Thursday, May 5, 2011

St Pius V, Pope, Confessor

1 Peter 5:1-4, 10-11 / Matthew 16:13-19

When we think about what a leader needs to keep in mind, we are generally inclined to insist on those ways that he ought to limit his use of power, how he ought to wield his authority lightly, how he ought to be more a model who inspires than an autocrat who demands. Nor are we alone in this respect. When St Peter delivered his counsel for those who would lead the Church of God, his concerns coincided with ours: feed the flock of God which is among you ... not for filthy lucre's sake, but voluntarily; neither lording it over the clergy, but being made a pattern of the flock from the heart. The image of the mercenary bishop who belittles rather than encourages his clergy is so obviously objectionable, even if worth pointing out as wrong.

What may come as a surprise is Peter's one other bit of advice for the bishop concerning the flock of God, namely that he take care of it not by constraint, but willingly, according to God. This may seem odd to us, because we, who may see ourselves as without power and authority, might have trouble imagining that anyone would need to be encouraged, cajoled, even required to make use of power. In this, we would be mistaken. One of the grave abuses of power, and one which we perhaps do not attend to nearly enough, is the failure to exercise it. Power and authority, in the Church even as in civil life, is not a necessary evil, but a good, something which enables each and every member of the community, and the community as a whole, to flourish and prosper, to make use of its gifts and talents in such a way as to promote the growth and happiness of each and of all. At least, this is so with authority rightly used. Apart from such a right exercise of rule, we, even with the best of intentions, find ourselves working at cross purposes, all striving to achieve our private good and the common good, but not in ways that work in unison, not always in ways that draw out our hidden talents or the unknown synergies that arise when we make use of what we regard as our lesser contributions. We cannot always see the ways our contributions might make good our own and others' defects. In these and countless other ways, the exercise of authority is for us a boon. When this authority is constituted by God, a share in the very kingship of Jesus Christ himself, it is in every sense of the word a grace.

This is why we rightly celebrate the gift of saintly popes such as Pius V. Like the best of leaders, he helped the Church draw forth from its treasuries the best of what it had, directing it to live not as a reactive and embattled body, threatened by schism and heresy within, and menacing conquest from without, but rather in the confident hope of a body empowered by the Spirit of the Risen Christ. It was just this hope that sustained the Church in the darkness of the sixteenth century, directing its eyes not merely to the fears and disappointments of Protestant rebellion and Ottoman conquest, but more importantly to the renewal of the life of clergy and religious, the affirmation of authentic worship and catechesis, the spread of the Gospel across the globe to peoples who had never, from the dawn of time, heard the name of Jesus. In these and countless other ways, Pius V, not by refraining from using his authority as successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, but instead using it unapologetically according to God, directed the Church as a whole, and by God's grace its members, more firmly to that beatitude to which they had been called and for which they longed.

This is also why we must not be ashamed to use, with godly confidence, whatever authority we have been given: as superiors over our fellow religious, as parents over children, as teachers over students. Our authority has been given to us precisely to assist not only our own growth in virtue, but to direct and empower that same sanctification of our neighbor who has been put in our care. It is not be failing to use our authority, but in its right and unambiguous exercise for the sake of the Gospel that we will not only fulfill our charge, but also enable anyone subject to us to fulfill theirs as well. That is our duty, and this is our hope: And when the prince of pastors shall appear, you shall receive a never fading crown of glory.

1 comment:

Raymond said...

Amen!! So true in so many circles.