Leadership: The Responsibility of Everyone
Sunday, October 1, 2023
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for Sunday, 26th Week of Ordinary Time: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings
Lectionary no. 136 (Ez 18: 25-28; Ps 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Phil 2: 1-11; Mt 21: 28-32)
Questions to Ask Yourself
What does it mean to “know, love and serve God”? If we go to Mass on Sunday and try to keep out of sin, are we good Christians? What more does it take?
Jesus said, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” He also said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” And St. Paul said, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (Luke 17:10; John 15:15; 1Corinthians 4: 1-2). Do you think of yourself as Christ’s servant, his friend, or his steward? What does it mean to “be found trustworthy”?
Ideas to Consider
In the Entrance Antiphon we acknowledge that God has “just cause” to judge us, because we have not been faithful in living up to the trust he has placed in us. But we appeal to God’s “greatness of heart” and “unbounded kindness.” In the Opening Prayer(s) we say the “beauty” of God’s power is revealed in his “unbounded mercy” and forgiveness. And so we ask him to keep giving us his gifts of love, life and joy, whether or not we have used them well. And we ask that the “power of his love” will be in us to bring, not only his pardon but his kingdom to all we meet and deal with. We count on God, not just to forgive us, but to empower us — as stewards of God's mysteries — to free others from all that keeps them from the fullness of life. The Responsorial Psalm is appropriately, “Remember your mercies, O Lord” (Psalm 125). The Readings go into more detail about how he does.
Guilt and Consequences:
In Ezekiel 18: 25-28 God assures us that he will not hold children responsible for the sins of their parents or vice-versa: “The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child” (18:20). But in an echo of last Sunday (Isaiah 55:6-9: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways”), we still say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” And God asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, is it not that your ways are not fair?”
We are only guilty of our own sins. But God did say when he showed himself to Moses, that although he is “a God merciful and gracious… keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,” nevertheless he “visits the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7). How do we explain this? Does God do this, or do we?
Sin involves more than guilt. Every sin has a destructive effect on the human environment. Individuals’ sins put the infection of false attitudes, bad values and wrong priorities into a culture. And everyone who lives in that culture is conditioned by it. God does not hold children guilty for the sins of their parents; but neither does he make them immune to their influence. Every free choice we make, for good or evil, starts a chain reaction that affects other people “to the third and the fourth generation.”
That is why it is never enough for us just to refrain from sin — or even to help others stop sinning. We also need to repair the damage done to society and social structures; to reform destructive patterns of behavior and whatever pushes people to follow them. As stewards of Christ’s kingship, we need to establish the life-giving reign of God over every area and activity of human life on earth.
This is the way God “remembers his mercies.” He doesn’t just forgive, he forestalls. He works through us, Christ’s living body on earth, to “make the crooked ways straight, and the rough ways smooth” (see
Luke 3:5). He works with us, in us and through us to transform social structures, to reverse trends, to restore order and justice on earth. To cooperate with him in this is to live up to our Baptismal consecrations as stewards of Christ the King.
To Hear Is To Do
In Matthew 21: 28-32 Jesus tells us what it really means to hear God’s word. To “hear” is to obey. And to obey is to do.
“Obey” comes from the Latin word oboedire (ob/audire), which means “to listen to.” The proof that we have really listened to Jesus is that we actually do what he says. If not, we are like those who have ears but do not hear, who “listen, but never understand” (Matthew 13: 9-17).
On the day of our Baptism we heard the words, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so live always as a member of his body.” As these words were spoken, we ourselves were solemnly anointed with chrism to be what Jesus is and fulfill his triple function as prophets, priests and stewards of his kingship. Have we been “found trustworthy” in doing what we were consecrated and empowered to do?
If not, we call out, “Remember your mercies, O Lord,” and we repeat the Opening Prayer(s): “Continue to fill us with your gifts of love” and “May the power of this love be in our hearts to bring your pardon and your kingdom to all we meet.” This is responsible stewardship.
In Philippians 2: 1-11 Jesus tells us how to be leaders. A leader is someone who takes responsibility for doing what needs to be done, changing what needs to be changed, in order to establish the reign of God on earth. Leadership and stewardship are the same thing. What they have in common is responsibility, which is what makes us “trustworthy.”
Those in authority are responsible for making decisions that determine the course of a whole community. The only reason they have authority over the community is because they are responsible for making those decisions. Every right is given in virtue of an obligation. Authorities have the right to command because they have the obligation to guide the community. They must “respond,” answer to God and to others, for what the community does.
But leadership is the responsibility of everyone. We are all responsible for making decisions ourselves, and suggesting decisions to others for the good of the community. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1Corinthians 12:7). If the Spirit gives us an inspiration (which we may perceive just as common sense), we are responsible for using that gift to help others. If we do not, we are not “trustworthy stewards.”
Every obligation entails rights. So all of us, because we have the obligation to exercise leadership, have the right to do so. It is our right to speak up, to make suggestions, to take personal initiatives and encourage others to take them with us. Authorities have the right, it is true, to intervene if we are leading people in the wrong direction. Leaders move the community forward, but authorities keep it together.
Bishops and pastors always have the right, because they have the obligation, to correct what is doctrinally false. And they can forbid what is contrary to Church law and the current direction of the community. But this is not an absolute right. The hierarchy teaches that the hierarchy itself has no authority over the action lay Catholics take, so long as it is not done publicly and officially in the name of the Church. Because the bishops do not have to “answer” for this, they are not “responsible” for what lay leaders do simply as Christians or Catholics, in their own name and in the name of Jesus.
But they do have the obligation to speak out against anything they think is a
all are obliged to listen and weigh their words respectfully. A nd here is the problem. What if leaders and authorities disagree about an issue over which the pastor or bishop has no official authority? Can the hierarchy squelch prophetic witness?
The answer is in Philippians 2: 1-11: “In the name of… encouragement… fellowship in the spirit… unanimity… never act out of rivalry or conceit; rather, let all parties think humbly of others as superior to themselves…. Your attitude must be Christ’s…. He emptied himself and took the form of a slave….” Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant” and “the leader like one who serves” (Matthew 23:11; Luke 22:26). Only the spirit and Spirit of Jesus can keep us united. We pray for this at every Mass. “Remember your mercies, O Lord.”
What encourages me now to exercise leadership? What attitudes must I adopt?
Speak up about one thing you believe should be done — in church or elsewhere.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry