52. Safeguarding our authority: Doctor of the soul
52. Safeguarding our authority: Doctor of the soul

52. Safeguarding our authority: Doctor of the soul

Today’s post marks one year of consistent weekly existential theology. I thank Chị dị ebere for the inspiration. 

Last week, I began a discussion on the reasons we need to safeguard our authority jealously. As part of the Christological reason discussed last week, I focused on the model of Jesus as the good shepherd. Today, I focus on the model of Jesus as the physician. Jesus says: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:12).

Our vocation as priests and religious is primarily to cater for the spiritual needs of those entrusted to us. We do this through the administration of the sacraments, spiritual direction and counselling, and prayers. Yet, salvation is holistic—spiritual and temporal. Hence, just as Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry whilst preaching to them, our duties extend to providing the temporal needs of those entrusted to us. 

Since by our vocation we are spiritual doctors and it is the sick who need the doctor, it means that the type of sickness a patient suffers determines the action of the doctor.

While the medical history as recalled by a patient (anamnesis) can provide some information about a medical condition, doctors still insist the patient undergoes some tests to actually identify the nature and cause of an illness (diagnosis). Subsequently, although doctors predict the course of the disease as well as the treatment and results (prognosis), they ask the patient if he or she has an allergy or an underlying ailment that could make it inadvisable (contraindication) to prescribe a particular drug or employ a particular procedure or treatment (therapy). 

Moreover, with the development of preventive medicine, even those who seem healthy need the doctor to examine their body for signs of a growing, and often, terminal sickness. This also corresponds to Jesus’ teaching on avoiding the occasions and conditions that lead to sin (Matt 5:29-30). In all, no two cases are the same. 

For instance, we see variations in the healings Jesus performed. Jesus delayed in healing Bartimaeus even after Bartimaeus called Jesus for help (Mark 10:46-52), but Jesus initiated the discussion that led to the healing of the man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). The circumstances of the healing of the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10) differed from that of the woman with a haemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:22-42).

Jesus also engaged differently with each woman. One observes differences in Jesus’ relationship with his mother, the sisters of Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-26), the woman who anointed his feet (Luke 7:36-50), the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-29), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the widow who put two mites in offerings for God (Luke 21:1-4), the woman in the crowd who raised her voice to extol Jesus’ mother (Luke 11:27). 

As priests and religious, we are trained to be adaptive whilst keeping to Church’s law and fundamental teachings. As we exercise our authority, let us always remember that no two places and people are the same.

What worked in my previous place of assignment may not work in my current assignment. The pastoral strategy I employed five years ago, may be outdated given the rapid change in society. My attitude to parishioners including my word choice and tone may not be tolerated as it happened in the past. Not recognising these differences can lead to abuse in our exercise of authority.

Just a reminder: when we abuse our authority, people fight back through any means without waiting for the hierarchical superior to act. Evidence shows that these reactions often force the hierarchical superior to intervene. 

Ka Chineke mezie okwu


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