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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Power and Grace

by Fr. David M. Knight

June 17, 2024: Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Lectionary 365

1 Kgs 21:1-16/Mt 5:38-42 (365)


1Kings 21:1-16 is an example of blatant abuse of power. Greed alone probably would not have moved Ahab to murder. But for his wife, power was life, and any life that opposed hers was forfeit.


We all suffer, at least to some extent, from someone’s abuse of power. In government, at work, even in the Church. This should not surprise us. Power has to exist, and no human is exempt from its corrupting influence.


The man who wrote: “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was a devout Catholic, Lord Acton. He succeeded Blessed John Henry Newman when pressure from the hierarchy forced Newman to resign as editor of the Rambler because of his article in favor of Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine. Later, when the pope declared the opinions of Catholic writers subject to the authority of the Roman bureaucracy, Acton in conscience closed down the magazine.


Acton voiced his concern about power in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, after Vatican I gave the pope absolute power over the Church—not expecting, of course, that it would come to be exercised as it has been since.


Acton valued "communion with Rome as dearer than life." But he rejected clericalism. He wrote: “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” The more power the office gives, the less we should presume the holder is holy.


I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases.... Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority.


Acton would say holiness in popes and bishops is not normal; it is a miracle of grace. We should not be scandalized or leave the Church when it is missing.


Before we judge priests and bishops, we should apply Matthew 5:38-42 to ourselves. Jesus is saying we should not value any created value more than good relationship with other people. Not the respect owed us, our property, or our time. If rejected, we should reach out again to those who have “slapped us in the face.” If cheated, forget it and give the cheater a bonus. If imposed upon, volunteer more help. We should give and lend to anyone who asks.


If we ever find ourselves living up to this ideal, we can think about judging others. The bottom line is, we are called to live on the level of God. By grace.


Initiative: Fear power in oneself; suspect it in others. But trust in God’s grace.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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