Perhaps one cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving that we could have this Sunday as we gather in the presence of the Lord is the appointment of Bishop Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle as Archbishop of Manila, succeeding Cardinal Rosales who has stepped down as prescribed by Canon Law for reasons of age. I wasn’t surprised by the appointment, and though I wish that he would do some things in another way, I was glad that the Holy Father had given us another Archbishop to shepherd the Church in Manila, knowing that with the grace of God this relatively young, brilliant and simple priest would prove to be a pastor in the image of the Good Shepherd. However, the actuation of some of our Catholic brothers and sisters—a minority, actually—have kind of saddened me by their dismayed reaction to this decision of the Holy Father. They would have wished for another person, perhaps more attuned to their opinions and tendencies. Neither have they kept a secret of their dismay, given the availability of the media that we have at our disposal nowadays. Repeating something that a friend told me, the bishop is always wrong: if go one way, people will react, if you go the other way, they will react all the same, even if you’re doing quite well. Let’s pray for our shepherds; God knows how much they have to bear with us.
These things come into mind especially if we consider the message that the readings this Sunday present to us; they talk to us about authority, about the place our leaders have in society, whether they be civil leaders, or be they our shepherds in the Church. It doesn’t talk to us about persons or personalities, but rather about authority. In the First Reading we see the figure of Cyrus, a foreign leader, king of the Babylonians. One might suppose that after the trauma of the exile the Bible would be less merciful of a king of Babylon, but here we see the Lord talking to Cyrus as his anointed. To him the Lord had given the power to subdue the nations, and making kings run in his service; before him the Lord had opened doors, leaving the gates unbarred. This is something singular in the Scriptures; normally the anointed is the king of Israel; here it is foreign king, and the conqueror at that. This consideration would bring to mind what the letter to the Romans tells us about authority: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God”(cfr. 1:13). It is God who is the source of authority, through which he continues to place order, not only in nature, but in even in society. Authority is important for social order; it is only in placing ourselves under the authority and governance of our leaders that progress and peace be found. Without the exercise of authority there would be chaos. Even our Lord in the Gospel did not disdain temporal authority, despite of the fact that HE was the Lord of the Temple, and therefore exempt from the obligation to pay the Temple tax. As a manifestation of this power and authority that come from his identity as the Son of God he pays from the most unexpected source: money miraculously taken from the mouth of Peter’s most recent catch. “Give to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar, and to God what is God’s”. in respecting our leaders and pastors our appreciation of their importance does not end in their person, but goes to God as well, the source of all authority and power.
But this Word of Life does not only pertain to us who are under authority; it also must affect those of us who wield authority and power. These two things weren’t meant to be exercised irresponsibly; they have their limits, and these are precisely those that have been set by the service of which Our Lord Himself had provided the example. This is what it means to have power, to exercise authority: to serve as the least of all. To have power does not mean to dominate, to oppress, to have others at one’s beck and call or to be over and above others. More than dealing with power and authority, this is the myth of power and authority; it’s a mere caricature. To have power means to be more capacitated to serve, and one cannot serve truly without love. Therefore to serve is a power based on love, one which has its clearest exponent on the Cross. When public officials, churchmen, parents, teachers, administrators begin to serve as the least the least of their brethren out of genuine concern for the welfare of their subordinates, then will the words of the Responsorial Psalm ring true in their life: Give the Lord glory and honor!!!
Let us thus pray for our leaders, for everyone holding authority, that we may be able to be docile to duly-appointed authority and be respectful of the authority that they have, even though their opinions vastly differ from our own (in what is opinable); let us pray that they may be truly imbued with that spirit of service that is Christian. For us who hold power as priests, officers, parents, educators, let us ask for this grace to be sacrificing and humble, looking at our work as service and our ordinary means to glorify God in our daily life. Amen.