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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Leadership Differs from Authority

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for Wednesday, 25th Week of Ordinary Time:

Lectionary no. 451 (Ezr 9: 5-9; Tb 13: 2, 3-4, 6, 7-8, 6; Lk 9: 1-6)

The Responsorial proclaims that God is a merciful God in good times and bad: “Blessed be God, who lives forever” (Tobit 13: 2-8). “He casts down… and he brings up…. Exalt him… because he is… our Father and God forever.”

Ezra 9: 5-9 gives us Ezra’s prayer in response to a report that “Neither the Israelite laymen nor the priests… have kept themselves aloof from the peoples of the land and their abominations…. Furthermore, the leaders and rulers have taken a leading part in this apostasy!” (9: 1-2). But after acknowledging Israel’s guilt, Ezra still trusts in God’s friendship: “Yet our God has not forsaken us… but has extended to us his steadfast love… to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins….” “Blessed be God, who lives forever.”

A society, church or community is not corrupt just because a large number of its members sin, but only when government is pitched to a lower level of ideals than the community is pledged to. That is why leadership can never be left simply to those in authority. There is a corrupting factor inherent in authority itself. It is axiomatic that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So the official power of those in authority must always be balanced off by the unofficial power of respected leaders. Rulers can impose their will; but leaders must win people’s free support. Leaders can appeal to no authority but truth and justice. This often makes those with no authority more attentive to truth and justice than those who govern. This is why the official stance of authorities in the Church is that the voice of the laity should be heard. Any authority in the Church who does not encourage suggestions, challenges, and even criticism from the laity is inauthentically Catholic. And those laity who cringe and whinge and criticize privately, without stepping up to confront authorities, are just as inauthentic. The Church is a community meant to be guided by communal discussion, prayer and discernment. In important matters, by the time an authority makes a decision, everybody should have had a hand in it. In this way, all are called to exercise leadership.

The first power Jesus gave the Twelve was power to cast out demons and to heal (Luke 9: 1-6). The power to govern came later. But all power is “for building up the body of Christ in love” (Ephesians 4: 11-16); “for building up and not for tearing down” (2Corinthians 13:10). For this, leadership and authority must work together, trusting in God’s unfailing help and mercy. “Blessed be God, who lives forever.”

Action: Be Christ’s steward. Work in unity with authorities and leaders.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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