In the Church, Prestige is Corruption
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
by Fr. David M. Knight
Reflection on Mark 9:30-37
As they walked back toward Galilee, Jesus was concerned about his disciples’ lack of faith. Not just ordinary faith: they had enough faith to believe in him as an impressive teacher and miracle-worker. But not enough to accept him as a Messiah who would let his enemies kill him rather than use power against them, human or divine, to save his life. Or theirs!
The prayer of the father they had just left was still echoing in his ears: “I do have faith. Help my lack of faith.” Jesus knew his disciples in the Church would not have power to cast out the real demons of society, of any human culture, unless they accepted the root principle of Christianity: the “doctrine of the cross.” They had to accept Baptism as a dying, with and in Christ, to everything this world offers, and a rising to live only as his risen, saving body on earth.
They had to accept every Eucharist as a renewal of the covenant, joining themselves consciously to Jesus on the cross, saying with him to every member of the human race, “This is my body, given up for you.” Without that, the demons accepted as the unquestioned rulers (ruling principles) of every human society would still keep casting one nation after another “into fire and water, to destroy it.”
So Jesus repeated, with emphasis: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed. His enemies will kill him. And after three days, he will rise again.”
But they “did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” They didn’t want to hear it.
Jesus’ response was to push harder. He shook another fundamental principle of cultural values. He told them they were to consider, not only power, but prestige also as a danger to their faith. He forbade them to attach prestige to any function in the Church: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Another radical principle. In every area of life — business, politics, the military — those with more authority are given greater signs of importance and respect. Through titles, dress, rules of protocol. But in the Church, that must not be.
We ignore this teaching. Jesus knew we would. So he “took a little child in his arms,” and said to them, “You want to know who is important? Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” The essential dignity of all Christians, equal for all, is their identification with Jesus in grace. To pretend that office or position increases that dignity is to deny a fundamental principle of Christian life.
Pope Francis said to the Corallo Association, March 22, 2014:
No one needs to feel he is small… compared with someone great… Who is more important in the Church? The Pope or that old lady who prays the Rosary every day for the Church? Only God can say… because the Body of Christ is harmony in diversity, and the One who creates this harmony is the Holy Spirit...
“Clericalism…is one of the evils of the Church… We must overcome this temptation. The layperson must be lay, one who is baptized, with the power that comes from his baptism… Why is the deacon or priest more important than the layperson? No!… Why treat the laity’s Christian identity lightly?… This is another form of harmony, because the priest cannot carry out the role of the layperson, and the Holy Spirit is free: sometimes he inspires the priest to do something, at other times he inspires the layperson.
But to accept this mystery, we have to become like little children ourselves, looking at life with new and open eyes (Matthew 18:1-4).
Initiative: Rethink power and prestige. Start with Jesus and go from there.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry