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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Second Sunday in Lent (February 25, 2024)

Second Sunday of Lent

As Providence would have it, this past week featured two commemorations of our leaders: President’s Day on Monday, and the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter on Thursday. Popes and presidents! A timely occasion to pray for those who God has set to rule over us both in civil government and in the Church.

Providentially, both days come after the Sunday on which, with our Lord, the Church went into the desert to be tempted by the devil. We recall that in one of those temptations, Satan dangles all the kingdoms of the globe before our Lord’s eyes, saying “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me” (Lk 3:6-7). And yet in Thursday’s Gospel we are reminded that, by a special providence of God, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against” (Mt 16:18) the polity that Christ has established upon the rock of Peter: the Church. 

This occasions a reflection on authority. How can it be that, on the one hand “the whole world is under the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19), if indeed “all power in heaven and on earth has been given to” Christ (Mt 28:18)? How are we to believe that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against the Church when, as Pope Paul VI famously said (in 1972), “the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God,” and the signs of this abound in our day?  If Jesus Christ is Lord, why does Satan seem so powerful in our time? 

I think the answer is found in our Lord’s other words to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). What has been granted to Peter in a special way was also conferred upon all the apostles (Mt 18:18) and to a degree extended to all Christians: authority. Yes, all power in Heaven and earth belongs by right to Jesus Christ. Yet, mysteriously, He has delegated that authority to men, giving them real power to exercise it: to bind and to loose, to transfer to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13), or to deliver to Satan for destruction (see 1 Cor 5:5).

We exercise this power all the time, whether we realize it or not. Explicitly, we do so when we bless our meals, for example, or make acts of consecration. Implicitly, we exercise this authority with how we employ what is entrusted to us: either as instruments of charity, or tools of sin. When I come to a parishioner’s home to perform a blessing, in a real way we are reclaiming for Christ an environ that may have been put to ill use, and thereby fallen under the authority or at least influence of “the power of darkness” (Col 1:13). 

We do this in “little” ways over the “little” that has been entrusted to our stewardship. Our leaders do this on a larger scale with the levers of power they control. Always, of course, within the constraints of the providential governance of God, from whom all authority comes (cf. Rom 13:1). Nevertheless, according to His mysterious designs, God gives our leaders real freedom to use their authority for good or for ill. When for good, it is according to the mercy of God who grants “peace to those of good will” (Lk 2:14) and allows sunlight to shine on the good and the bad (Mt 5:45). When for evil, it is according to the justice of God, who knows how to wield entire nations as the “rod of His wrath” (Is. 10:5) to punish sin and test His saints. In either case, however, God does not abandon His people, but “makes all things work for the good of those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). 

Even so, in our day we should be able to appreciate how important it is “that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity” (1 Tim 2:1-2). For “the king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov 21:1). Let’s be those “men of goodwill,” those people who love the Lord and pray as pleased Him, so He will not need to punish us (through our leaders or otherwise) but direct their hearts to use their God-given authority to usher all that is under their control into that Kingdom in which Christ lived and reigns in love, forever and ever, Amen!

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