4th Sunday Ordinary Time
31st January 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“His words made a deep impression on them
because he spoke to them with authority”
‘Fake news’ is a term that has come into our vocabulary in recent years due to a significant office holder who tended to dismiss unpalatable facts as ‘fake news’. The said person tended to amaze people ‘round him with his loose relationship with the truth. For that reason, there is considerable relief among people that he no longer holds the office. On the other hand, there is intense anger and resentment among a large cohort of people who supported him.
The whole experience raised serious questions about the importance of leadership and authority in every walk of life – be it political, economic, sport, church or the arts. All in leadership will have different gifts however, the one thing / quality required for authentic leadership is integrity of person – a desire and intention to be truthful and honest. The reality is that such leadership is not at all as common as we would wish.
My friends, these thoughts ‘round authority and leadership are prompted by the natural link between the reading from Deuteronomy (1st reading) and the Gospel reading from Mark. While one (Deuteronomy) speaks of the prophet as one chosen by God – to be an instrument / voice for the truth through his words. The Gospel St. Mark speaks of Jesus and his teaching making a ‘deep impression’ on them because …… he spoke to them with authority.
The problem for many to-day is that there are so many voices that are clamouring for our attention – it is difficult to know the real from the fake. The development of communication systems is mind blowing – we only know about the developments that have been brought to the market for our use. Gradually we are coming to know about the constant tracking of our use of technology which can be used both for good or ill. So much of our interaction is now subject to manipulation that governments are now trying to rein in the tech giants.
Where does that leave you and me, the ‘ordinary punter’ so to speak? Where and how do our experience of Christian faith fit into and interact with this reality?
Behind all these developments are people with values and purpose and though they may be very rich and powerful they do not control all our reality; they do not control our hearts and minds. These are our unique self of which we alone are the guardians. It is for us to be alert and aware in our living. In the specific area of technology, we naturally embrace the benefits but reject that which seeks to use and manipulate us.
That task of recognising the authentic and authoritative voices is not easy but they are there in politics, economics, in education, in the Church and elsewhere in society. In the Church Pope Francis will soon complete the 8th Year of his Pontificate. He has been a prophetic and an authoritative voice not just for Catholics but for people of all faiths. Yet he has his critics – some are very severe in their criticism to the point of accusing him of heresy. He seems to be able to accept it with equanimity. For some Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who by God’s blessing is still with us – is the real Pope. To think so is unfair to both men.
I have a personal memory of all the Popes going back to Pius XII – all of them have been remarkable men who have exercised their authority and leadership in accordance with their personal gifts guided by the Holy Spirit. All were and are different by way of background and experience which is naturally brought to bear on the focus and style of their leadership. This has given the Church a variety and diversity that is natural and enriching.
The fruit of that leadership by a succession of Popes in modern times means the Papacy is universally accepted as a prophetic voice for the world – a voice that speaks with authority – like Jesus – whose special care was for the poor and meek of the earth.
Such a voice ought not be taken for granted. – to have one who is free of political and economic forces – to speak freely and truthfully on behalf of so many who have no voice – to have one whose special care is to preserve the unity and solidarity of the Church’s mission to humanity. For such blessing we are thankful.