the same dilemma. In his refusal to recant his belief in women`s ordination, he stated,
I’ve always felt that when you see an injustice, really it’s your conscience and faith in God calling you to address the issue and to break your silence. And when your superior tells you to be obedient, then you have to make a decision: Do I follow God or man? And there was no question I must go with my faith in God.
A vow or pledge must never be taken lightly. In this day and age, vows and commitments are too easily disposed of – with little thought and even less guilt. But for those who believe in the binding power of a vow, it is a difficult and heart-wrenching moral struggle. And so it should be. Wisdom and right discernment might come, and the voice of God might be heard deep within your heart. But it`s a difficult choice when living out the truth means having to break a life-long vow…or have it taken from you.