When I was in college – and while thinking of priesthood – I had spent time with a few religious communities thinking that religious life would be the route God wanted me to take. I found that the superior of the house was often called the “servant.” Now, many religious communities will give the title ‘superior’ or ‘master of the house’ or even in the case of the Franciscans the head of them all is called the ‘Minister General.’ In any case, while said superior is in a position of authority and leadership – he or she takes on the role of a servant. The leadership therefore is one of service to his or her community.
This is precisely the role of leadership Jesus is getting at in the Gospel… In ancient world – as of today – it was not uncommon to have perks and benefits for those in positions of authority. The powerful love to throw their weight around. Jesus’ words here must have been shocking – He takes on a radical new idea of leadership … that of a servant… that the one who has authority exercises it in such a way that benefits others. Such leadership places oneself aside, it is a humble, self-emptying service … this authority is characterized by love rather than self-gain.
This is the authority of the Church. I recently read an article that highlights 2 very opposing views on Church authority. On the one hand, there are those who think the Church must control every aspect of our lives. On the other hand, there are those who think it is irrelevant. Think of those politicians who, in direct opposition to the Church’s teaching on matters of life, present themselves for Holy Communion – using their own judgment on such matters… Now, these are 2 examples of where many people stand when it comes to the authority of the Church. But if we think a little bit deeper about what Jesus is saying the Gospel … How ought we to perceive the teachings of the Church – even those that are difficult to swallow? As a service. You see, the Church’s authority is NOT meant to control every aspect of our lives, it is NOT irrelevant … it has at its very core one goal – the salvation of souls. The teachings of our Church, her authority is meant to enhance the lives of the faithful, to draw out our inherit dignity and direct us toward salvation … as such, the authority of the Church serves the People of God … Lex animarum suprema lex (“The salvation of souls is the supreme law”).
All of this is to say simply – that I know you talk about this … at the dinner table, with your kids, relatives, friends, coworkers – many who no longer go to Mass or who aren’t Catholic … they ask you: why do you go to Mass? Why are you Catholic? This is how you answer them: because I’m trying to get to heaven and the Church provides the directions.
The Church gives us the necessary tools to reach that one, primary goal of eternal life … we must also give those tools to others… because that is love – love serves the needs of others, enhances a person’s dignity, and shows them who God is – this is how the Church operates and we, as her members, must operate in like manner…