A Plea for Courageous Leaders in the Church Today

Deborah Stollery

As I sat down to write this, I just saw the notice from Liturgical Press that they are no longer publishing or distributing books featuring the life of Jean Vanier.  I’m not going to re-hash this story.  You can find out more about it on the internet.  What I want to say is that this is the latest in a long line of episodes that indicate a dire need for courageous leaders.  Plenty has gone awry with ecclesial leadership and those devastated by the choices are literally legion.  They range from the victims of criminal abuse and cover-up to the many who were dealt faith-deadening blows by clergy and lay leaders.  My own son refuses to consider the graces and goodness of life in Christ within the Church because ecclesial leaders, all of them clergy in his case, did not have the courage to be Jesus-like, choosing instead to act out of the broken system of clericalism.   He heard, “How about you back up, come in again, and start this confession the right way, young man!”  His 7th grade imposed and unprepared for confession during religious education.  “They certainly don’t seem like they are sorry at all.  What happened to repentance for the forgiveness of sins?  They want me to beat my breast while they cover-up, settle and demand non-disclosure agreements?”  His late teen into his twenties observations after the revelation of round two (and more and more) of the sexual abuse crime and cover-up.  “Photographers.  This is my first and last warning to you.  I do not wish you to interrupt the sacrament.  Have I made myself clear?”  This from a young priest, from the altar at the beginning of a family wedding in February, 2019 where more than 2/3 of those in attendance were once Catholic, my son included.  He’s now 39.  This has been going on a LONG time for him and countless others.

What is the courage I am pleading for?

  • The courage to live by the Gospel, and to question the Church’s systems and structures that do not lead to Gospel outcomes.
  • The courage to preach the Gospel with love, even when it’s going to be difficult, maybe divisive, maybe even damning.  Jesus said he came to light a fire on the earth, to divide us one from another, to proclaim something completely different than what has been created.  AND he said that we would find our way to that truth by coming with Him, walking His way, along which He would teach us, discipline us, demonstrate to us and stand with us as we learn to accept.
  • The courage to accompany sinners…to dine with us…to call us close, to accompany us in our struggle to see and hear, to be agents of healing and hope.  The courage to gather as Jesus did.

What is the courage I am pleading for?

  • The courage to jettison “the way we’ve always done things” when there is ample evidence those ways are not working.
  • The courage to choose evangelization BEFORE catechesis, BEFORE sacraments, BEFORE orthodoxy because all of these, devoid of a love affair with Jesus Christ do not have their power unleashed.
  • The courage to invite Jesus back into the room where decisions are being made, where people’s souls are in need of healing, where the desperate land in search of compassion.  Generous prayer and rituals and discernment as the way decisions are made…that kind of courage.
  • The courage to trust the Holy Spirit, to let go of the grip on power, pride and possessions in favor of the new life the Spirit promises to give.  It’s called Trust-courage.
  • The courage to go, even when the final destination cannot yet be seen, for the Lord has called and is leading. “”Follow me.”  it’s that simple and that risky.
  • The courage to embrace Jesus’ command for justice and so to create faith communities whose focus is on the last, the lost and the least, where charity and justice work together.
  • The courage to afflict the comfortable, to challenge the status quo, and to speak Truth to power whether that power is ecclesial, political or global.
  • The courage to demand and then work for just pay and benefits for Church employees, to stand for the care for our common home within the parish’s practices of consumption, hospitality, and community, to be shining examples of collaborative and creative workplaces.  How is it that the Church is so much like other organizations rather than holy, set apart, different than them?
  • The courage to stand overtly against racism and to be a place where zero tolerance is the policy when it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia…anything that diminishes the imago Dei in which we are ALL made.  ANYTHING.

What kind of courage am I pleading for?

  • The kind of courage that is fired by Jesus’ way, that is grounded in Jesus’ Lordship, that is committed to leading others into His life and walking together in solidarity with all of humankind, loving them as God does.
  • The kind of courage that takes Jesus seriously, creating a people who are not the same as the rest of the culture, who stand as shining lights of self-sacrificing love in a world of ever-apparent darkness.
  • The kind of courage that weeps over our cities, and then walks through them preaching Good News.
  • The kind of courage that turns over the tables in our temples, challenging the accretions that obscure the mission…the kind of courage Jesus had…and the kind of courage that has been given to us as a gift of the Spirit to be developed and exercised.  That kind of courage.

The world is darkening.  The poor are getting poorer.  Faith is fading in influence.  Churches of many denominations are wobbling, struggling to find footing in the wake of sin and crime.

It will take courageous leaders, Jesus-like leaders, to weep over our churches and cities and then to walk through them, shining light, caring for the poor, revealing the power of faith to influence hearts, minds and policies, and working together to repent, and to rise from the ashes.  Now is the acceptable time for leaders to bolster their courage.

ConSpirita Consulting Network is here to help:  thinking, planning, coaching, mentoring, offering new knowledge streams and encouragement.  We are committed to helping ecclesial leaders.  And the first hour is always a gift from us to you.

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