October 3, 2023
And so when we hear in this reading, this first reading about Moses lifting up a serpent, the serpent should catch our attention. The serpent was the source of our sin. The source of the salvation for the people was a serpent mounted on a pole.

Homily given at Christian Brothers College High School, Town and Country, Missouri. Readings for Today. Listen to our other homilies.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Pexels.com

Authority Properly Focused


There is, I suspect, something that if any of you are lawyers, you might be aware of as it pertains to educational law. It is particularly important for Catholic schools. It’s called the Ministerial Exemption.

And what that means is that in a variety of ways, Catholic schools are not bound by the the same limitations that public schools are bound by, or by, for that matter, Catholic institutions are not bound by the same rules that other institutions would be bound by. And it’s not just Catholic schools, it’s any religious organization.

Because the ministerial exemption is founded on the notion that everyone who works for an institution that has a religious nature is a minister. And the Supreme Court does not want to get into deciding who counts as a minister and who doesn’t.

Long before the Supreme Court established this precedent, in the 17th and 18th century, this idea was something that was quite familiar to St. John Baptist de La Salle. Because he, in a way– while he didn’t have a ministerial exemption, he was very strong on the notion that everyone involved in this fledgling endeavor of schools was a minister.

Everyone did what they did out of a call by God and a concern for the salvation of those children they taught and educated. And perhaps also it’s important to know that any vocation, given to us by God, is given to us for our own salvation.

So when a husband and wife get married, ideally being called to the vocation of marriage, they see in that vocation the very means to their salvation, each one of them. When I became a priest, that is a way in which I live out my salvation offered by God. And that’s what De La Salle picked up on when he founded his schools.

That everything that was being done was not frivolous, it was for a divine purpose, the salvation of the students. And what was important to know? What were the important things that were necessary? Well, certainly they needed to know the faith. They needed to ultimately know Jesus, but they also needed opportunity.

These kids were running wild all over the streets. They didn’t have a purpose or a direction. And De La Salle recognized that if they didn’t have the skills necessary to improve their lives and ultimately to provide for families, then they were at risk of being lost in every way one wants to think about that word.

Today’s readings really focus on the idea and the notion of authority. But it’s not authority for power’s sake. It’s an authority for a different sake, namely for service. There was a while, probably because of Thomas Sergiovanni, who is an educator and talked about servant leadership or leadership from the heart. That was really a popular notion for a while.

But the point is that all service in the context of ministry, when it’s centered on God, comes from the heart. It is service because true authority happens because it has an end or a purpose that comes from God.

Think of how little could be accomplished if we didn’t have the right authority of the rules of the road. If everybody just kind of drove whenever they liked and however they liked, some days it may feel like that. But the reality is that we give up certain things that may appear to be less important for the sake of something really important.

The first reading is such a powerful reading that I think sets the tone, I hope, for you, the board, who are involved in service. Because what he asks us in this first reading to do through the letter to Timothy is to pray for those who are given a particular authority, leaders in government.

But by extension, it’s anyone who has the charge to believe. And there’s all kinds of different levels of coercion. What we are going to discover in our own life in a few moments is the idea that the way in which the Lasallians today understand the connection and the relationship in their ministries is a little bit different.

It’s not like you have the real important ones, the brothers up here and the rest of us poor peons down here. I think the Christian Brothers have in fact been well ahead of that curve in saying that we are partners.

This is not a big stretch. Association is in fact a very critical term for a Lasallian understanding of the world. We work together, side by side. But in the promise that the members of the board will take, this is not just let’s do whatever we want.

Rather, you are the guarantors of the mission. Just as the brothers were, so too now are you. The guarantors of the mission, of the charism, of the gift that De La Salle so wonderfully articulated during his life.

But all this relies, as it did in the gospel on one thing, our faith in Jesus Christ. This is not something we take up on our own. It’s not something we do on our own. It’s something that’s given to us, and in the midst of all we do, the Holy Spirit is with us. Let us pray that we might be attentive to that Spirit in our ministry to Christian Brothers College High School.

On the friar, you can listen to our homilies (based on the readings of the day) and reflections. You can also ask us to pray for you or to pray for others. You can subscribe to our website to be informed whenever we publish an update.

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