Daily Reflection
October 22nd, 2003
Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Theology Department

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Romans 6:12-18
Psalm 124:1-3, 4-6, 7-8
Luke 12:39-48

Back in 1947, after suffering nearly six years of imprisonment as a Nazi Prisoner of War, Yves Congar, O.P., a somewhat “dangerous” young theologian returned to France and began to reweave his intellectual and spiritual life in the midst of a “springtime of Catholic revival” in that formerly Christian and now secularized and war weary nation.  In those first years back home he undertook to research and write a text on the role of the laity in the Catholic Church – a topic that was fraught with all kinds of perceived dangers from the highly clericalist Roman leadership.  The reality on the ground was that the renewal and reform was being driven by intellectual lay men and women fired with a recovered appreciation for the Gospel and institutional approval for “Catholic Action.”  Much of Congar’s groundbreaking text is experienced today as dated.  To the Post-Vatican II reader it can even be read as patronizing and insulting.  But given the tenor of thought in the late ‘forties and early ‘fifties, his were revolutionary ideas.  The central insight that he brought forward in the book, and greatly illuminated by extended commentary, was that by Baptism, (not Order), the Christian first receives the threefold power of Christ: priest, prophet and king.  The Council fathers embraced this recovered wisdom so that it has been common parlance in the last forty years.
Many computer keys have been struck to develop the meaning of the roles of priest and prophet for laity, but little reflection has gone into the concept of “kingship.”  Certainly the history of modern political leadership in the secular sphere has not helped to shed light on the real meaning of the term, and the popular media, by generally focusing on particularly bad examples of medieval kingship have convinced us that kings and queens are fundamentally rotten.  But today’s first reading from Romans illuminates an aspect of baptismal “kingship” or authority that Congar saw and discussed at length in a section of his text that deserves reflection today.
The basilaea or reign of God is at root about the radical freedom of humans to be in a profound relationship with God as our only “master.”  We can trust God’s mastery because it absolutely respects our innate freedom.  That freedom, however, demands that we “reign over [our] mortal bodies, so that [we] obey our desires.”  In other words, the first level of baptismal kingship is over the sin and degradation in our own hearts.  That authority enables us to discern what it is that we most authentically want – which ultimately can only be the good.  When we assert that “the devil made me do it” or “I’m just human, so I can’t help it if I sin” we are denying the foundational “kingship” of baptism to conquer the power of sin and death in relation to our own being.
Today’s gospel invites us to reflect on the right use of authority and the readiness we must have to account for it in our own lives or in any management service we have been enabled to render others.  We will be held accountable for our personal and corporate “kingship.”  If we who are baptized and know Christ exercise our authority badly – we will be held accountable for our bad stewardship.  It is also obvious that those who are called to greater leadership with the sisters and brothers (pastors, teachers, parents, bishops, secular politicians etc.) will be held to a standard of accountability in accord with that which has been entrusted to them. We who have gifts, talents and material resources which have been given to further God’s reign (and our internal and eternal freedom) will also be held fully accountable for the exercise of our stewardship.  The closing words of today’s Gospel voice a compelling demand in our hearts as we contemplate the harvest of our wealth or personal power and its right or wrong exercise over this past year of grace.
(For those who might want to pursue Congar’s wisdom in this regard, the book, in English translation, is titled Lay People In the Church, (Maryland: Newman Press, 1956), Part II, Chapter 2)

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