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January 28, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Feb. 1: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: Authority and authenticity. For many people of a certain generation “authority” has a rather negative connotation. For practically everyone, however, “authenticity” has a distinctly positive sound to it. We question authority but we admire authenticity. In the first reading Moses announces that God will raise up a prophet like himself—a man who will speak authoritatively. The authenticity of a prophet’s words were confirmed by the facts that followed. Only when his oracles were fulfilled did the prophet acquire authority (see Dt. 18:21). Moses had authority because his prophesy of liberation came true (Ex 3:16-17); his words were confirmed by the miracle of the Exodus. In this week’s Gospel we hear how the people were astonished by Christ’s teachings precisely because he taught with authority. Jesus’ words were confirmed by the miracle of deliverance for the man oppressed by demons, and the other healings that followed. In the second reading, St. Paul’s teachings on marriage have authority because he was authorized by the Church to preach and teach the Gospel, having been given a share of the Holy Spirit to do just that (see Acts 13:2-3).
Key verse: “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task to preach the Gospel of God to all men, in keeping with the Lord’s command. They are heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers of the apostolic faith endowed with the authority of Christ” (No. 888).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Twelve Apostles are the most evident sign of Jesus’ will regarding the existence and mission of his Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition; despite the sins of the people who make up the Church, they are inseparable. We cannot have Jesus without the reality he created and in which he communicates himself” (“Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church”).
Application: Some people find it easy to accept the authority of Jesus, but not the authority of the Church he founded. But we can trust the teaching authority of the Catholic Church for just this reason: Christ founded her. We can also trust her authority for other reasons too. The teachings of the Church, summarized in the catechism, ring true when we study them with an open mind. Truth is vindicated by history. Pope Paul VI’s controversial encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” which predicted many social ills following the widespread use of contraception, has proven to be true. His teachings are both authoritative and authentic, in part because as the successor of Peter he was “endowed the authority of Christ.” But the pope’s teachings are also authoritative because he was right.