Our ti morceaux over the past few months have looked at the first two of the three broad kinds of leadership exercised by bishops in the Church: the ministries of teaching and of sanctifying. We’re now going to look at the last of these, the leadership that is properly called the ministry of governance – in Latin, the munus regendi.
This ministry necessarily implies the concept of authority. From a religious standpoint it has its origins in Jesus’ own mandate given to St. Peter to tend His flock (see John 21, verses 15-17). To accomplish this task, Jesus gave to him – and to St. Peter’s coworkers the Apostles and to their successors the bishops – divine authority, “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,” also known as “the power of binding and loosing” (see Mt 16:19 and 18:18), as well as the power to forgive sins (see Jn 20:22-23).
Some people bristle at the very idea of authority. We Americans are particularly so enamored of individual “liberty” that we often chafe emotionally when required to do something by someone else! That’s why it’s important to recognize that authority exercised in the Church is not a mere human power, but is an authority exercised in responsibility before God, who granted it. Our retired Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, called it “An authority whose sole purpose is understood to be to serve the true good of the person and to be a glass through which we can see the one and supreme Good, which is God. Not only is it not foreign to man, but on the contrary, it is a precious help on our journey towards a total fulfilment in Christ, towards salvation” (from his catechesis of May 26, 2010).
This is the power and authority we’ll be exploring a little bit more in the next few morceaux. It’s an authority exercised by Church leaders not in their own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, who received from His heavenly Father “all authority both in Heaven and on Earth” (Mt 28:18).