Reflecting on Power and Authority

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 1: 21-28) has been the inspiration for me as I reflect on the ideas of power and authority.  It’s a worthy question in our world today: who wields “power” for the good or for evil?  Who exercises authority and whose authority do we respect?

I borrow from my friend, Father Ed Foley, who said: “There has been an unfortunate trend in our country, our schools, in business, and even in our churches to allow power to be ceded to the loudest, to hand authority over to bullies.”

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I love a story that may illustrate this:

There’s a party talking to a ship at sea that says, “Ship at sea, please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”  The response was: “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

The first party responds, “Sorry, sir, but you will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.” The answering party says, “This is the captain of a United States naval ship. I say you must divert your course.” The first party replies: “Pardon me, sir, you must divert your course.”


Now the American ship says, “This is an American aircraft carrier, the second largest ship in the United States fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees North.  I say again, that is 1-5 degrees North or counter measures will be taken. Do you understand?”

The response was, “Dear Captain, the next move is your call. This is a Canadian lighthouse.”


Plenty of questions arise if we choose to reflect:  there are far too many situations of power over and abuse of authority in our world. But, I’d like to suggest that there are also wonderful situations of power and authority that stem from love and giftedness: the touching stories of care and even of saving another; the artists’ creativity giving life through visual arts and music; the teacher passing on life lessons and wisdom; the medical professionals caring for the sick; the farmer caring for land, crops and livestock, and so many others. May we focus on the power and authority that creates and sustains life; and not that which claims false power and authority—in fact, that destroys life.

 May we counteract the unfortunate trend in our country, schools, businesses, and even in our churches that cedes power and authority to the wrong places.

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About the Author


After nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

8 thoughts on “Reflecting on Power and Authority

  1. Sr. Betsy Meagher Meagher, CSJ says:

    it seems to me that too many church leaders especially, have ceded their power or ‘moral authority’. thanks Sally.


  2. Carole Iseli says:

    That story is a powerful example, Sr. Sallie, that might doesn’t always make right. May ALL of our leaders have the humility and wisdom to realize that.


  3. Mary Porod says:

    Sr. Sallie – I love, love, love the story about the Canadian lighthouse! It sums up so much right there. We must continue praying for all of our leaders so that the most vulnerable among us will not continue to be victimized! And thanks for shining the light on the positive. God only gives us one direction, and that’s forward!
    Thanks much.


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