Iverigh on servant leadership in the Church


Papal biographer (and WPI contributor) Austen Ivereigh was in Rome for the consistory and cardinals’ meeting in late August. It was also recently announced that he had been chosen as a member of the editorial board of the Instrumentum Laboris (preparatory document) which will be used during the synod in October 2023. The document should be published in November 2022. (Congratulations, Austen!)

Because I’m working on several projects right now, including an article I’m finishing. We don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it all off tonight. But I don’t want to leave you without something interesting to read. And I just read something much better than anything I can put together in the next hour or two. In light of Francis’ message, the reorganization of the Roman Curia, and the meeting of cardinals, Austen wrote a deep and insightful reflection on servant leadership in the Church.


I don’t know if Francis had in mind the spicy little book by Yves Congar Power and poverty in the Church, first published in English in 1964, but it was a good text to watch at the meeting of cardinals. For in it, Congar shows Jesus teaching his disciples that their ministry has nothing to do with any merit on their part, but it is the power of God flowing from him through them. Hence Francis’ message to the cardinals as he opened the meeting: to be a cardinal was not a privilege but a responsibility, which demanded a “style that bears witness to the Gospel”. The power conferred on the Church – as Jesus showed by an ultimate example – is not given to dominate, nor to demand service, but to serve the needs of others, to seek their salvation.

God, who is love, is the source of this power of service, and the disciples of Jesus participate in it: the mission of service of love cascades, so to speak, from the Father to the incarnate Son, and from Jesus to the apostles and all the Church. Thus, St. Paul was adamant that his apostolic authority had nothing to do with any ability or merit on his part, but with the spiritual gifts he had received (not earned); and that his ambition was to be like Jesus, who did not seize the rights conferred by “equality with God”, but served and died as a slave, resurrected and glorified by the Father.

Jesus, in short, turned the concept of authority upside down, and it was time for the Church to return to understanding the gospel. In Augustine’s formula, power in the Church is ministry rather than potestas. Authority is real, as is the power it bestows: to cast out demons, to teach about God, to bind and loose, etc. But, first, it is always by proxy, that is to say, it is a participation in a power that comes from God. The proper response of ministers, therefore, is humility, for they are but vessels of that authority, not its source. Second, as Francis said in his inaugural homily as pope: “Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the pope, too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into this service which has its radiant culmination on the cross. “The “authentic” power conferred on Saint Peter is a power to serve: “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. As Congar puts it, the faithful “are our masters, since we are their servants”, for “their well-being must decide how our efforts will be applied”.

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Mike Lewis is the founding editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host field hospitalan American Catholic podcast.

Iverigh on servant leadership in the Church


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