And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority...
These words from the Gospel at Mass yesterday (Mark 1:21-28) provide a kind of strap-line that prompts several thoughts on authority.
The homily that I heard at Mass rather mischievously suggested that perhaps Pope Benedict had sent a goodwill message to Rev. Ian Paisley on his retirement from full time preaching. It pointed out that Rev. Paisley had founded his own church, the Free Presbyterian Church, some sixty odd years ago. In the Roman Catholic Church, however, the successors of St Peter have taught Christian truth with authority for over two thousand years.
In his Angelus address, the present successor of St Peter, Pope Benedict XVI contrasted the authority of power with the authority of service:
"For man", the Holy Father observed, "authority often means possession, power, dominion, success. For God, however, authority means service, humility, love. It means entering into the logic of Jesus Christ Who leans down to wash the feet of His disciples, Who seeks man's authentic good, Who heals wounds, Who is capable of a love so great as to give His life, because He is Love. ...And the meditation in Magnificat for yesterday was taken from the writings of Mgr Luigi Giussani, founder of the movement Communion and Liberation. The italics are in the original, and reflect an aspect of how Communion and Liberation articulates its charism.
In our particular milieu some individuals have a greater sensitivity to the human experience; in fact they develop a deeper understanding fo any given situation and of others; in fact they are more likely to influence the movement that builds a community. They live our experience more intensely and with a greater commitment. We all feel that they are more representative of us. With them we feel closer to, and stay more willingly in community with, others. To acknowledge this phemenon is to be loyal to our own humanity, a duty spurred by wisdom.
When we discover ourselves helpless and alone, our humanity spurs us to come together. If we meet someone who better feels and understands our experience, suffering, needs, and expectations, we naturally are led to follow that person and become his or her disciple. In that sense, such persons naturally constitute authority.... The Jews said of Christ: "This is one who has authority" and they abandoned the schemes of the Pharisees to follow him.