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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 16: 13-20
Generally speaking, our culture loathes the word “authority.” It appears to undermine our values of autonomy, self- expression, independence, and freedom. Moreover, the idea of monarch-rule seems archaic and undemocratic. In consequence, our cultural norms and assumptions can hinder our understanding and appreciation of the Kingdom of God.
God’s Chosen People first became a kingdom under Saul, then famously David. David’s authority however came from God. He was chosen by God and anointed king by God’s prophet Samuel. In addition, David’s success as a leader corresponded with his fidelity to the Lord.
The Kingdom of Israel served as a glimpse or foreshadowing of the Kingdom Jesus would establish. However Jesus, the New David, did not begin His reign by assigning authoritative positions to protect the physical security of His people, lands, and finances. Instead, He assigned authority to leaders He wished to protect the souls of His people, the Truth He came to reveal, and the path He opened for our salvation. These positions he assigned to Peter, the first pope and His steward/vicar on earth, and the twelve apostles and their successors the bishops.
The Pope, like David, is a human being. This means he will falter at times, sin, and struggle with human limitations. We must be careful however, not to project our cultural norm on our understanding of his role. Our leaders our voted upon to represent our views. They operate at a natural human level, with the responsibility to protect our physical security, rights, lands, and commerce. The Pope’s position, begun with Peter, has a different role. Christ chose Peter. Christ bestowed His authority upon Peter to be Christ’s representative, not the representative of popular opinion. Lastly, no matter what the pope’s natural gifts or limitations may be, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter and his successors to always be able to answer questions about the divinely revealed faith with certainty of truth by supernaturally empowering them to discern correctly answers about Christ. The first controversial question is recorded in Acts of the Apostles. The apostles held a council to address the question of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised along with baptism or not. Peter was given the grace by Christ to know the answer was no to circumcision.
Moreover, the Pope is called to shepherd people on the way to salvation which means he also has the authority to make rules for His spiritual children that he believes will be important for their development. This resembles a family structure more so than a political one. I am grateful to God to live in our democracy. In my opinion, despite its flaws, it’s still the best, and most free, country in the world. Nevertheless, I don’t run my family like a democracy. If decisions were made by vote we would eat doughnuts every morning, live way outside our means, and discipline would devolve to mob rule. Much to my children’s chagrin, our family is run as a monarchy. Though they push against the rules, we have much more peace, justice, and love as a result. In this monarchy, God is our king, and my husband and I are His stewards.
At times, my kids have accused me of being either overly strict or overly protective when I said no to something they wanted to do. To encourage me to soften, they would make life difficult for me, then add “no one really cares Mom, it’s not that big of a deal.” Even though I felt for them, and in a secular culture what they said was true, I also knew I had to hold the line because, at the end of the day, I would be held responsible before God. So, I often respond to them, “I have to do what’s right for you, because it’s my responsibility and I will have to answer to God one day.” And when I fail to hold the line, and am a weak parent, I ask God for forgiveness and the grace to be stronger.
So, contrary to our cultural norms and assumptions, I have seemingly Medieval parenting methods to my children. Yet, as parents we all know that raising kids to be mature adults is different than running a nation-state. Kids need us to exercise our authority, especially in decisions that they are too young to make. We are in a better position to discern what is safe from what is too risky, truth from lie, and wisdom from folly. Of course, unlike Christ we are not all-knowing, so oftentimes we need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our position and enable us by His grace to make the right choices.
Discipleship means that Christ is our king. We can embrace this monarchy because our king is also our loving, self- sacrificing, and divine Savior. As king, He chose to bestow His authority upon some of His subjects to govern for Him on earth and promised to safeguard it until the end of the world.
Upon Peter, and every pope thereafter, He bestowed the authority to say who Christ is, and gave them the supernatural ability to be correct. The role of pope is to preserve, protect, and promulgate the Deposit of Faith given by Christ. In addition, when confusion over Christ’s revelation occurs, for the sake of unity someone must be the authority that determines which response is correct and which is false. During the first councils of the early church the question of whether Jesus is God, Man, or both was a long, heated, argument. If determined as a vote, our doctrine would be that of Arius’ interpretation – Jesus was only a man but the highest possible one. The pope recognized Athanasius’ response as the true one – that Jesus is both God and man.
In the vocation of marriage, Jesus bestows His authority on mothers and fathers over their children. Thus, as children we have an obligation to obey our parents. And as parents, we have the responsibility of exercising our authority in a Christian manner. It’s not always easy. When kids are fighting I would rather just yell “stop bickering” (which is never really effective), than get up, intervene, and if necessary, impose consequences for bad behavior. Crafting Christian rules takes time and effort, both of which are in short supply. Enforcing the rules with appropriate consequences means suffering the rebuffs and anger of resistant kids. As kids get older, knowing what decision to make in given circumstances becomes even more difficult. They require even more prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, we can find peace and confidence in our divine monarch, Jesus Christ. He reigns in our souls with supernatural power and grace. Despite our natural limitations, He transforms us into one Body, one family in God. His Holy Spirit guides us – enlightening our minds, strengthening our wills, and inflaming our hearts with love. Our unity in Christ can be seen visibly in the family and in the Church. Our trust is not in ourselves, but in Him who enables us to complete the mission He entrusted to us.
- To what extent does Jesus reign in your heart and in your life? When do you let Him lead, and when do you resist His commands?
- Our culture tends to value being a leader over a follower. How does this influence our discipleship? Do we value being followers or wish only to lead?
- In what ways has Christ appointed you His steward? In your vocation – who has He entrusted to your care? In your occupation – who or what has He entrusted to you and what fruit do you think He expects to see from it? In His Creation – what does He ask of you for its care?
- How do you respond to the authority of Christ’s vicar on earth, the pope? Do you accept his guidance on matters of faith and morals, or do you resist? Is your faith strong enough to see not just the human, visible reality of the Church, but the divine, invisible reality as well? What has made this either easier or harder for you?
- Consider the relationship between authority and unity. How are the two related and necessary?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- If there’s a teaching of the faith that you presently ignore, begin practicing it instead and try to learn more about why the Church teaches it.
- Each morning look ahead at the day. Invite Christ to lead you in each aspect, and for the grace to follow. Even if you are called to lead others, let Christ lead you first.
- If you make a to-do list at work or home, prayerfully consider first how Christ would prioritize the items rather than how you want to prioritize them.
- What expectations would Christ want to see in your family? Are there any that need greater implementation?
- What expectations does Christ have for you at work? Do you honor Him by respectful, honest, and edifying language, free from vulgarity or slander? Do you honor Him in action through diligence in your work and mercy towards your co- workers?
- Pray the Suscipe prayer by St. Ignatius or the Serenity Prayer.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019