The essentials of true authority

The experience of the recent International Union of Superiors General (UISG) Assembly in Rome was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on Gospel leadership within a global context, writes Sr Annette Cunliffe.

- Catholic Religious Australia

More than 800 women leaders of congregations, from 76 countries, came to participate.  There was indeed an incredible variety of gifts, cultures, experiences, yet a common commitment to follow Christ through concrete service to humanity.  Our attendance at a private audience with Pope Francis, where he gave a special address, was a fitting culmination. 

The theme of this 2013 Assembly, “It shall not be so among you (Mt 20,26): The service of leadership according to the Gospel”,was explored in different ways by the women who gave the keynote addresses on the five days. One that spoke especially to me was Dr Bruna Costacurta’s address entitled “Authority in the Bible”. Bruna is a scripture scholar at the Gregorian University in Rome and her talk, as well as other papers, photos and short video clips are available on the Vidimus Dominum website.

This particular presentation firstly outlined the figure of the “Ideal King” in Deuteronomy, 17: 14 – 20: “one who should not, with his power, rival the kingship of God, but who rather serves to mediate the presence of the divine in the midst of his people.” We were reminded that, “Chosen by God, and standing in a special relationship of dependence on Him, the king must live by faith ... in the awareness of being the subject of a special predilection, an election that does not flow from his abilities and personal initiative but only as a consequence of the free gift of God’s mercy.” 

This reminder struck me forcibly, as it is so easy to slip into a mindset of being “in charge” or at least “responsible”.  I know from experience that this sense of responsibility, while well meant, can hamper my realisation that all responsibility is a sharing in God’s love and care for God’s people and all of creation.  In turn, forgetting that can make me anxious as if the outcome is dependent on my actions, while in reality God is the One at work whenever I sincerely act to advance God’s reign.

In her paper Dr Bruna then movingly interpreted the legend of Queen Esther, a feminine ideal figure of authority rooted in God, showing especially “the strength of weakness”.  Esther is portrayed as always guided by a sense of responsibility towards her own Jewish people, though she is Queen of Persia as bride of King Ahasuerus.

“Esther seems to allow herself to be swallowed up by the system, but in reality she will cause it to burst ... because the real subversion consists in obedience to God’s plan and in being willing to pursue love even to its extreme consequences.”   Esther, “ready to lay down her life for her people”, manifests “the meaning of true kingship: intercession and a taking upon oneself of the pain of others” – the “essential components of true authority”.

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