VATICAN CITY – On Sunday, Pope Francis offered some punchy advice to both average faithful and people in positions of authority, saying true power is expressed through service and a good example, which Christians must always show to others in humility.
Speaking during his Nov. 5 Angelus address, Francis told pilgrims that “a frequent defect in those who have authority, whether it is civil or ecclesiastical authority, is to demand from other things, even justly, but which they do not put into practice firsthand. They lead a double life.”
He noted how in the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus, whose death is drawing nearer, offers “serious critiques” of the scribes, and at the same time leaves “important signs” for Christians not just of that time, but of all times, including those today.
Jesus, Francis noted, tells his disciples to listen to the scribes and the Pharisees, because they have the authority to teach on the law, but not to imitate what they do, because “they preach but they do not practice.”
Quoting the day’s Gospel passage, the pope said the scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
This attitude “is a bad exercise of authority,” which ought to have strength in offering a good example, rather than a show of power, he said.
Real authority “is born from the good example, in order to help others practice what is right and proper, supporting them in the trials that they encounter on the path of good,” Francis said, explaining that authority ultimately ought to be used to help people.
However, if it is exercised badly, “it becomes oppressive, it does not allow people to grow and it creates a climate of mistrust and hostility and even brings corruption.”
When speaking to the Christians about the day’s reading, Francis noted how Jesus gives his disciples some specific instructions, telling them to “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant.”
As disciples of Jesus, Christians “shouldn’t look for titles of honor, authority or supremacy,” he said, adding that it pains him personally “to see people who psychologically live running behind the vanity of honors.”
“We disciples of Jesus must not do this, but rather, there should be a simple and fraternal attitude among us,” he said, explaining that as Christians, “we are all brothers and we must in no way overwhelm others and look down on them from above. No.”
If we have received certain qualities or authority from God, then we must put these at the service of others, the pope said, rather than trying to take advantage of them “for our own interests and personal satisfaction.”
Neither should a Christian consider themselves superior to others, he said, adding that a healthy dose of modesty “is essential for an existence that wants to be conformed to the teaching of Jesus, who is meek and humble of heart and came not to be served, but to serve.”
Francis closed his address asking Mary to intercede for us so as “to avoid pride and vanity, and to be meek and docile to the love which comes from God for the service of our brothers and sisters, and for their joy, which will also be ours.”