I seldom post on current hot issues that have to do with specific persons. The last time I did, I got zillions of comments most which left me regretting the catalzying post at the time.
Today, if you have been perusing the blogosphere or the Catholic press web sites, a couple of things are bantered about. The first is the Vatican’s release of the Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States of America http://vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/12/16/0963/02078.html
The second being the reports that Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is cutting ties with Fr. Frank Pavone’s organization Priests for Life. http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=23496)
I leave the reader to click on over to the links to read for themselves their content. I do not wish to comment on them specifically, but offer, briefly, thoughts that come to me after having read them .
Thought number one: Power and Authority. How must we, as Catholics, understand power and authority, then live in accord with that understanding? Certainly, power, by definition, is the ability to create change. God has ultimate power, for from nothing he creates all that is good. God alone is the source of all power of whatever sort. Without God-given power, we can do nothing. Yet God gives us power to be exercised in obedience to the truth and for the common good of all. God shares with us his power so we might participate in his creative acts and to builid up the Kingdom here on earth. God shares his power with us because he wished us to share in his image and likeness. Authority is related and similar, no? I have authority when I am given the right and responsibility to exercise power. Think of these examples. You may have the power to abort a child, but you have no authority to do so; you have not been given the right to exercise your life-taking power.
So, in reading the accounts of the religious women and Priests for Life today, I am left wondering how power and authority have been understood by the players involved. Has power usurpt authority? Just because someone can (has power) doesn’t mean they should (have authority) to do so.
Thought number two: Obedience. How do we understand obedience, as Catholics? As you probably know, the word obedience derives from the Latin verb obedire which means to listen. Listen. What does it mean to be an obedient son or daughter of the Church? It means we must listen! This is a lot harder than we think. We come into religious discussions (especially discussion involving religious power and authority) with so many filters and baggage. Listening is so difficult, and so obedience is also difficult. Throw into the mix money and you can end up with a lot of deafness and disobedience. Tell me how easy it is to be obedient when you have money tied up in something for which others call you into account, or when you have such a brilliant blinding cause that others ask you to step away from it in humilty? Not easy at all. To whom do clerics promise respect and obedience (read here: recognition of legitimate authority and power)? Their bishop. To whom do religious men and women owe obedience and respect? To the diocesan bishop if they be institutes of diocesan right or the Holy See itself. Both the local bishop and the Holy Father are obliged to be obedient to Jesus and the Church, from whom they have received power and authority.
My dear people, let us be obedient sons and daughters! Let us be very respectful of the enormous power with which we have been entrusted as sons and daughters of God, and even more cognizant of the limited authority which we enjoy to exercise that power. Authority is limited by office, by circumstances, and by our humility. Even if we believe our cause is preeminently right, we never abdicate our obedience to that cause. We obey not a cause or an ideal. Rather, we obey and respect persons whose job it is to exercise legitimate power for the common good.