Sunday, July 27, 2008: 6th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST—Tone 5. Holy Greatmartyr and Healer Panteleimon (305). Bl. Nikolai Kochanov, Fool-for-Christ, at Novgorod (1392). Ven. Anthusa, Abbess of Mantinea in Asia Minor, and her 90 sisters (8th c.). Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Clement, Bishop of Ochrid and Enlightener of the Bulgarians (916), and with him Ss. Angelar, Gorazd (Horasdus), Nahum, and Savva, disciples of Ss. Cyril and Methodius.
This struggle is not one which is unique to the priesthood. Indeed it is one that is common to all human beings but especially to those in positions of authority. How do I as a person in authority exercise wisely and justly the power that God has granted me?
As I said, this is not simple a problem for priest. It is a common human struggle. We have all of us been granted some power. As Christians though, we have been entrusted with the power need to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus' at the beginning of His earthly ministry sum up not only Our Lord's ministry, but the work that has been entrusted to each of us.
After His own baptism in the Jordan by John and after His own period to preparation in the desert, we read in Luke's Gospel Jesus
came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Lk 4:16-22)
Again and again, both as recorded by St Luke as well as by St Matthew is this morning's Gospel, people marvel at His "gracious words" (Lk 4: 23) and at "God, who had given such power to men" (Mt 9.8). As with Jesus, so too with us, we too have been give in baptism and chrismation the power to speak gracious words that can be for others a source of liberation from sin.
But sometimes it is difficult for us to act on this promise, on this great gift. Like those who heard Jesus in the synagogue, we are sometimes to familiar with ourselves, too familiar with our brothers and sisters in Christ and so can't see the great work of God that they, and we, are. It is easy for us to say, or at least, some variation of the words spoken about Jesus: "Is this not Joseph's son?" (Lk 4.23) Familiarity can breed if not contempt, then a temptation to minimize and overlook the gift that God has given us.
What I know though from own experience is that minimizing the gift, overlooking it, ignoring it, doesn't do away with the gift. It only means that I misuse what I have been given for my salvation and yours.
For some of us the hesitation to act on what God has been given us is the fruit of a misguided humility. "Oh, Father, I'm not important. I can't do anything. God hasn't given me any great gifts."
For others there is quite the opposite temptation. While some would refuse the gift and the power that comes with it, there are those who refuse the gift, but hunger for the power that comes with it. These individuals, and I should add they are not always clergy, live as if the power that comes at baptism and chrismation was their private position that they are free to exercise as they wish.
In both cases, though, there is a root problem: Whether we want the power or not, we refuse the gift because we know, even if we cannot put what we know into words, that with the acceptance of the gift comes a great responsibility.
Responsibility and so the responsible exercise of power and authority is an odd things. Just as happiness is not something we can seek, but is rather the by-product of human excellence in some realm, so to responsibility and the responsible exercise of power and authority is a by-product. I do not so much choose to be responsible as I learn to be responsible by accepting that I am accountable. Responsibility and the responsible exercise of power and authority is the fruit of accountability, to learning that it is not about what I want, even if what I want is good.
Look at Jesus. He was obedient to the Father, but He also lived under the authority of Mary and Joseph. He was respectful, even when unjustly tried, of the authority of the High Priest and of Rome's agent Pontius Pilate. His willingness to be accountable, to be obedient, cost Him His Life and earned us our salvation.
Learning to be accountable is a life-long task.
Priests are accountable to their bishop, but also (if in different ways) to their brother clergy and their parishioners. And all of this is taken up under a more fundamental and basic obedience to God the Most Holy Trinity.
Whether I am a priest or a layperson, whether a bishop or a simple monk, whether to my wife, husband, mother, father or child, having been made holy by God, set apart for His service, I must 'always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks [me] a reason for the hope that is in" me, and so "with meekness and fear." (1 Pt 3:15)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are each of us set aside by God as sacraments of His Kingdom, we are each us prophets and martyrs called in the concrete circumstance of our lives to bear witness by word and deed to God's will for us and the whole human family. We are called to be priests who will offer "ourselves and one another" and the whole creation to Christ our True God.
And we have in Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion been given the power and authority to accomplish all of this. To fulfill the great marvel of our vocation, we must learn to be accountable to one another—to be every willing, in meekness and fear, to give voice to the great hope that lies with our hearts.
And in the moments when we are without hope? When we would not, for whatever reason, accept the gift that God has given us? It is here that we might learn truly what it means to be accountable, responsible—because it is here when our bishop, our priest, our husband, wife, father, mother, child, friend or brother or sister in Christ may have to come a "speak a word" to us that we might live by returning once again to the path that we have accepted when we accepted the call of Christ for our lives.
God has given us power and authority above all to care for one another and, in so doing, bear witness to His love and mercy and forgiveness for the whole human family.