|4/27/2017 8:30:00 AM|
Give up worldly power
to be better leaders
BY MATTHEW HOULE"You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above" (Jn 19:11).
In seminary, we attend Mass every day. We each have a mentor and a spiritual director with whom we meet regularly to discuss academic and spiritual issues.
Our conversations with our spiritual directors are totally private, like confession. Conversations with our mentors, however, are open and include a variety of topics. The topic of worldly power vs. Christian leadership has come up numerous times this semester in conversations, textbooks, class projects, reflections and homilies.
The Church does not have a whole lot of worldly power. Church leaders can no longer simply appeal to their own authority. They must lead as Christ did, without worldly authority.
I learned about this kind of leadership when I was a teacher. If a parent or student questioned something, I could never get away with saying, "I'm the teacher and I said so!" I had to be prepared to explain and justify every assignment, grade, test question, lesson or comment on a report card.
Absent a valid explanation, I had to change things. This was annoying at times, but good because it required justice and accountability.
The best lesson I got in leading without power came more than a decade ago, when I worked in the deli at a grocery store. One of our daily tasks was to clean the deep fryer. The worker responsible was exhausted and just wanted to go home, so she quickly wiped it down and asked, "Is this good enough?"
Knowing that it was not, her coworker, who had no authority, did not scold her or threaten to go to the manager. Instead, he put on a pair of gloves and helped her. The job was done in record time, and she was grateful that someone saw how tired she was and assisted her.
At Easter, we have several examples of Christian leadership without worldly authority. Veronica comes to mind, taking the lead and doing a small kindness for Jesus: wiping His face.
Simon of Cyrene is one of my favorite leaders: a foreigner who takes up Jesus' cross and walks with Him on the Via Dolorosa. Aren't we all called to take up the cross and walk with Christ?
Neither the deli coworker nor Veronica or Simon had power or authority, but they were leaders.
A Christian leader, like Christ Himself, enters into the brokenness and suffering of the other. Jesus entered our world, our sin and our brokenness, and the world killed Him -- and, by His resurrection, He conquered the world.
A Christian leader is called to pick up the cross and to follow Christ, even to Golgotha, the hill where He was crucified. A Christian leader can't lecture others and remain on his high horse. He must put aside his pride and authority, and enter into the world of others to walk with them.
It is not about power, but loving service to God.
Finally, the best example of power that I have ever come across is St. Blandina -- one of my favorite saints. According to what I have read, St. Blandina was a slave girl in the second-century Roman Empire in what is, today, France. A persecution of Christians broke out and she was one who was arrested.
Considered "frail," some feared that she would not be able to bear the tortures that would inevitably be applied to get her to renounce her faith. Unimaginable tortures were inflicted on her. She even watched as they killed her younger brother -- and she remained faithful to God.
Eventually, her torturers gave up, having done all they could. She was brutally killed, her body burned and her ashes swept away.
They had tortured her mercilessly, but could not get her to renounce her faith. With all of their worldly power, they could not break this girl. In the end, this frail teenage slave girl's love and devotion to God proved more powerful than the mightiest leaders and weapons of the Roman Empire.
Her story, like the Passion, turns worldly power on its head and obliterates it, replacing it with something stronger and more powerful: Christ's love.
(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)
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