1 Corinthians 7:32-35
If today’s readings could be said to have a theme, that would be the theme of authority. The first reading today comes in the book of Deuteronomy, and in that book Moses laid out before he died the authority of God over the Israelite people, the authority of the Sacred Priesthood and the role that that priesthood would play in even greater detail. But this passage may be the most important part of the fifth book of the Pentateuch, because it is in this passage that Moses tells the children of Israel that one day a prophet like him would be raised up and the people of Israel would be made to listen to that prophet.
We know that Jesus Christ was more than merely a prophet, however we can call him a prophet like Moses in the sense that Moses was a type of Christ or a prefigurement of Christ, and that he was the leader who saved the people of God from continued slavery through the Exodus from Egypt, just as Christ saves the people of God from slavery to sin and Satan.
In today’s Gospel when Jesus cast out the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue (a spirit that could identify Jesus exactly for who he is, and indeed believed Jesus had come to destroy the evil spirit and it’s cohort), the Gospel tells us that people were amazed, and said that “this is a new teaching with authority, even the unclean spirits obey Him.”
The issue of authority, and where it comes from, and who has it was very important to the people of Jesus’ time. They understood that the authority to say the things that Jesus said and to do the things that Jesus did had better come from God, because if it didn’t it was purely evil. Where Jesus got the authority to teach and to do what he did was important to people. They understood that only someone from God could validly speak with the kind of authority that Jesus spoke with. In the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus gave a series of Parables and sayings, people understood that what Jesus was saying was important and the Gospel says “He spoke as one having Authority, and not as their scribes.” (cf. Matthew 7:29)
The Authority of Jesus was the Divine Authority that only the Second Person of the Trinity could have, because Jesus made it clear in multiple places in the Gospels that he is God, and since Jesus Is God his authority is Divine Authority. Before Jesus left this world after he had risen from the dead, Jesus exercised his Divine Authority to pass that Authority on to His Apostles and the church they would lead when he told them that all power was given unto them in Heaven and on Earth, and whatever they bind on Earth would be bound in Heaven and whatever they loose on Earth would be loosed in Heaven. That is authority that would normally be reserved for God Alone, authority that Jesus possesses, since Jesus is God. Jesus voluntarily gave that Authority in this world to His Apostles and their successors. He gave that Authority to his Church. (cf. Matthew 18:18) (cf. John 20:20-23)
The Authority Christ gave to the Church is the authority to bind and loose, the authority to pardon sins, and indeed the very Authority to determine what constitutes right and correct belief. This is an Authority that is handed to the apostles in Sacred Scripture itself. (cf. Acts 1:7-9) (cf. Acts 15:1-19)
That is why it is so disheartening to hear people claim to be Catholic while repudiating the Church’s moral teachings. For some people, this takes the form of them telling their friends “I’m Catholic, but I don’t agree with the Church on contraception, or abortion, or the indissolubility of marriage, or on the fundamental parts of the Church’s social teachings.” Worse are those public figures who decide to publicly say things and take public stands in direct opposition to the teachings of the Church. Sometimes those people are politicians, and even a few clergy have gotten in on they act these days…
I’m not speaking of our own internal struggles which we may have with Church teaching in some form or other. That is part of the development of our own faith. Many people take it a step further than that, and deny the Church’s Authority, saying that they can decide for themselves what to believe and still call themselves Catholic.
But the Church’s Authority on faith and morals does not come from the mere fact that the Church claims it, but from the authority that Christ himself gave the Church which emanates from Him. If we deny the Church’s Authority on matters of faith and morals, then we deny the Authority of Jesus Christ himself.
Many people, who we can only believe are well-intentioned, will even ask why the Church must normally ordain unmarried men to the Holy Priesthood in the West. After all, it’s not a dogma, or even a doctrine of the faith, but it is the normative discipline for priests. Celibacy is, in fact, so important for the clergy that even permanent deacons make a promise that if anything should, God forbid, happen to their wives, that they will not marry again. Men who enter the order of the diaconate unmarried must make a promise of celibacy just like priests do. Those very same rules apply to priests in Eastern Rite churches, where it is more common to find priests who are married. We see in the second reading today from the very theologically rich First Epistle to the Corinthians that there is a Scriptural basis to all of that. It is the simple truth that if you are married, your time and energy is going to be divided between the things of God and the necessary affairs of family life. The apostles didn’t forbid a married clergy, otherwise there would be no married deacons or priests in the East or the West, but St. Paul’s very mention of the realities of life in the single and the married state when trying to serve the Kingdom of God clearly gives the Church the apostolic Authority to regulate the marital and living status of those who are called to serve the Church, yet there are Catholics who complain when the Church exercises that authority.
Failing to accept the authority of the Church or her teachings on matters of faith and morals is really no different than saying that we believe Jesus to be a great teacher, or a great prophet, or a great moral philosopher, but we do not believe him to be the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Church is the Body of Christ, and her leadership has authority which comes from Jesus Christ through the Apostles and their successors. If we do not accept the Church’s Authority, we do not accept the Divine Authority of Jesus Christ himself. If we deny Christ’s Authority, then He is not our Lord, and we are merely “playing Church.”
“For he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” Does He have authority in our lives today?