Sunday Reflection -21st Sunday 2020
I have often wondered what the angels in heaven were thinking when they heard Jesus tell the apostles that He would share His divine authority with them: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be considered loosed in heaven. No doubt there were some angels who were astounded by the love Jesus had for His apostles to share His divine authority with them. But I can also imagine some angels shaking their angelic heads and thinking: Jesus, you don’t know what you are doing! You are taking the risk of them using this power for their own selfish reasons rather than for the good of the kingdom of heaven.
As a young priest I was often shocked by the stories I heard from people about why they stopped coming to Church. It often seemed to me to be a ”petty” reason: Father didn’t have time to talk with me – Father made a nasty comment at my grandfather’s funeral – Father wouldn’t allow my friend to sing at our Wedding Mass; we had to have the parish organist – etc., etc., etc. Father was making their life more miserable because of his thoughtlessness, his rigidity in applying the rules, his refusal to take time to be with them when they needed his presence. This is not why Jesus shared His authority with them.
When I began to teach Church History I could understand why some angels would have been shaking their heads at Jesus’ loving act. Eamon Duffy, a very good Church Historian at Cambridge, wrote A History of the Popes. He wisely titled the book: Saints and Sinners. Some of the Popes were truly holy people who used the authority given to them by Christ to enrich the Church and spread the kingdom of heaven. But also there were many Popes who used the authority given to them for their own political gains or to enrich their own families. However even under their corrupt leadership the Holy Spirit guided the Church and preserved it from lasting damage.
But it was only after ordination that I realized what a privilege and gift it was to share in Christ’s authority. The day after my ordination when I said Mass for and gave Holy Communion to my family I could see that I was no longer the son/kid brother acting like a priest. It was the authority that Christ shared with me that made it possible for me to give them the body of Christ. I could see it in their faces. A few months later my first baptism was of a niece. It was so special, because of the shared authority with Christ, to welcome her into our Christian family. (I later gave her her First Holy Communion, celebrated her marriage, and baptized her children – all possible because Christ shared His divine authority with me.)
But it was especially in celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation that I appreciated the great power that Jesus had shared with me. In the 1960s there were still long lines for confession in the confessional box and I could hear the relief in their voice when I assured them that God loved them and their sins were forgiven. But it was especially after 1970 when most people came to confession face-to-face that I could see in their bodies the new freedom and joy they felt after being assured that their sins were forgiven. One time a fifteen year old girl came to confession in the Rectory. She was sure that she was an evil person and that God could never forgive her. After her confession she sat there moving her arms and legs. I said to her: you look like someone who has been tied up and is now free. She said: that is exactly how I feel. Jesus had shared His authority to free people with me on that occasion.