. . . what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness . . . (2 Peter 3:11).
I have walked with Jesus for nearly 40 years. In those years I’ve learned a lot about leadership from my experiences as a naval officer, college teacher, and member of the Church.
One of the more important things I have learned is, everyone is a leader. No exceptions. Whether behind a lectern, or in front of a classroom, whether a janitor or bus driver, a parent or an office supply clerk – people watch us all the time, and therefore everyone leads someone in their sphere of influence. We influence them by our words and attitudes to do well – or to do poorly.
As moral change roils its way like a malignant cancer through our culture and even through the Church, what I long for perhaps more than anything else is godly leadership at every level and in every function within the Body of Christ.
And I’ve learned in those 40 years with Jesus what it takes to be great Christian leaders.
1. Be people of prayer. Our congregations desperately need Christian men and women to be intimately familiar with God. As Pope John Paul II said, “At no moment, and in no historical period, especially in an age so critical as ours, can the Church forget prayer. It is a cry to the mercy of God in the face of manifold forms of evil which weigh upon mankind, and threaten it.”
Within the framework of our prayer time with the Rosary, or the Divine Hours and other scripted prayers, I hope we will not neglect spontaneous prayers from our heart to God’s. I hope we will learn to talk with Him as our ‘Abba’- our daddy, that we will tell Him our thoughts, our disappointments, frustrations, joys, and sorrows. That we will tell Him our loneliness, our temptations, our failures.
“Virtues are formed by prayer,” wrote St. Ephraem. “Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.”
We may be tempted to rush through our prayers to get on with the important affairs of our day. But we need to fight that temptation and refocus our heart on communing with God. King Solomon wisely observed, “If the iron becomes dull, though at first he made easy progress, he must increase his efforts" (Ecclesiastes 10:10). In other words, if we don’t keep our axe sharpened, we will spend unnecessary time and energy with things that would have otherwise been quicker and easier – and more fruitful.
2. Be a people thoroughly acquainted with the Word of God. Oh! how we need to know not only what we believe, but why we believe it. Oh, that we would take advantage of the many opportunities within our parishes to study God’s word. That we would learn and then relearn about the Sacraments, the Saints, and Sacred Tradition. That we would have soft hearts and pay close attention when our pastors tell us about God’s love . . . but also why we must avoid the things God calls sin. That we would become to one another as St. Paul who exhorted his young protégé St. Timothy to: "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching."
Why did the he urge Timothy thus? He continued, "For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths" (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
We cannot become thoroughly familiar with God’s word unless we read it consistently, prayerfully, obediently. Two chapters in the morning and two in the evening – less than 15 minutes at each sitting – will get us through the New Testament three times every year and the Old Testament once in about 13 months. And in our reading, we ought not neglect memorizing God’s word. One verse a week will rack up 52 verses each year. That’s a lot of spiritual food for the Holy Spirit to use in our hearts to keep us walking toward that narrow gate. "Thy word have I hidden in my heart, wrote the Psalmist, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11).
3. Finally – at least for the purpose of this appeal that is already too long – be a people of true humility. "No man is an island, entire of itself, wrote 17th century poet and Anglican priest John Donne. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were . . . any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
If Donne’s words are true for humankind, how much more for the Church established by God? God has placed each of us, laity and ordained, janitors and bus drivers, teachers and kitchen help, parents and children – He has placed each of us within His body for the good of the body, and of the world.
Oh! May we have patience with one another and learn to listen to those who prove themselves wise in the things of Christ. As Solomon wrote: "The fear of the Lord is training for wisdom, and humility goes before honors" (Proverbs 15:33). And Blessed Giles of Assisi wrote: "No man can attain to the knowledge of God but by humility. The way to mount high is to descend."
We live in troubled times. If you and I are not good leaders who are part of the solution to those troubles, then we are poor leaders who are part of the problem.
What, then, will we be?