RAY COLLINS: Authority to serve

Many years ago, in another diocese, I attended a meeting at which the question of authority in the Church was raised. A very learned Bishop, who was a guest speaker at the meeting, responded to the question of authority in the Church by saying, “There is only one authority in the Church and that is the authority to serve.”

I was reminded of this when reading Sunday’s Gospel of St Mark. The Gospel relates the time when James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus and asked him if they could take up special positions of status, “one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory”. This provokes indignation from the other apostles towards James and John so Jesus says to them all:

“…anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus takes the opportunity to instruct his followers about power and authority and how focusing on such matters can corrupt the importance of their role to serve the other faith- filled followers. If there is to be a status amongst his disciples it would be determined by the quality of their service rather than the status of their position.

We have been reminded of this in Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), when he calls upon evangelisers to take on “the smell of the sheep” a call he has made on a number of occasions since in speaking to and writing to those in various positions of responsibility in the Church.

Such a call extends to those of us who are involved in Catholic school education, part of the evangelising work of the Church.

It is when we get caught up in the status of our position or the authority we carry with our respective roles and ignore the need to serve that we can become like James and John, open to rebuke in the words of Jesus “…anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all”.

Pope Francis has shown by his own actions a willingness to take on the “smell of the sheep”. It is up to all of us in Catholic education to serve the needs of our school communities with the same commitment to service Jesus asked of his followers.

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Ray Collins

Ray Collins is the Director of Schools within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He is an authority on education issues.

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