Listen to the following statements.
See if any of them describe you, your personal life, your choices, your attitudes.
Have you ever said the following to someone else or even just thought them to yourself?
“The rules don’t apply to me.”
“I am above the people around me.” [Since I’m educated, I’m better than the uneducated.
Since I’m strong, I’m better than the weak.
Since I’m devout and holy, I’m better than the lukewarm and the ungodly.
Since I’m a man, I’m better than any woman.
Since I’m experienced, I’m better than the inexperienced and/or untrained.
Since I’m still married, I’m better than the divorced.]
“You should be grateful that someone like me gives you my attention.”
“Stick with me. I will make you an important person. I will introduce you to important people. I will contribute to your upward mobility.”
“Because I’m in charge, I deserve a greater reward for work well done.”
“It’s okay for me to be dishonest, to lie, to deceive, in order to accomplish a greater good.”
“You have to listen to what I say, you have to do what I say, because I have the authority.”
“I can make your life miserable, I can terminate your employment, if you don’t agree with what I say.”
“I should be able to control what happens around me.”
“I become angry and ornery when I don’t get my way.”
“It’s okay to do what is necessary to get ahead, even if it means misrepresenting myself or unfairly discrediting another in order to do so.”
Do any of these sound familiar?
Do any of them apply to you?
If so, then Lord Acton’s claim applies to you.
Do you know who Lord Acton is? ….a 19th century British historian.
He once wrote “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
If any of the above statements apply to you,
then your moral integrity has been compromised.
You have been corrupted by power.
The possession of power can do a number of things
to a person’s thinking and behavior.
Having power leads people to take ethical and moral shortcuts.
Power tends to exaggerate self-interests and de-emphasize the common good.
Power has a tendency to become personalized as in “it’s my power to use at will”;
this promotes personal gain with disregard for the cost it may have to others.
Power tends to focus our attention on our own egotistical desires
which in turn blinds us to other perspectives.
And then there’s a false belief floating around that says
a good-hearted person will always use power appropriately.
Many of you are parents. Most of you are good-hearted.
Do you always use your power and authority over your children appropriately?
(You don’t have to raise your hand.)
Long before Lord Acton made his statement
about power leading to corruption
Jesus was aware of this problem.
He warned his followers to beware
of the corrupting forces of power.
He points out that the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his time,
were given the authority of Moses.
But their exercise of this power had become corrupt
regarding their role and responsibility
of offering spiritual leadership to God’s people.
In other words,
they were not using their authority
in the way God intended it to be used.
This corruption prevented them from doing their job…
and the people suffered as a consequence.
Jesus then offers the antidote to counteract this spiritual sickness: humility.
Something the Pharisees did not have.
If you don’t want to be corrupted by power,
then you need to integrate humility into your life.
I don’t care how holy you are, every human being is predisposed to moral corruption.
That’s what sin is: moral corruption.
Both back then as well as in our day,
the power given by God to govern and shepherd His people,
is to be dedicated to and used for service.
It is to be directed toward salvation.
It is to be used to promote Gospel truths, to enlighten, to educate, to provide guidance,
to help and support the Christian life, to protect goodness, justice, peace and love….
all these things...
so as to insure entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom.
Any and every ego trip that anyone takes
as a result of sharing in Christ’s power and authority
is a trip down the road of corruption.
St. Paul provides a way to determine the correct use of power and authority.
He says to his community of believers in Rome:
“it is good that we came among you.
It is good that we took the approach we did.
For we can now see that the Word of God is at work in your hearts.”
That’s the measure: the spiritual state of the human heart.
If power and authority are used properly,
used according to divine instruction,
then God’s work will be seen in human hearts.
If the Pharisees had exercised their power and authority properly,
the people would have recognized Jesus when he came among them.
If your heart is not changed, not influenced,
not convicted and converted,
if you are not being spiritually guided, challenged, uplifted, enlightened
by what is said from this pulpit,
or by how Fr. Keene, Fr. Quill, or myself exercise our authority,
then someone has failed.
A temptation is to measure the proper use of Christian power and authority
by the amount of money in the parish or diocesan bank account,
by the number and quality of buildings,
how well the grounds are kept, and the like.
But this is a false measure.
None of these things, in and of themselves, will get anyone to heaven.
There are Catholics throughout the world today
who have none of these things.
Millions of Catholics who are as poor as dirt.
But believe me, they will go to heaven…
because their shepherds used power and authority correctly.
And St. Paul reveals a secret of sorts
that all priests and Church leaders need to take to heart.
When a pastor loves the people of God,
interacts with God’s people with affection,
when a pastor is gentle with the people he serves,
kind, understanding, affirming and encouraging….
these attitudes and dispositions are like fertilizer for the human spirit.
The harvest will be plenty.
“The rules apply to all of us.”
“No one here or in the Church is above anyone else. No person is superior to another.”
“Don’t give your attention to me. Give it to the poor person who is homeless.”
“If you stick by me, I will introduce you to the only important person: Jesus Christ. He is the person who deserves your loyalty.”
“As far as the Christian life is concerned, we all receive the same reward.”
“The ends never justifies the means; evil means can never be used to achieve a good end.”
On a personal note, I’m not entitled to being first in line, sitting in the best seat, or being exempt from some of the rules.
And I have no desire for upward mobility.
To tell the truth, I get embarrassed and even ashamed
every time I’m told to stand up and take a bow just
because I’ve done something God has asked me to do.
My ego says “go for it”
but my spirit reminds me “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
Power corrupts. I’ve seen it.
And I don’t like it.
I don’t even want to stick my big toe in that door.
To our young people here today I have this message:
everything I’ve said this morning applies equally to you.
Just because you are young, doesn’t mean you have no power.
No matter how old we are,
our popularity gives us power over others;
being the best on the team, gives us power over others;
our physical strength, gives us power over others;
our age gives us power over others;
our ‘smarts’ give us power over others;
our gifts give us power over others.
Even in your family, you have power over your younger brothers and sisters.
And if you’re not careful,
if you don’t take Jesus’ advice and practice the virtue of humility,
this power will go to your head.
It will corrupt you.
The last thing you want to do is to become a bully.
A bully is a person who has been corrupted by power.
We need to pray, all of us, every day,
for people who have been given power and authority:
leaders in our Catholic Church,
social and civil leaders,
teachers, office managers, bosses of companies,
parents and all those who have power and authority over children.
May God protect us all from corruption in any of its forms.
Today’s prayer: “O Lord, help us to know when we’ve turned aside from Your way. Prevent us from causing others to falter because of our words or example. Through Your Son Jesus Christ protect us from moral corruption as we strive to fulfill our responsibilities and use the power that comes from You to serve others according to the Gospel. Only by grace is Your will accomplished. Amen!”
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Listen to the following statements.