Saturday, August 11, 2012

Does Power Always Corrupt? — Nineteenth Week of “Ordinary Time,” August 12 to August 18, 2012

If this blog raises more questions than it answers, that may be good. A question that makes us think can be better than an answer that shuts down our brain.
Lord Acton wrote in his famous letter to Bishop Creighton after Vatican I declared the Pope had supreme power in the Church, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Is that absolutely true? Does divine power corrupt? Is it dangerous to be “empowered by the Holy Spirit” as Jesus promised the Twelve they would be (and us with them) at Pentecost?
Apparently Paul found it so. When he was “caught up into Paradise and heard things that no mortal is permitted,” he said “a thorn was given me in the flesh... to keep me from being too elated.”
God taught him the secret of survival: “Power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul drew the conclusion: “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
When Peter was “weak” and said what the power of his own “flesh and blood” had not revealed to him, but the “Father in heaven,” he was strong in faith. This moved Jesus to make him Pope. But when, immediately after, strong in his own opinion, he opposed God’s plan, Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Even divine power corrupts if it is not matched by proportionate experience of weakness. If this is lacking, we need to supply it. Jesus said the greatest among us will survive by becoming the least of all. Power is saved by conversion into service, prestige by rejecting all signs of it.
Even when, empowered by grace, we establish control over our passions and begin to live good, well-ordered lives, we should be scared to death! Control is power, and power corrupts. Control is addictive. Once we establish control over ourselves, we don’t want to give it up — even to God!
Control is the curse of the people Teresa describes in the “Third Dwelling Places” of her Interior Castle. In them “reason is still very much in control. Love has not yet reached the point of overwhelming reason. But I should like us to use our reason to make ourselves dissatisfied with this way of serving God, always going step by step.”
Teresa says “we are so circumspect we fear everything; we don’t dare go further” by following inspirations of God. She is speaking of those who will not walk on water unless they see stepping stones. Who will not set out for the Promised Land without a map of Egypt. Or follow a star unless they can see where it is leading. These prudent, controlled people are the natural candidates for administrative positions. Above all, we want our bishops to be “safe” — like the first Pope warning Jesus off the path to crucifixion. But this timidity stifles the Spirit in the Church. Teresa says, “Let’s abandon our reason and our fears into his hands... Let those in authority take care of our bodily needs; that’s their business. As for ourselves, we should care only about moving quickly so as to see the Lord.”
Teresa says “it is very characteristic of persons with such well-ordered lives to be shocked by everything.” She adds, “Perhaps we should learn from the those who shock us what is most important” — even though we may “behave ourselves better and have a more acceptable way of dealing with others than they do.” If the hand of a smooth administrator on the tiller is keeping our boat in safe waters, we may have smooth sailing all the way to nowhere!
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