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His Holiness, Pope Francis
The Fourth Sunday of Ord Time(B) 2015/18
The Authority of a Prophet (Mk 1:21f.)
The Church which Jesus founded on the Apostles never claimed any authority as derived from itself. The Church preached the truth of its Founder. So it is not just offering a set of opinions worthy of consideration by reasonable people. It proclaimed from the beginning and still proclaims the Good News. That Good News is Jesus himself, everything he was and said and did. When the Church claims certainty in doing this it is a great claim but also a modest one. The Church is assured that it does not preach false doctrine. General Councils have been called to reaffirm this reassurance against those who misrepresent it or who hinder its proclamation. The vast majority of believers do not have to talk in public about faith and morals; they live their believing lives day by day with the security that they are doing the will of God. The traditional acceptance of the commandments remain excellent guides. To kill the innocent is always wrong, to be a systematic cheat is always wrong, To rob the poor is always wrong. Nothing can ever make what is essentially wrong right, or what is essentially right wrong. Most of us are not systematic liars, we want to be truthful, we want to be trustworthy. Collectively the Church bears witness to these things; and it constantly acknowledges the difficulty in honouring them. We call ourselves sinners when we dishonour them; but the Church is not fallible because so many of its members keep on failing its standards. The standards are fundamentally secure; the mode of teaching and implementation of them is not guaranteed secure. We do not put our trust in systems; we put it in persons. We can see an instance of this in what Britain’s former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, stated in his Gregorian University address in Rome (Dec 12th, 2011): “It was precisely the breakdown of trust that caused the banking crisis in the first place. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the market is a shrine to materialism, forgetting that its keywords are deeply spiritual. "Credit" comes from the Latin "credo" meaning "I believe." "Confidence" comes from the Latin meaning "shared faith." "Trust" is a word that has deeply religious resonance. Try running a bank, a business or an economy in the absence of confidence and trust and you will know it can't be done. In the end we do not put our faith in systems but in the people responsible for those systems, and without morality, responsibility, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity, the system will fail. And as it happens, the system did fail” (Has Europe Lost its Soul?). Who would disagree with this? The same standards apply to running nursing homes, schools, parishes ..we trust people. But the standards must be secure.
Faithful in the Truth
We go back to today’s Gospel and the synagogue in Capernaum, and the reaction of the crowd…how they were convinced of the goodness of Jesus. Two things are always needed: speaking the truth and doing the truth. The technical terms these days for these realities are orthodoxy and orthopraxis. The Church must practise what it preaches. This has been fundamental in its mission always: to replicate in its day to day life what Our Lord exemplified: the blind see, the lame walk, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Christian schools and hospitals, service of the sick and poor and lonely and emarginated, and the defence of human dignity and human life from its beginning to natural death- this is preaching, and bearing witness with authority. Because it means being faithful to the truth. The authority of goodness was self-authenticating. How important this is when we recall Holocaust Day this week after over seventy years, and how the standards of goodness had been destroyed on a massive scale by so many who were supposed to be ethically responsible. They were often lawyers and doctors and philosophers and supposedly ordinary decent human beings. What they did they knew was shockingly wrong. Yet they tried to and often did escape when the net closed in on them. The authority of their conscience had been ignored by them but they did not want to be martyrs for their evil and seemingly for some time their triumphant superiority.
We know that our faith is a gift shared with all other believers. The various charisms and offices that exist in our communities and for our communities are all gift. In 1999 The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission published its agreed statement: Authority in the Church III : “The Commission’s work has resulted in sufficient agreement on universal primacy [of the pope] as a gift to be shared…”  “Such a universal primate will exercise leadership in the world and also in both communions, addressing them in a prophetic way…..It will be an effective sign for all Christians as to how this gift of God builds up that unity for which Christ prayed” .
St Paul (1Cor 7:35) helps us to appreciate this authority when he writes: “I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks”. The present pope is constantly urging those in authority to be compassionate. This is easier said than done. He receives a lot of criticism from various quarters, mainly from within the Catholic Church itself. A whole new day has dawned in the exercise of papal authority. The Scriptures present us with the authority of Jesus without him having any recourse to political or social authentification. He represented love and truth and freedom in every utterance and in every gesture. Among his last words was a prayer to the Father to forgive those who just did not know what they were doing, and what they were doing was appallingly shocking. One needs enormous freedom internally to forgive those who abuse and destroy us. To protest in the interest of preserving others from such treatment is totally necessary. To die of bitterness is to have lost everything. For Jesus love was the guide to life. A happy Sunday to you all. Amen.
Richard J. Taylor
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK