"[M]en don't follow titles, they follow courage... And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I." William Wallace to Robert the Bruce in Braveheart.
What makes a great leader? Is it...
Why does it seem like there are some people in positions of authority who are glaringly lacking in leadership qualities?
Why does it seem that some people with amazing leadership qualities are overlooked or even dismissed because they're too far "outside the box" for comfort?
And who is the ultimate example of authentic leadership?
Mr. Kelly wants to know... where are the authentic leaders? He proposes that, in "the good ol' days", people followed leaders in positions of leadership simply because they held a position of authority. I disagree, I think they just didn't have as much information bombarding them all the time, so their choices were limited. Human nature hasn't changed, only the number of choices we have. With the advent of the internet, we can question literally everything on the planet... including whether or not our leaders are telling us the truth, whether or not they are keeping their promises, whether or not they smoked pot in college, solicited prostitutes, or evaded taxes. With leaders like these, who can we look up to? Who will "rise above" and be an intelligent, moral, trustworthy, bold, and courageous leader?
And most of all... who can we as Catholics in America look to within our own borders for strong, authentic leadership?
Billy Graham is probably one of the most famous and well-respected evangelists among protestants who has ever lived. He is among the ranks of Johnathan Edwards, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday -- all of whom have their place in history for quite literally changing the world they lived in. Does he have an equal among Catholics in this day and age?
Having subscribed to the Saint of the Day, I have read 100s of stories of the saints. Yet again, human nature has not changed. So many times God had to work through these courageous men and women AGAINST the very people who should have been their greatest allies... church people. I have heard it said many times that most churches die because of an attitude of "us four and no more"... a clique, if you will. Well-meaning people, but bent on control. When that happens, a church will only survive... not thrive. Could it be that God brought authentic leaders to your church, but rather than empower them to fulfill the mission God sent them for, these bold, courageous people were instead suppressed, passed over for someone more "sedate" (read: controllable), ignored, persecuted, or even driven away?
I propose that we in the church grow stagnant and stinky like a putrid pool of swamp water for lack of authentic leadership.
Stagnant pools of water are very uninviting places. The water has become corrupt. The odor has become rancid. These pools get this way because there is no outlet for the water that has accumulated and no fresh water coming in. So too goes the church: An assistant pastor, who was supposed to have been a loyal and trustworthy friend, embezzled millions. A trusted and loved priest abused teenage boys. An entire parish presented a letter to the Archbishop stating they do not agree with the "ban on contraception". Where does it end? Who will stand up and say "Enough!!"
Without authentic leadership to "move the waters", to "stir things up a bit", to challenge, to invigorate, to clear up the muddled mess and bring clarity and a sense of direction... the Church will rot from the inside out.
Authentic leaders can be scary to "ordinary people". They take big risks, they are enthusiastic and bold, they work harder and longer than anyone else, they fail often and succeed even more often. They are not without fear when facing threats and trials, but they have the moxie to "do it afraid". They challenge all of us to get off our Blessed Assurance stuck in the pew and MOVE... sometimes far outside our comfort zones... outside of a building to become a living, vibrant witness in our families, in our community, and in the world... and authentic leaders know that leading by example is the only way... never asking more of those following them than they do of themselves.
So where does this leave us?
Every last one of us has the ability to lead... because we all have the ability to serve. Jesus set the example of leadership by not only serving others, but by ultimately giving His life to serve all mankind to wipe away the stain of original sin. However, our Lord was no coward when it came to confronting the "religious establishment" in their putrid state of corruption and control. He made no bones about need for repentance, but He also spoke the truth in love, so much so that people flocked to Him like moths to flame. He was bold enough to speak the truth, even when it alienated His followers.
Our Lord Jesus, the saints, and the men I mentioned above never sought the spotlight -- a position of prominence does not make a leader -- their goal was to lead people starving for truth to the only Truth there is... a relationship with God who desperately loves them. And to remain authentic leaders, to stay true to the course, and not be swayed by the temptation to quit, they consecrated their entire lives to prayer and the spiritual life.
To change our world, we must do no less.
With you along the journey,
St. Frances of Rome