Childhood squabbles, at least the ones witnessed in this household, have often included an important line of demarcation: “You’re not the boss of me.” Certainly if one child is ever dispatched to instruct another — especially in assigning a chore, he must begin with the caveat, “Dad [or Mom] said…,” in order to hold any sway.
This keen ability to weigh legitimate authority is rightfully carried into adulthood, where the fundamental respect initially given to parents and teachers is extended to the various legal entities.
There is also a looser form of authority given to those with degrees or specific life experience. From medical experts to child rearing gurus, many seek advice that they are free to take or leave. Wisdom must parse the ways of thinking that come into vogue (with the mass media fueling the trends), and those who later wax nostalgic often smile at their gullibility. “Remember when we all thought?”
Money and power have always confused the issue. While financial remuneration compels people to act — whether for a paycheck or more dubious motives, the wealthy often have remarkable influence flowing from perverse respect of many in our culture for the material world. As to power, sheer strength brings compliance virtually everywhere — from playground bullies to drug cartels to international relations – but immoral gain, violence and injustice should never be confused with authority.
Sadly, the modern world has lost sight of the basic moral authority that rests in an office, and what is most perplexing is the lack of respect that Catholics have for the Magisterium, or teaching authority, of their own Church. Despite the authority vested in its pastors and the solemn guarantee that Jesus himself would remain with the Church, the majority of Catholics in our country seem to weigh her ageless teachings like passing fashions: “Peasant blouses again? Great, I’ve always liked those. Virginity before marriage? Not so much.”
The “Catechism” puts it like this: “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome” (CCC, 85).
Thus, as we continue to observe this year dedicated to the priesthood, we should take the time to consider the status of authority and influence in our lives, and where our fealty rests. In particular, it would be beneficial to assess our relationship to the Church and how much respect we give to her Magisterium.
Those who are completely honest in this assessment will find that there is comfort in the part of the Church that caresses and confirms us — from the beauty and culture that affirms our sense of dignity to the embrace that is couched in divine love. And yet we balk when that same love reminds us of obligations, sacrifices and our ultimate dependence on grace.
From our own great desire to have good returned for good, we should recognize the authentic goodness of the priesthood — lives poured as gifts, responding to the overflowing generosity of our Creator. The authority of a priest rests in the same chain of being that children intuit. He speaks from a heart of love, ordained by his bishop, sent forth by the Church, who herself is wedded to Christ himself and his primordial mission. Ultimately, God is “the boss of us,” and thereby, we must trust and honor that clergy commissioned to reveal his will.
[The Anchor 8.7.09]