Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obedience will make you a saint

"It is one thing to trust God and Jesus as the Son of God as faithful guides on the way to eternal life, but it is something else entirely to trust the people who exercise authority in God's name. There is no way around the dilemma, because Gods plan of redemption is incarnation, that is, salvation mediated through human beings, beginning with Jesus Christ. Authentic Christianity requires obeying the human authorities duly appointed. How do we know that we can trust these weak human beings to lead us faithfully to God?
Obedience to the legitimate religious authority is obedience to God no matter who holds the office, saint or sinner. But in the other hand, the bad example of the superior is no excuse for the disciple.
[T]he sinfulness and errors of those in authority do not invalidate the authority. Jesus does not say we have to trust the one in authority whom we obey. Hopefully the leader will earn our trust by faithfulness and good example, and that improves the experience of obedience dramatically. But it is not necessary to trust the religious authority in order to obey and to receive the blessings of obedience.

Problems arise when people fail to make the distinction between trust in and obedience to religious authorities. Since 2002, the media has carried many stories of Catholics who have left the church because of the failure of some bishops to respond honestly and appropriately to the clergy abuse scandal. We know that through history monks have left monasteries and sometimes solely because of the poor leadership or sinful conduct of abbots. Laity have left the church because of pastors.

But we are not required to trust our religious leaders unless they earn our trust by their conduct. The requirement for salvation is faith, which means trust in God. Applied to the church and religious life, this means we are called to trust in God to carry out the divine plan and purpose for the church and its members through whatever human leaders God happens to have placed in charge.

Saint Benedict foresaw that some abbots might be saints and others might be scoundrels, and that bad abbots could create anxiety among their subjects. But he is reassuring: if you obey those God has placed in authority you will be obeying God, and God will sanctify you. In other words, he presents God as saying: You don't have to trust anyone but me - not the abbot, not the bishops, not even the pope. You need to obey them in the legitimate exercise of their office, and to trust them when you can. The obedience will make you a saint, no matter what they do. I can work out my plans, whoever is in charge on earth. It may not be pretty, but it will be effective. Trust me."

-- Don't Trust the Abbot: Musings from the Monastery by Abbot Jerome Kodell

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