14 December, Monday — God has given you authority. What does it mean to use it for the sake of love?

Dec 14 – Memorial for St. John of the Cross, priest, religious, doctor of the Church

St. John (1675–1726) was born in poverty. He cared for the poor in the hospital in Medina. He became a lay Carmelite brother in 1563 at age 21, though he lived stricter than their Rule. He studied at Salamanca. He was ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25.

He was persuaded by St. Teresa of Avila to begin the Discalced (or barefoot) reform within the Carmelite Order, and took on the name John of the Cross. He was a master of novices, and spiritual director and confessor at St. Teresa’s convent. His reforms did not sit well with some of his brothers, and he was ordered to return to Medina. He refused and was imprisoned at Toledo, Spain, and escaped after nine months.

He was vicar-general of Andalusia. His reforms revitalized the Order. He was a great contemplative and spiritual writer. On Aug 24, 1926, he was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

  • Patron Saint Index

Num 24:2-7, 15-17
Mt 21:23-27

“What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?”

One of the vows a priest (religious or diocesan) takes is obedience and loyalty to his religious superior /bishop. The priest is guided by his superior/bishop as to where he should serve and, in the case of the religious priest, he may be asked to minister far away, or have a particular role in the community. No questions asked.

In the corporate world, the leader of an organization has to learn the most effective ways to manage a team, and this is especially true with employees that challenge authority. Left unchecked, disrespect for authority can have a domino effect with other employees, and cause morale problems. Managing employees requires the ability to earn their respect. Employees who challenge authority, however, may do so because they disagree with the basic guidelines and procedures the organization/leader has established. If an employee shows disrespect for authority, one must resolve the situation as quickly as possible, so that the insubordinate behaviour doesn’t affect the harmony of the work environment.

How different the approach is to authority within the church and the secular world. 

In today’s gospel, the chief priests and elders questioned Jesus’ authority while he was teaching. Clearly the way Jesus taught was discomforting to Jewish religious leaders.

A few days before, Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple and chased out everyone who had turned the temple into a marketplace. An onlooker would think, “How audacious of this visitor to come and change things? By whose authority can he do all these things?”

The leaders, in their pride and arrogance, were too stubborn and blind, unable and unwilling to see the hand of God in the mission of Jesus. They could not see that the authority with which Jesus spoke clearly resided in himself. He was not just the bearer of a message; he himself was the source of the message.

A person with ‘authority’ is not just someone who imposes coercive power over others. Genuine authority is not to control, to keep in line but, on the contrary, to be an agent in releasing the potential that is in people, to be an empowering agent. Unlike the Jewish leaders, Jesus did not force authority on others. He invited people to follow him. He came to serve, not be served. He came to give life, life in its fullness. He came to lead people into the full development of all they could be and were meant to be.

I am currently reeling from a judgement made on me. It’s been about 3 weeks since and I am still hurt by the comments made by an individual. Many things were said, but the one that stuck in my mind and wounded my heart most –- is that I should manage my expectations of others. Apparently, when I extend love or help to others, unless the other person acts or does as I expect, I become upset. Failing which, I simply cut the person out of my life. OUCH! That makes me sound like such a tyrant. Someone with authority wields power over the other; to exploit, harm, and oppress. I am hurting because it was a judgement made on me based on a one- sided story.

How do we, in today’s world, show this act of love in authority? It is up to each one of us to decide whether to follow the way of love or to go one’s own way.

In my case, while I have been misjudged, and feel violated, I now have to learn a new way to love. Sometimes, the best way to love someone is to do nothing and set them free.

Can I invite us to examine how we exercise authority in our own lives –- as parents, teachers, employers, or in any capacity where we have some responsibility with regard to others. Very few of us have no authority at all.

God has given you authority. What does it mean to use it for the sake of love?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, teach me to be life giving, in my words & actions. For people in authority; our country and church leaders, and anyone who has authority over others, may they lead from a place of love; may they build up, and not tear down others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for being such a gentle and loving, yet firm Father.

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