I started reading Fr. Luigi Giuassani recently, starting with his book “Christ, God’s Companionship with Man,” and I’m going to share three excerpts this week. First, on the topic of authority and authority’s source, from his talk, “The Journey to Truth Is an Experience:”
Peter, the most representative person in the community, stands up and speaks, and he is heeded (see Acts 1:15-22).
In our particular milieu some individuals have a greater sensitivity to the human experience; in fact they develop a deeper understanding of any given situation and of others; in fact they are more likely to influence the movement that builds a community. They live our experience more intensely and with a greater commitment. We all feel that they are more representative of us. With them we feel closer to, and stay more willingly in a community with, others. To acknowledge this phenomenon is to be loyal to one’s own humanity, a duty spurred by wisdom.
When we discover ourselves helpless and alone, our humanity spurs us to come together. If we meet someone who better feels and understands our experience, suffering, needs, and expectations, we naturally are led to follow that person and become his or her disciple. In that sense, such persons naturally constitute authority for us even if they do not carry special rights or titles. Naturally, above all, it is one who most loyally lives or understands the human experience who becomes an authority.
Thus authority is born as a wealth of experience that imposes itself on others. It generates freshness, wonder, and respect. Inevitably, it is attractive; it is evocative. Not to value the presence of this effective authority that His Being places in every setting is to cling pettily to our own limits. The Jews said of Christ: “This is one who has authority” and they abandoned the schemes of the Pharisees to follow Him.
The encounter with this natural authority develops our sensitivity and our conscience; it helps us to better discover our nature and what we aspire to from the depths of our present poverty.
There are many people who will have power over us in our lives. And we will have power over others, too. But there is a difference between power and authority. And legitimate authority only has one source.