Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Authority
Is there such a thing as a "Christian" attitude to authority? Or is it an area in which the individual is left to form his own approach? Today's readings suggest that, for people to live together harmoniously, authority is necessary and, for it to be effective, it needs to be respected

Ezechiel 33:7-9: The first reading from Ezechiel deals with the authority vested in him as Prophet to speak the word of God, and the duty of the people to hear this word. Failure by him to speak, and failure by the people to listen merits condemnation.

Romans 13:8-10: Paul refers to the ground rules that govern civilised association - the commandments - complemented by the additional need for mutual respect based on the golden rule -"do unto others as you would have done unto yourself".

Matthew 18:15-20: In St. Matthew's Gospel we have a form of pastoral advice given to the early Christian community on how to settle disputes, which still has a certain practical value even today.

Point 1: The human quest for self-knowledge and fulfilment has been characterised by constant struggle - a continual choice of one option as against another. What teaching to listen to; what leadership to choose; dictatorship or democracy. And the experience of centuries has shown that universal agreement is not possible on any of the options available. Wherever one looks in today's world, division and, frequently, bitterness exist as people argue and fight to impose a particular plan of living in their particular neck of the woods. We have become accustomed to such headlines - "Students mob Prime Minister"; "Secretary of State booed at World Forum"; "Archbishop Jostled by Angry Protesters"; "Civilians caught in Cross-fire" and so on. It would appear that, in the minds of many, the right of protest knows no bounds, and that the rights of the individual and respect for the office that the individual holds do not count.

Point 2: No doubt there are situations in which particular office-bearers bring their office into disrepute. One of the better known ways in which this happens is through the exercise of arbitrary authority. By definition, arbitrary authority, as distinct from real and necessary authority, is where one person takes advantage of a position to curtail another individual's freedom simply to prove a position of strength. Probably the best known example of this form of authority is "Because I said so!!". But we encounter it at many levels and refer to it as "red tape" or "bureaucracy". More sinister overtones are introduced with references such as "big brother" and "police state". Experience shows that arbitrary authority is one of the surest way to destroy respect for real authority. Experience also shows that people cannot live together without a properly structured form of authority.

Conclusion: I suppose, by way of comparison with many other countries, we have a great deal to be thankful for in Australia in that the rights of the individual are so well established, and that one of these rights is the right to protest. But let us not forget that this right, like all other rights, needs to be exercised responsibly with respect for the rights of others. It is here that the Christian has a particular role of leadership to play.

Scriptural reference: As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.