Jude 17, 20B-25
Today’s Gospel reading is a selection that is situated in the days leading up to the Passion and death of Jesus. The events of Palm Sunday are related in Mark’s Gospel at the start of Chapter 11. The next day, Jesus comes back to Jerusalem and "cleanses" the Temple of its merchants. Now, a day later, Jesus once more comes back into the environs of the Temple, and continues his teaching (something routinely done at that time by walking among the porticos and passages of a public space).
With time running out for him to personally engage his followers, he takes the perilous but necessary step of affirming his right to teach. However, the religious leaders challenge him, they question his authority to teach. Jesus does not back down from their challenge; instead he shows how well he knows their minds by reminding them of John the Baptist, whom the people considered a prophet, and whom the religious leaders rejected.
Woven throughout this episode of Mark is the question of authority. Authority belongs to the religious leaders. Authority belongs to Jesus. Authority belongs to the Prophet, John the Baptist. When authorities clash, the outcome is not necessarily a validation of one’s authority. When Herod sought to kill the Child Jesus, innocent children were slaughtered in vindication of Herod’s hope to continue ruling. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ time decided that it was better than one man should die for the sake of the nation, it was an abuse of authority that sent Jesus to his death.
On the other hand, the authority of Jesus is not like that of religious leaders of his time. His authority is based on his divine and pre-eminent respect for the human person. His authority is the engine that drives his mission on earth. His authority is not diminished by the sinfulness displayed among his followers. The authority of Jesus invites others to follow him and carry on his mission.
The exercise of authority in the Church is both the expression of Christ’s abiding presence in the Body of the Faithful, and a reminder of the very fallible human nature that abides in Christ. When we have crises of authority in the Church, we should not be surprised. The leadership and authority exercised by some United States Bishops when presented with knowledge of sexually abusive priests appears to have little in common with the leadership of Jesus over his flock.
On the other hand, we sympathize with and pray for the Religious Women whose Leadership Conference appears to many of us to have many of the attributes of Jesus’ authority and leadership. Authority is a charism in the Church. Authority is not created by the Church’s hierarchical structures, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Authority in the Church is a sharing in the parenthood of God, and the obedience of the Son.
Religious Communities are a charism, a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. They are usually born outside of the hierarchical structures of the Church, and they recognize the need to incorporate themselves into the hierarchical structures once they have proven their viability. They are not just one more department in an ecclesiastical bureaucracy, nor should they be treated as such.
We have worked hard these last ten years to raise the level of understanding and responsibility that we need to show for young persons in the Church. Let us work as hard to raise the level of understanding and responsibility that we have for the charismatic life of the Church that is Religious Life.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.