Homily: Be A Leader
Today we celebrate the Mass of our parish patron St. James the Greater. The actual feast is July 25th, Our readings today are taken from that feast. A handout being passed out today by members of our Faith Formation Ministry will give you a complete background on our beloved St. James.
Today, July 22nd, is actually the feast of St. Mary of Magdala, who is finally being acknowledged as the first to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection and as an outstanding proclaimer of the Good News in the early Christian community. Many nowadays throughout the world honor her feast in a special way. It has taken almost 2000 years for the name of Mary Magdalene to lose its mistaken reputation that she was a redeemed fallen woman and an unpredictable, overemotional bystander of the great events in our Christian history. She is hailed as the Woman Apostle.
She stands as a great model for women, especially in face of the fact that two-thirds of the hungry of the world are women,. Two-thirds of the illiterate of the world are women. Two-thirds of the poor of the world are women. That can’t be an accident; that has to be a policy.
But, back to our beloved St. James. Basically, James was one of those four disciples called by Christ first, summoned from their work as fishermen, actually leaving their nets and boats and father to follow Jesus. For the most part, all of the apostles were simple Galileans, fisherman and tax collectors and the like. That’s why it’s surprising in today’s Gospel to hear that James, his brother John and their mother had come to Jesus, asking for the highest places of honor and responsibility when He established his kingdom. Jesus brushes aside their request, and goes on instead to blast those who exercise authority and how they make their importance felt. And, Jesus says, “It shall not be that way with you.” Their evaluation of greatness was an assumption of where you sit; Jesus said it should come from whom you serve.
The authority of the Christian leader is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Jesus had said “I will make you fishers of men.” I guess some nets are harder to let go of than others. The nets of always being in control of the situation, those devious nets of desire for personal power and glory, of using and manipulating those we know to get what we want — these are the nets the disciples had failed to let go of.
We at St James parish stand in similar shoes today. For 143 years, great pastors and sisters and laity of our parish have been a stalwart influence on our parish and our community and the world into which they had gone. And they have called on us — on all of us — to exercise similar leadership today. Walter Lippmann the great journalist, once said: “The final test of a leader is someone who leaves behind themselves – in others – the conviction and the will to carry on.” But in these uncertain times, how do we know what it means to really be a leader and how do we know who should do it?
There is a story about two boats that meet head-on in a shipping channel at night.
As boats are used to doing in the dark, boat number one flashes boat number two: “We are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees north.”
Boat two signaled back: “Yes we are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees south.”
Boat one signaled again: “I am an admiral in her majesty’s navy; I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees north.”
Boat two flashed back immediately: “And I am a seaman 2nd class. And I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees south.”
By this time, the admiral was furious. He flashed back: “I repeat! I am an admiral in her majesty’s navy and I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees north. I am in a battleship!”
And the second boat returned a signal that said: “And I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees south. I am in a lighthouse.”
The bottom line: Rank and titles are not always the best standard for leadership; But good old common sense is.
In a world – in a parish — where maintaining the ideals of the past and struggling to surmount the challenges of the present seem sometimes to be at odds, those with a true gift of leadership can summon up the common sense solutions that succeed.
It requires the freedom to question and the freedom to rethink ourselves.
It requires the freedom to confront what does not work and to rebel against inflexible rigidities that stifle real solutions.
It requires us to rediscover the courageous initiatives that opened the frontier in one century and that reached the moon in the next.
It requires the vision that freed slaves and empowered women, that preserved the spiritual and honored the artistic and the beautiful as well.
What the world — and our parish – needs now are those who will commit themselves to discover that kind of overwhelming energy within themselves and lead others to do the same.
First, though, you must realize that God did not place you here in this place and in this time and in this parish, simply to get to heaven – as worthwhile a goal as that is — or to find solace for your struggles and your troubles. No, God has placed you here to be His Apostles, His leaders.
And the world situation and the parish situation that you have been given to lead is both glorious and grim. One right step and the whole world, our whole parish, can become new again. One wrong step and the globe itself and all of St James is in irreversible danger.
Indeed, we need a new direction; we need another point of view. We need a more complete human agenda. And it is yours now to lead.
We do not need your skills. We do not need answers either. Answers are easy to come by. You Google them.
No. What we and God really need from you now is the courage to ask the right questions, without apology, without fear, and without end. We need those who will lead from the vantage point of new questions, not old answers. From the point of view of enduring values, not denominational politics; from the perspective of global needs, not parochial interests.
Where are the leaders who will change things? The question is, how can we lead into the future so that the errors of this present generation do not simply become even more death dealing in the future than they are now?
Remember, there will be those among the powerful who try to make you say what you know is clearly not true because if everyone agrees to believe the untruth, the lie can go on forever.
The lie that there is nothing we can do about discrimination, nothing we can do about world poverty. Nothing we can do to end war, nothing we can do to provide education and health care, housing and food, maternity care and just wages for everyone in the world. Nothing we can do about women and children raped and abused, trafficked, silenced yet, still, now, everywhere, and those who have allowed it to go unpunished.
The purpose of life is not just to be happy. The purpose of life is to matter, to have it make a difference that you lived at all.
To save this age, this church, this nation, this parish, be a real leader, by all means, make a difference! That is what we need for St. James parish and what it stands for to live on.
Be a leader. Be a leader like James and John finally found out it meant to be. For if the people, the simple ones will lead, eventually even the leaders will follow. Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B.