The Challenges of Leadership

In our last blog, we talked about the challenges of faith for men.  Jesus was a man’s man.  He was not soft.  He did not strive for popularity.  He spoke the truth with love, but He spoke the truth with clarity and directness, too, for which He paid the ultimate price. 

So the question is, how do we model the manliness of Jesus in our homes, in our churches, in our communities?

There are lots of ways to respond to the call of Jesus for men.  I want to focus on three specific issues for Christian men: (1) sacrifice; (2) contemplation; and (3) courageous leadership.

At the top of the list of faith challenges for men is the principle most powerfully expressed in Ephesians 5:25:

 

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her…”

 

The role of a Christian man, married or not, is to embody in his life the words of Christ the night before He died: “This is my body, which shall be given up for you.”  So the guiding principle in the life of men is to be willing at all times to sacrifice themselves for some greater good, the well-being and safety of whoever is entrusted to them.

This principle is reinforced in John 12:24:

 

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

 

Without delving too much into biology, it is obvious that males are the seed-carriers.  The seed represents the commitment of the men to give themselves up for others, to live with a spirit of self-sacrifice.  When men live this way, fruit is produced.  As has been said, “The blood of the early martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

While men may not have to give up their very lives for their wives, children or others, they are still called to put the genuine, authentic needs of others before their own needs and desires.

As we mentioned in the first blog, Pope Francis has called on men to be “contemplative.”  That does not mean that he wants us to find a cave and live an isolated, quiet life.  It means that he wants us to be constantly attentive and responsive to God’s communication, to God’s direction for the man and those entrusted to him.

We will talk about this in a later blog, but I did not know for many, many years that God’s communication to each human being is constant.  Now I know this.  God is a micro-manager.  This reality generates two questions: 1) Are we listening and attentive to God’s communication to us? 2) Are we willing to be fully open and obedient to whatever God asks of us?

As Pope Francis indicated, Joseph, the husband of Mary, is a great model for the principle of contemplation.  He listened to God’s messengers and fully responded to their instructions.

The call to be contemplative can at times seem to be at odds with the call to be sacrificial.  For example, the husband of a family typically attempts to promote the harmony and security of the family.  We are providers.  We are protectors.  We want the family to be safe, secure and healthy.  We make sacrifices so that our wives can maximize their own gifts and contributions to the family.

However, I believe it is also part of the unique role of the husband to make sure that the family doesn’t get too cozy, too comfortable with the creature comforts that are made available to them.  He must be attentive to how God wants the family to grow in its faith, to realize that our only real security is with him and not in the comfort zone of our home, to learn that the life of faith is adventurous and sometimes scary and that we need to learn to trust in God’s grace.  I will develop this more in a podcast to be entitled “When Normal Isn’t Good Enough.”

This leads to quality #3, courageous leadership.  Being a father is not a popularity contest.  The process of decision-making is not democratic.  A husband and father obviously discerns God’s will very prayerfully and discusses the direction of the family in partnership with his wife.  He also takes the input and needs of his children into consideration.  However, I believe a father is also wired to make the tough decisions that may not always be supported by the wife and children.  This does not mean that the husband can make decisions arbitrarily.  On the contrary, it places a great premium on the ability of the husband to discern God’s will and submit to it, resisting the temptation to use his authority for his own self-centered purposes.

God is not always going to ask a family or community to do something dramatic or out-of-the-ordinary.  But what if He does?  Are we ready to obey?  Or are we likely to impose our own limitations what God can ask us to do?

As I have emphasized previously, women also have the qualities that I have discussed in this blog, especially the spirit of self-sacrifice, although that spirit is demonstrated differently by women.  Thankfully, many women have been providing the spiritual leadership in the home.  I am calling for men to step up in these areas, as I believe many of us have backed away from the more demanding challenges of our vocation as fathers.

Faith As an Adventure: Meeting the Tiger

Why do we need men, especially fathers?  What can men contribute to the family, to our Church, to our communities, that is important and unique?

I want to begin my response to these questions by focusing on the challenging, adventurous aspect of faith.  For several decades now, men have been encouraged to develop their softer side, to “get in touch with their emotions,” to be more collaborative rather than competitive, and so on.  There is merit to all that.  However, what might have happened at the same time in this process is that our concept of faith has also gotten softer.  We tend to think of God and of Jesus in softer, less-demanding terms.  The image of Jesus as accepting everyone’s behavior, of being inclusive and tolerant without almost any conditions, has become quite popular.

