In a world where the doctrine of individualism is strong authority is often something that is looked upon with at very best suspicion if not with outright hostility. I was recently reading a book about the life of Cardinal Newman and it tells us that in one of the articles of speculative theology that he wrote he concluded it with words to the effect that he recognizes that he is not the final authority on matters of truth within the Church and thus he humbly submits the article to the Church for its affirmation or rejection. Rarely today do we see academics in any disciplines, secular or religious, deferring to any levels of authority in such a humble and wonderful way. It is I believe something that we need to rediscover for the sake of unity and healthy dialogue on matters in question.
One of the most evident reasons for the survival of the Catholic Church as an institution for 2000 years is its strong sense of authority and the healthy exercise of the same. Yes, there are times when the Church leaders have reached beyond their legitimate bounds of authority but then we are a Holy Church made up of sinners!
Jesus explicitly gives far-reaching authority to His apostles and to Peter in particular as is witnessed to by today’s Gospel. Jesus chooses to do this for the sake of unity in the Church and also continuity. There needs to be a means by which decisions about orthodoxy and truth can be made and it is equally obvious that those decisions are going to have to be made by sinful men, hopefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is imperative that we recognize and respect God’s prerogative in this matter and be willing to place ourselves in submission to the Church’s legitimate pastoral and intellectual authority. This does not mean that we are mere puppets of the pope but that we freely choose to accept that God has given the Church certain authority over our lives.
Those in authority must be careful to ensure that as they exercise it they do so with the heart of the Good Shepherd and never seek their own personal gain, but always place their authority in the service of others. True authority is expressed in lives of service not domination.
Am I willing to submit my life to the teachings of the Church? If not, what is the problem I have with this? How can I seek to overcome it?
Lord Jesus, bless all the leaders in the Church with hearts similar to you – always seeking to bring us closer to the Father.