Monday, November 29, 2010
My dear friends:
Leadership is a tricky business. We’ve all experienced someone put in charge who abuses power and takes advantage of his or her special position.
It takes an extraordinary person to lead people well.
‘You shall shepherd my people Israel.’ God’s words to David were a divine promise, but also a call to be a merciful, loving servant to the people of God.
As we have seen time and time again throughout history, absolute power corrupts absolutely. But God’s WILL can be accomplished even through weak, sinful human beings.
God did not give up on the House of David for God knew from the roots of Jesse’s tree his most perfect being would spring forth onto the human stage and change the world.
In Christ, we see both the Good Shepherd and the supreme leader of the universe. In Christ, we have an icon, an image of the invisible God, God’s own presence in human form. In Christ, we understand true kingship through his actions of love, healing and forgiveness and his humility.
As St. Paul put it so beautifully, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” This portion of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is considered “one of the most important theological statements about the person of Christ in the New Testament.”
But Christ knew what the apostles could not understand until they could see His ministry in hindsight.
In order to inherit His kingship, Christ knew He had to be killed on the cross and raised up to new life. Through His death and resurrection, Christ would open a new door to our eternal salvation.
If we believe in Christ, follow His example in life, and ask for forgiveness for our sins, through the mercy of Christ, we can walk through the door. As some have written, “The gates of paradise have been reopened by the obedience and faith,” of Christ our King.
Funny that the first to truly understand was a remorseful criminal hanging on the cross next to Christ. Through the taunts of his fellow criminal, the “good” criminal asks Jesus, by name… by name… “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In Luke’s Gospel, the “good” criminal recognizes his own need for conversion and puts all his trust in Jesus.
Don’t we all get that? I think that’s what brings us back here every week.
When we fully dedicate our lives to Christ amazing things can happen.
The most magnificent example in our lifetime is the ministry of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
As a teacher in India for 20 years, she could never shake the poverty she experienced everyday. Surely, something could be done for these poor souls? On a train to a spiritual retreat, Mother Teresa had an encounter with Christ that changed her life forever.
She started the Missionaries of Charity with the sole intent: to save soul’s through mercy and compassionate service. Be the very model of Christ in the slums of one of the poorest cities on the planet.
Her servant leadership was legendary and through the good works of her many followers, the Missionaries of Charity spread around the globe to help the poorest of the poor.
But, all the while, Mother Teresa quietly struggled with her faith. She felt abandoned by the very Christ who guided her decision to start the Missionaries of Charity. She took this abandonment as the Cross she was destined to bear and trudged forward with her work. In her words, “The darkness is so dark - - - and I am alone. The loneliness of the heart is unbearable. Where is my faith? If there be a God, please forgive me. Trust that all will end in Heaven with Jesus.”
Like the “good” criminal, Mother Teresa put all of her trust in Jesus Christ always. And miracles happened.
That’s leadership, my brothers and sisters. That’s what God intended to show us when he sent Jesus Christ into our earthly experience, to show us the way and lead us home by His example.
But leadership comes in all different forms.
I can think of no better example of leading others to Christ than the suffering of a hospice patient named Michael. Michael has a disease that robs the body of the ability to fully control movement or speech. It’s his cross to bear and he does so with dignity and grace and with great joy. It is his joy in the face of such a struggle that shows people the way to Christ.
Michael is Catholic and prays often by himself and with his family. His favorite thing to do with people he encounters is to share a joyous hug. His hugs leave a lasting impression on all who receive them. But they also enliven Michael because it’s his only way of communicating love now. I felt especially honored after visiting with Michael recently because I was graced with not one, but four hugs on that day. We shared Eucharist and prayer. Easy to see how Michael helps us all see Christ more clearly.
Michael is in the hospice because his earthly life is coming to an end, but Michael has put his trust in Jesus to lead him to new life. Where his spirit will be unrestricted by disease. Where he will dance again.
Yes, leadership is a tricky business. And guess what, my brothers and sisters? We are all called to lead others to Christ in our own special way. We are all leaders. We're not asked to be Mother Teresa or Michael. Just ourselves and lead by our own example. So one day we all can stand in the presence of the Lord in paradise and be embraced by Christ Our King himself and be told “Welcome Home.”