The Gift of Authority

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God. ~ Deuteronomy 28:1-2

Lisa MladinichIt's not just your imagination. The problem of kids who won't behave in class is getting worse. We can take the easy way out and blame parents, claiming they just can't be bothered to discipline their children, but that's like saying a person is sick because he's coughing, and then refusing him medicine for spite. I think, for the sake of Christian compassion, that we should try to understand the root causes. But the key to solving this problem is a supernatural one.

Let's first define the problem; parental authority is undermined by many cultural and media influences. It's not a simple matter, but from what I can tell, parents of the last few decades have been barraged with more parenting advice than ever before, and the influence of so many conflicting "sure-fix" programs has undermined confidence in the day-to-day use of their own judgment. Marketing being what it is, hyperbole abounds; anxiety results.

Now, I love parenting books. A few have been a great help to me. But along with the hype, the sheer quantity and variety also create confusion and self-doubt, which, of course, sells more books.

I think parenting has also been negatively influenced, in part, by the anti-authority movement of the 1960s. Lest you suppose, based on my comments last week, that I despise the whole decade, be assured such is not the case. Having lived through it, I appreciate the good parts—progress in racial equality, women's rights, and the emergence of peaceful acts of civil disobedience as a norm—but in that time our national consciousness developed such a kneejerk distrust of authority that we have begun to distrust ourselves as authority figures. Add to that the aforementioned cultural confusion regarding parenting methodologies and you've got a very stressed, insecure population of parents.

It's a toxic cocktail, particularly for people of faith, for it is in loving obedience to God that we are called to exercise authority, to be leaders and teach His laws with conviction.

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul . . . And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Dt. 11:18-19) (NIV)

When parents or catechists hesitate to accept this holy gift of authority, children rebel; they take more and more control of their environments in bold displays of dominance and manipulation. Special-needs cases aside, this is a deeply concerning societal problem, and, more importantly, a religious one. If children have absorbed this weakened sense of trust in proper authority, how can we expect them to yield their lives to God? And if they never learn to practice a holy humility that recognizes a wisdom and power greater than themselves, how will they appropriately exercise their own authority later on?

The same is true for us catechists. This is a holy paradox that requires prayerful contemplation, but the Bible is very clear. It is in obedience and humility that we receive the strength to rule.

Again: "If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth" (Dt. 28:1) (NIV).

If we are to be effective leaders, we must radically submit to the authority of God. What we're talking about is conversion, beginning with you and me. Here are some suggestions:

1) Get to Mass and confession regularly and watch your effectiveness in the classroom soar. Remember that God speaks very softly and our sins make a racket. If you want to have an intimate and transformative relationship with Jesus Christ, if you want His power to flow through you and out to the world, you've got to clean up your act. That takes humility and trust. If the thought of this fills you with anxiety, pray for the grace to begin. If we are genuinely committed to our own ongoing conversions, no matter how small the baby-steps we take, then we have a shot at giving children a potentially life-changing experience of the Church's loving leadership. Here's a great examination of conscience to use before your next confession.

1/12/2011 5:00:00 AM
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    About Lisa Mladinich
    Lisa Mladinich is a Catholic wife and mother, catechist and workshop leader, and the author of the popular booklets, "Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children," and "Be an Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation" available from Our Sunday Visitor. She is the founder of