Jesus told the Apostles, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He did not say that just to Peter, he said it to the others as well. He was giving them all authority to instruct in his name. Each of them is the equivalent of what the first reading calls a “watchman” whom the Lord has appointed to give timely warning to people.
Being free people in a democratic country we wonder to what degree our religion binds us to obey the bishops and the pope. One handy old rule about when we need to obey is: "You must obey in everything but sin.”
That’s a fine rule, and we must stick by it. Still, that rule leaves a large gray area where the bishops are giving what they see as virtuous advise that to you seems to border on the sinful. There another old rule that comes in could be, “Let your conscience be your guide.”
According to Genesis, the first thing God said about us on creating us was, “It is not good for man to be alone.” By nature we are social animals, programmed to work together; but when we have ten different opinions on what way we should go, we eventually need someone to make the decision.
There was an English couple who came to our neighborhood every winter to visit their daughter. The man had somehow stayed alive after commanding a gun crew on those perilous convoys across the Atlantic in World War II. After peace, he and his wife joined the Catholic Church, and they became the support of the Catholic group in Bath, England. They sent me a clipping from the London Times in which an Anglican believer complained about his Church’s lack of authority. He said the Church had no way of settling any difficult question. All it could do was refer disputed matters to committees that would divide and subdivide to favor differences of opinion.
Our bishops, popes, mothers, dads and bosses are sometimes not the kind of people we like obeying; but in showing obedience to them we are obeying God. Paul explained that: “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed.”