Harvesting from the fraternal wisdom of His Holiness Pope Francis.
In every age, we find certain motifs of human dispensation in leadership, standing out as though a heritage, passed on by the preceding generation to the succeeding one. The motifs of seeking self glory, rigidness to personal ideologies, high handedness, vanity and indifference towards unwilted concepts. At times, fatally obsessed with the latter, such ‘detached’ leaders; succumb to the ethical and spiritual paralyses which can follow the pursuit of these motifs. It is a chronic disease that has extensively punctured the immunity sphere of numerous Christian and Non-Christian leaders across the globe. Considering irrelevant; their feats or accomplishments in the ‘service of the Church’.
Pope Francis in his ‘Address to a meeting of the Congregation of Bishops’, introduced a savoury appetiser to the contemplative, which has the potential to call the bluff of their so called discernment of people/person by spiritual leaders. Characterising those who would be ideal for episcopal ministry, His Holiness said, “we need someone who knows how to raise himself to the height of God’s gaze above us in order to guide us to Him. We need those who, knowing the broad scope of God is more than his own narrow garden, can guarantee us that what they aspire to is our hearts, and not a vain promise.”
To rise above one’s selfish personal agenda and work towards the collective aspirations of those entrusted to one’s care, needs the willingness to submit to the goodness of humility. Just like how a variety of flowers bloom in a well nurtured garden, so should the wisdom, love and piety of a pastor or a lay leader bring forth the splendour of diverse fruits of the Holy Spirit in the service of the Church.
Ever since antiquity, God has always trumped man’s intellect and wisdom. Even a faithful servant of God, such as the prophet Samuel, could not at first instance, believe the choice God made in David, to be anointed as King. The faithful and fruit bearing servant of God, Samuel too, allowed the eyes of his flesh to influence his discernment of God’s will for Israel new King. And God spares no time in ‘raising Samuel’s gaze to His vantage, and then the prophet rightly understood that David, though is now still a shepherd boy, truly is the one to lead God’s first born – Israel (cf.1 Samuel 16:1-13).
In the case of the first Bishops, instituted by our Blessed Lord Jesus Himself, at one point, as His Apostles, some were debating (rather disappointingly; to say the least), about who should sit on either side of Him in heaven (cf. Mark 10:37). It is not an uncommon feature among followers or disciples or even workmen under a manager, to be carried away by a charismatic leader, so much so, that there begins an unhealthy attachment towards him. Such an attachment blinds one’s mind and heart to the actual mission of the leader as well as their own. In the case of our Lord Jesus, His Apostles became blind to an important fact of the Incarnated Word. That what He does is the will of the Father and not His own. And by humbling Himself, He desired humility, especially from those whom He personally called for a life such as His.
This blindness towards the scope of God’s will, power, providence, love and mercy, and every other attribute in His nature of Godliness, is a sure and wide path to lead God’s people into eternal darkness and loss of perfect union with God. Stewards of God’s mystical body on earth, both clergy and laity, should realise the reality of implicit accountability that comes with the responsibility & authority received by them from God, over His people and also their temporal resources. A fiery and persevering personal relationship with Christ, the epitome of leading people to God, with the knowing of God’s mind & heart for His children, assures the manifestation of the counsel needed from God, to be stewards of His dynamism in the flourishing of His immeasurable, life-filled garden on earth; the Church.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Celement, St. Leo the Great, St. John Chrysostom, and also the likes of St. Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul II, St. John XXIII and the litany of saints who discovered their Christian calling and consequently allowed themselves to become slaves of God’s will for the people vouchsafed to them, is never ending, and never ceases to inspire all generations. They all tread the path of higher knowledge and wisdom, love and compassion, reason and spirituality, only because they chose to deny the luxury and deceiving impregnability of their narrow garden.
Some flowers produce distinct, exotic and tantalising aromas, some provide healing elements, some; beauty to landscape and some substance to other creates. All these together make a flourishing garden, where birds find a haven to lift their voices to the heavens, beauty appealing with inspirations to the creativity of our human mind, and above all, giving us glimpses of the complexity and at the same time subtlety of God’s beautiful plan for His children. Just as the garden does not exclude thorns and bushes which may be less attractive than flowers, people whose hearts and minds are filled with deception are also part of this world which God created. Nonetheless, as an seasoned gardener would pick only that from the garden which adds to the greater purpose of beautification and fruitfulness of the environment, having pruned the thorns and weeds, so much so does God expects His forerunners, His leaders and His teachers to fix their eyes, mind and heart on His greater purpose and pick those who will become instruments of fulfilling the ongoing work of salvation.
Detachment is absolutely necessary for the people of God, in order to know God and also His purpose in their lives. Dwelling in his own comfort, especially when a Christian is called to lead a congregation, shutting his/her mind to the plan of God, which He chooses to work out through different peoples, is a massive blow to the prospering of The Kingdom on earth. Such a dwelling in comfort is, what St. John of the Cross describes as when the leader is tormented and afflicted as is a man lying naked on thorns and nails, if he chooses to recline on his appetites, rejecting zealousness towards God’s greater purpose.
If you are a leader in the vineyard of The Lord, then view the world and the Kingdom of God from the vantage point of God. Ask God to grant you the grace to be open to His zestfulness, and fulfil His scope of work in the economy of salvation, instead of being imprisoned in the decorative narrow garden of self-righteousness, false humility, relativity and modernism.
John Roger Anthony
Catholic Lay Missionary