Equipping Men who are Unavoidably Leaders

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 Sacerdos, dux exercitus Domini.” [ “The Priest, leader in the army of the Lord”] (Saint Peter Damian)
“ For the life of a priest is precisely the lighthouse on which lay people, navigating in the midst of the ocean and  darkness of the world, keep their eyes fixed on  in order to escape destruction.” – St. Charles Borromeo
Level of Equipping Level of Effective Leadership

Priests are unavoidably leaders but leaders even if they are naturally highly gifted require preparation. Any army knows that.

It is certainly true that some people are born social  leaders with  a combination of acute intelligence, strength of will,  personal magnetism and physical endurance that carries them quickly to the heights. However such leadership still requires shaping. Others who are thrust into positions of leadership by society (as in the case of ordination, hereditary monarchy or a convergence of historical circumstances) can usually function as effective leaders only if they undergo an adequate preparation in leadership virtues.

Lead from the Front: Show the Way by Going First

Within the context of the precise goals, method and strategy of Ignatian formation, let us examine the dimension of leadership that, alongside the notion of eternity, is a factor that shapes Ignatians’ years of equipping.

What is leadership? A London consultant  had spent years researching the implications of  leadership when one day he stumbled across a definition in a 1912 Scottish dictionary that embedded itself in his mind like no other he had seen. It was succinct and every word had relevance: ‘To show the way by going first.’

 Let it never be said of you what a priest once remarked about his former seminary rector: “Yes, he was quite a good rector but  we got the impression he was encouraging us to go into battle while he himself stayed behind the lines.”

Neither in ideas nor in lifestyle can a priest stay behind the lines: the lay faithful  want to hear a clear bugle-call in the priest’s clear teaching of Catholic doctrine and clear-cut personal example in living it out. For “if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?”(1 Cor 14,8).

On the pathway to salvation, our Savior Jesus Christ showed the way by going first: he underwent his passion and death in order to glorify  human nature in his resurrection, becoming the New Adam, the first-born of a new race of men who by following him as their Lord and Savior  in the power of sanctifying grace, suffering and dying according to the Christlike pattern, would one day resurrect  to undying life.

The Lord, before he ascended into Heaven,  willed to prolong his presence and power  through the sacraments by means of an  unbroken chain of priests stretching from the apostles to his Second Coming.

Thus he would have his ambassadors among men with  delegated powers to teach (“Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort; be unfailing in patience and in teaching.” – 2 Timothy 4:2), to  sanctify (“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn.20:22-23) and therefore to lead  precisely in order to guard the treasures of truth and  the vessels of sanctification.

He was most explicit about their authority to lead: “He who hears you, hears me” (Lk.10:16)

The priest’s authority for leadership derives solely from Christ through his Mystical Body, the Church. He is a leader due to ordination and not due to sociological reasons or personal abilities.

Every time he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he stands at the head of the faithful – something which is quite clear when he celebrates Mass ad orientem; each time he raises his  hand to baptize a neophyte or to absolve sins he is leading souls forwards on the road to Heaven; every time he ascends into the pulpit, it is with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to teach and govern God’s People.

Therefore the priest is unavoidably a leader:  he cannot, he may not, and he must not renounce his role to govern without being unfaithful to his identity.  

Yet he must lead  like the Good Shepherd, who “goes before them, and the sheep follow him” (John 10:4) showing   the lay faithful the way by going first in both personal sanctification and apostolic drive.

From the priestly anointing, provided he remains in sanctifying grace, he has a special fullness of the gift of counsel of the Holy Spirit to assist him in leading.

Because priests must ‘show the way by going first’ since they have been solemnly invested  as “leaders and governors of the flock of Christ” (St. Ambrose).

“Others fix their gaze on them as on a mirror and derive from them what they are to imitate” (Council of Trent).

They are honor-bound to form a leadership personality with whatever qualities God has given them; called to defend the honor of God in the Church and in the public square; to stand with courage undaunted even if, like Frodo in Mordor, they stand almost alone.

No one is exempted by the excuse “I don’t have what it takes” since the time a certain priest who, in some ways, did not possess extraordinary intellectual or personality qualities, led a spiritual revolution in Ars that first rocked a nation and then the whole Catholic world.

Able to Be An Inspirer of Men because he is a High-Spirited Man

Once a man crosses the threshold of the seminary, he is an officer in training for the Ecclesia Militans – and he must shoulder the responsibility of being a man whose body and mind belongs to his bride the Church.

A Man therefore of unblemished high-mindedness and integrity; a high-spirited leader who because he admits to his soul only the true, the good and the pure  attracts souls who sense in him the loftiness of a man whose spirit dwells on the heights….and this inspires them to trust and follow him even when it implies sacrifice.

All great leaders of men who have been able to get the best out of others have had a flame burning within them: a high ideal which they propose to those around them.

Men as diverse as St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. John Bosco have had magnetism because of their idealism which has drawn others towards them.  Therefore set up a firewall against anyone who seeks to quench your fire for idealism with talk of “being practical”: the most “practical” leaders are priests who are highly effective and history has shown time and again that only and exclusively idealistic men of  intense prayer have been the front-line leaders of the Church’s renewal. Only they inspire others to sacrifice and  dedication.

Because he is an idealist “a leader is a dealer in hope” (Napoleon). Therefore, criticism that is nothing more than defeatism and gossip has no place in a priest’s thought or conversation; only critique aimed at solution and resolution.

The priest as leader must inspire men to want to know and love God by living genuine Christian lives in the heart of the Church. This requires a complex set of qualities in the priest.

Able to be High Spirited because he is  Inspirited, Grace-Filled

A Man of Grace from the moment he first hears the call to priesthood so that the word of God may be fulfilled in him at ordination: “Let your priests be clothed with justice and let your saints rejoice.” (Psalm 131,9) 

To be Inspirited requires that he Pray like a Leader

You are called to pray as a man with the weight of others on his shoulders, “the souls whom the Redeemer considered to be more precious than his own blood” (St. Bernard).