By Fr. Bill Nordenbrock, C.PP.S.
The Gospel reading from St. Mathew today has me reflecting on the nature of authority. It is not my favorite topic because I can remember different occasions when I have been accused of having a problem with authority.
Nobody would accuse the centurion in the Gospel of having a problem with authority—either giving orders or accepting orders. He recognized without fail the authority of Jesus. He believed that if Jesus ordered his servant to be cured, then he would be cured. Distance offered no obstacle to the power and authority of Jesus’ word. And Jesus was amazed at the faith of this “nonbeliever” and holds him up as an example to us all.
I imagine that all of us recognize the authority of the Word of God. But the necessary condition for that authority to be a transformative force in our lives is that we welcome the message of Jesus into the depth of our being. We all hear the words of Jesus when the scriptures are proclaimed, but for the word to be transformative, for the words to be authoritative, we must encounter the Word made flesh in our hearts. The good news is that Jesus wants to “enter under our roof” and make his home in our heart.
Often the first thought we have about authority is to resist the notion that someone can order us to do something that we would rather not do. But what is the word of Jesus and why should we fear it? The authoritative pronouncements, the orders that Jesus give his disciples are:
Come to me and be healed.
Know that nothing can separate you from my love.
Believe the Good News and be saved.
I have already forgiven you. Go and sin no more.
Love God and your neighbor.
Can we hear and accept the authority of these pronouncements and allow our trust in the words of Jesus to transform our lives? If yes, then we are like the centurion. Even more, maybe then we can be a missionary like St. Francis Xavier and say yes to the command to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth.
St. Francis Xavier was the prototypical missionary. He heard the word of God and accepted the mission of making the first proclamation of the Gospel to peoples in Asia. Unlike St. Francis Xavier, our missionary identity is probably not defined by geography. Instead, our missionary vocation finds expression as we strive to imitate our founder, St. Gaspar, who did not take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth, but to the edges of the Church and society.
Today we ask the intercession of St. Francis Xavier to open our hearts to the word of God and give us the courage to be missionary disciples.
Fr. William Nordenbrock, C.PP.S., is the moderator general of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood worldwide. An Ohio native, he now lives in Rome. The Congregation serves in over 20 countries around the globe.