Saturday, June 2, 2012

"By What Authority?" A Lesson for American Catholics

I've always loved today's Gospel.  When I read it aloud today, it spoke to me in a different way though.  I'll share the passage and then what struck me:
 As he was walking in the temple area, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders approached him
and said to him, "By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do them?"
Jesus said to them, "I shall ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
Was John's baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me."
They discussed this among themselves and said, "If we say, 'Of heavenly origin,' he will say, '(Then) why did you not believe him?'
But shall we say, 'Of human origin'?"--they feared the crowd, for they all thought John really was a prophet.
So they said to Jesus in reply,
"We do not know." Then Jesus said to them, "Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things."

Now of course I had always enjoyed seeing Jesus verbally out-maneuver His opponents, but today I finally understood that what Jesus is saying to them is that faith is all a matter of authority - whose word you believe.  John came claiming to speak for the Lord, and calling people to a baptism of repentance.  Because the chief priests, scribes, and elders didn't believe that John had the authority to do this - that he really spoke God's word - they ignored what he said and did.  So when they ask Jesus by what authority he teaches and acts, it will not matter if He says "from God" or not, because they have already decided that His message, critical of them, could not possibly be from God.  It strikes me that something similar is playing out before our eyes on the evening news.

Watching CBS's national news last night, I saw an interview with Sr. Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the group recently criticized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).  Sr. Pat has been a religious for the past 47 years and took great exception to the CDF's assessment.  The CDF is also requiring Archbishop Sartain of Seattle to meet with LCWR leaders, representing 80% of U.S. women religious, "in order to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church."

What issues did Sr. Pat take exception at being criticized for?  Sisters recommending birth control to low income women they minister to, and the sisters affirmations that homosexual acts are valid forms of affection in God's eyes.  Alright, if you're a person who really does accept the authority of Jesus of Nazareth, then those are not issues up for discussion.  Jesus, the Apostles, and all of her male and female saints, Bishops, and Popes throughout two thousand years have taught that birth control and homosexual acts are objectively - always objectively - wrong.  A person's ignorance of that obviously mitigates their culpability for engaging in these acts, but it does not change the fact that they are objectively disordered.  

The sisters should obviously continue reaching out to the people they have been serving - that is part of the Gospel imperative.  But in their service to these people they cannot say that parts of Jesus' teaching are not true.  It's the Truth that sets people free, that gives supernatural life, a life that lasts forever.  Otherwise, sisters who espouse the thoughts of Sr. Pat will be meeting needs that only pertain to this present, fallen world.  And it will soon pass away.  The U.S. already has plenty of social workers.  It needs Christian, faithful women religious, social workers, hospital administrators, teachers, doctors and nurses.

As we watch this play out on the evening news - the sisters "being bullied" by the big, bad Vatican - we need to ask, "By what authority?"  What authority are the sisters claiming for their disagreement with Church teaching, which is nothing but God's word?  

This shouldn't be a difficult issue for American Catholics.  If you believe Jesus spoke the Father's word, if you believe that the prophets and apostles were inspired to speak His Truth, then you embrace it 100%.  The sisters have given amazing service to God's people, and the Vatican praises them for it.  But there also appear to be a significant number, such as the LCWR's president on the evening news, who disagree with Jesus on significant moral issues.  This should not be and should be corrected.  And that is exactly what the shepherds of Christ's Church were given authority by Him to do! (Mt.18:15-18)

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