Christian Leadership Starts with Personal Example

Feb 5, 2017: 5th Sunday in O T

Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalms 112:4-9
First Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus Christ has called every single one of us to be a leader, in some way or another.

We are all called to have a positive influence on others, on those around us. Maybe some of us can have a wider influence, because a special God-given talent or an important position in society gives us a wider reach. But every one of us has some kind of reach: within our family, with our friends, classmates, and coworkers, within our community and country… We are not just isolated, single-cell organisms. No: we are all involved in a unique, complex network of relationships — every one of us. And Jesus is reminding us today, energetically, that we are called to be salt and light in every one of those relationships — to share with others the meaning, the hope, the forgiveness, the goodness we ourselves have received from the Lord. This is every Christian’s job, because the Sermon on the Mount — today’s Gospel passage is taken from the Sermon on the Mount — is meant for every Christian.

So how do we do it? How do we exercise this Christian leadership, this influence of salt and light? Jesus makes it clear that the first and foremost way of being the leaders we are called to be is through our personal example. “…Your light must shine before others,” he explains, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Jesus Christ is the first one to lead by example.

He humbled himself by becoming a man and dying on the cross for our sins, out of love, giving the perfect example of everything He preached.

And He continues to lead by example every single day, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The whole Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist We use the words “really, truly, and substantially” to describe Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist in order to distinguish Our Lord’s teaching from that of mere men who falsely teach that the Holy Eucharist is only a sign or figure of Christ, or that He is present only by His power.

This is the meaning of the sanctuary lamp, the red flame, that is always burning next to the tabernacle. During Mass, the thin pieces of communion bread become Sacred Hosts: they are transubstantiated; God, through the actions of the priest, transformed their substance from unleavened bread into the actual presence: body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. After Mass, we reserve some of those Sacred Hosts in the tabernacle, so that the Eucharist is always with us. Therefore, in the Eucharist, Jesus is showing us what true Christ-like love really is: total availability, total self-giving, untiring faithfulness.

This is what the first American-born, canonized saint, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose feast day we just celebrated on January 4th, discovered on her journey to the Catholic faith. She had been a devout and devoted member of the Anglican/Episcopal Church. Yet, even before she became a Catholic this example of Christ’s example of love lit a fire in her heart. When she first heard about the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, she wrote a letter to a friend about it, saying:

“How happy would we be, if we believed what these dear souls believe: that they possess God in the Sacrament, and that He remains in their churches and is carried to them when they are sick! O, my! . . .”

Just before her conversion, she described going to her own non-Catholic Church, and feeling drawn to the Eucharist in the Catholic Church across the street:

“I got in a side pew which turned my face towards the Catholic Church in the next street, and found myself twenty times speaking to the Blessed Sacrament there, instead of looking at the naked altar where I was.”

In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ leads first and foremost by example, and He wants us to do the same.

To have the kind of influence that we are called to have — steady, deep, and lasting — we have to engage in what philosophers call “self-reflection.”

In our noisy world, it is not easy to take time to reflect on our own behavior, on the quality of the example we are giving to others in our daily lives.

But without taking time to examine ourselves, we will never be able to improve ourselves; we will never be able to hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit guiding us to a higher level of spiritual maturity. Think of a football team. What would happen if they never evaluated their performance, never watched films from last week’s game, never took time to reflect on the challenges posed by next week’s game. That team would never reach its full potential.

In the spiritual life, one method of self-reflection that has long been recommended by the Church is the daily examination of conscience. This consists of taking five or ten minutes every day, preferably in the evening — maybe right before dinner or right before going to bed — to make a self-examination about how we lived the day. It’s like replaying the main events of the day in your mind, and analyzing them with the Holy Spirit at your side, like your coach. It’s a simple glance at one’s thoughts, actions, and words, to see how well they reflected God’s goodness. It can be helpful to make this examination in writing, thanking God for victories, and asking pardon for the failures.

During this Mass, as Christ renews His commitment to us, let’s renew our commitment to Him, asking Him to help us shine like lights in this dark world, and promising to do whatever we can to keep that light bright.

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