by Rick Sarkisian
Catholic scouting has been a part of my life for many years, and it’s proved to be a wonderful place for my four sons to learn plenty of outdoor skills. Of course, no Boy Scout worth his salt would be without a survival kit, the contents of which always include a mirror that can be used to reflect the sun’s light and attract the attention of others.
As committed Catholics, we are also called to reflect light—the light of Christ—and attract the attention of others. It’s our mission in Christ, who bids us, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19). As part of our "job description," we strive to share our gifts and talents with others: This is the nature of our specific mission or life-purpose. In this context, we are leaders—not necessarily in the sense of a position, but rather as a result of God sending us into home, church, and world to influence and lead others to Christ—by reflecting His image in a dark world.
The Path of Light
Like Mary, often pictured atop the moon—symbolizing her reflection of the Son’s light—we have the capacity to do so. Of course, sin leads us to darkness and the absence of light. So the more we walk in divine grace, the more we walk in the light.
The more we walk in the light, the more our path to heaven is illuminated.
The more our path is illuminated, the more we bring light to a dark world.
The more light we bring, the more others will embrace the grace and truth of Christ and His Church—the Catholic Church.
By Baptism and Confirmation, we are called by God and sent into the world to witness to Christ, to lead others to Him. So how do we do this? How can we function as effective leaders in the army of Christ?
Pope John Paul II writes that not everyone can see the light of Christ, yet ours is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming His "reflection." Christ refers to Himself as "the light of the world" (Jn. 8:12) and calls His disciples to be "the light of the world" as well (see Mt. 5:14). He continues: "This is a daunting task if we consider our human weakness, which so often renders us opaque and full of shadows. But it is a task which we can accomplish if we turn to the light of Christ and open ourselves to the grace which makes us a new creation" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 54).
No one is a "born leader." Christian leadership is an effect of divine grace, as well as our cooperation with Christ. This is distinctly different from (and deeper than) a secular view of leadership. It is rooted in our call to holiness.
True leaders recognize that they have the opportunity of a lifetime to make a difference in those around them: not only recognizing others’ talents, but helping them see how to use their gifts in their home and family, parish, and community. Everyone we know, every person we meet, every soul we pray for can be real-world opportunities in our midst. As their personal vocation and mission in Christ unfolds, we must help acknowledge, affirm, and advance their God-given capabilities for His greater glory.
True leaders affect others by believing in them and radiating Christian hope and optimism. How do we accomplish this? By example, expressed in our prayers, actions, and words. Leadership is optimistic and hopefilled specifically because it is Christ-centered.
True leaders see life as an adventure—one that is chock-full of surprises and custom-designed by God. Have you ever gotten to the point where you thought you had it "all figured out". . . and then things turned out differently? Sometimes even better then you had planned? I remember Fr. Benedict Groeschel once saying that if you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your plans!
More often than not, the hand of God is seen in amazing ways. When we connect the dots in life’s events, one to another, we often are blessed to see the gentle nudges and presence of God’s action—in the times we trusted in Christ, as well as in the times when we failed to follow Him. He is there, and He calls us to collaborate with Him so that we remain on the path of light. St. Teresa of Avila said it best: "Let nothing trouble you; God alone will suffice."
Differences and Distractions
True leaders are willing to mingle with those who are different or those who think differently. While we need the spiritual strength drawn from like-minded believers, we also need to be open to leading whomever we meet to Jesus. Just look at how He associated with all kinds of folks—whether they were prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, blind, or demon-possessed. If those considered "different" in society were good enough for Jesus, they are good enough for us. In the Great Commission, the operative word is "go." