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An office entrusted to us

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There’s an important word in today’s Gospel. It’s a word we heard earlier in Mark’s Gospel, way back in January on the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. At that point, still early on in Jesus’ public ministry, he was teaching in a synagogue (Mk 1:21-28). The Gospel told us that people were astonished because he taught them not as the scribes but as one having "authority," and with that same "authority" he cast a demon out of a man.

We’re now in July, on the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and we hear that same word again. This time, Christ’s authority is mentioned as something that he hands on to the Twelve Apostles: "Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits." That’s a big deal. And amazingly, this handing over of authority actually worked. The Gospel reports that after the apostles were sent out, they preached repentance, cast out many demons, and anointed the sick with oil and cured them. When Jesus gave them authority, he didn’t simply designate or delegate them to do a task. He gave them a power they didn’t have before.

The people were astounded when Jesus performed healings and miracles. But in a way, it is more astounding when the apostles do them. Jesus is God, but the apostles are mere men. And in the world’s eyes, they were not very impressive men. They weren’t the powerful or the talented. They weren’t the scribes or Pharisees who were trained as religious leaders. They were simply the ones Jesus had chosen, and the ones to whom he gave his authority.

Jesus shows us not only that he has the power to preach with divine authority and cast out demons, but he also has the power to give that authority to men to allow them to do the very same things. Now these men — who are not God — are doing things that only God can do.

This shouldn’t be a foreign concept to us Catholics. We experience it all the time as part of our regular life of faith. There are men who do things that only God can do. Only validly ordained bishops and priests can make the body and blood of Christ present on the altar. Only they can absolve sins. Only they can conform a sick person’s suffering to the suffering of Christ through anointing of the sick. Christ can — and does — continue to act through them, just as he acted through his apostles to preach, cast out demons and heal by anointing with oil. Those who are ordained are given Christ’s authority in a unique way to teach, sanctify, and govern the people of God.

What about the rest of the lay faithful? Is there any sense in which Christ hands on his authority to them? The church teaches that every Christian, by virtue of his or her baptism, has a share in the threefold office of Christ as priest, prophet and king. That means that we are a priestly people, a prophetic people and a royal people.

We are a priestly people because we can offer sacrifice to God. In the Mass especially, we can unite all of our daily sacrifices to the one perfect sacrifice of Christ to the Father. And by conforming ourselves to the will of God, we make of our whole selves an offering to God. We are a prophetic people because we are called to bear witness to the truth of Christ in the midst of the world by all we say and do. We are a royal people because we are called to govern our desires by practicing self-mastery rather than giving in to sin. And as Christ reigns as king by becoming a servant, we are called to imitate his kingly reign by serving one another.

Knowing that we have been entrusted with this threefold office of priest, prophet and king, we can ask the Lord for a humble confidence in exercising it.

Fr. Oetjen is studying canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, with residence at St. Agnes Church in Arlington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021