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A Father's Heart: A Message for Fathers from Pope Francis

Pope Francis became pope just before the Feast of St. Joseph in March of 2013.  As one of his first acts as pope, he gave a beautiful reflection on the vocation of fathers, using St. Joseph as a model for all fathers.

Here are some excerpts from the Pope’s reflection:

“How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God's presence and receptive to God's plans, and not simply to his own… God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit.

Joseph is a "protector" because he is able to hear God's voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God's call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”

 The Pope’s commission for fathers can be summarized as follows:

  • Protector of family and Church
  • Constantly attentive to God
    • Hearing His voice
    • Guided by His will
  • Faithfulness to God’s word, to God’s plan
  •  Sensitive to persons entrusted to him
  • Realistic
  • Wise

The role of protecting the family and the Church involves more than providing physical and financial security.  With respect to the family, the father’s role is to ensure that the family is growing spiritually and to fight threats to the family’s spiritual and moral well-being.  This means, among other things, leading the family in prayer and study of the Bible and Catholic teachings.  It means limiting tv, internet, video games and smart phone usage to modest levels with no inappropriate content.  It means making Sunday a day of prayer and time with the family.

Pope Francis calls on fathers to be contemplative, not in the sense of going off to a cave or a monastery but in the sense of listening to God’s voice and responding to God’s instructions.  The Pope asks fathers to be “attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to [their] own,” “to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will…”

For so many of us, we think of prayer as talking to God.  However, the most important part of prayer is listening to God, discerning his voice and his will.  We will develop more on this in future blogs, but for now it is important to emphasize that the Pope is telling everyone, and in this case fathers, that God is always communicating to us.  Are we listening?

St. Joseph provides a great example.  At critical moments in his relationship with Mary and Jesus, Joseph listened to the voice of God and was obedient to God’s message, no matter how difficult it was to accept and respond to God’s instruction.  Accordingly, in Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph obeyed the angel of the Lord who told him to wed Mary and that Mary would give birth to the Savior.

In Matthew 2:13-15, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt to protect them from Herod.  Joseph promptly obeyed.  And, in Matthew 2:19-23, Joseph responded to another message of the angel of the Lord and brought Mary and Joseph back to Israel, choosing a location in Galilee rather than Judea so that his family would be safe.

Here’s a very big question.  Do the people entrusted to us, if married, our wives and children, if single, our co-workers and friends, if a priest, our parishioners, know that we as fathers are trying our best to discern God’s will and to be obedient to God’s direction for us and our loved ones?  Or would they think that we are basically just doing what we want to do, based upon our own thinking, our own likes and dislikes?

We’re all familiar with the passage in Ephesians 5 about wives being submissive to their husbands.  Well, when it comes down to discerning God’s will, the husband must do this with his wife.  It’s not that the husband alone hears God’s voice.  This has to be worked out in prayer with our spouses.

But what I want to emphasize here is a similar passage from 1st Corinthians.   In 1 Corinthians 6:3, St. Paul writes: “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ.”

So I ask again, is Jesus our head, our Lord and Master?  Are we guided by and submissive to him in all that we do?  And do those who are entrusted to us know this?

A non-Catholic single mom who worked in a parish I once belonged to had a teen-age daughter, about 15 years old.  One day the girl told her mother she wanted to become Catholic.  The mother, taken by surprise, said to her daughter, “I don’t understand.  Do you want to become Catholic just because I work at a Catholic church.”  The young girl replied, “No, Mom.  Any church that can get a man on his knees is for me.”

Think about that.  The image of an adult man kneeling in church set a powerful example for this young girl.  Kneeling sends a message that we believe that God is far more powerful than we are and that we acknowledge and submit to God’s power in our lives.

There’s so much more that can be said about all this.  For now, we’ll close with a quote from Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  This raises the question: as fathers, what is our vision for those entrusted to us?  And, just as importantly, where does this vision come from, from us or from God?

Please reflect on the beautiful reflection of Pope Francis which I used to open this blog.  Reflect on the example of St. Joseph.  Then reflect on the questions I have asked in the narrative portion of this blog.  These are the issues which will get us started on this blog, the podcast and the entire mission of twoedgealk.com.

May you have a blessed Fathers’ Day, and my we all rise to the challenges of  being Christian fathers at a time when the vocation of fatherhood requires so much courage.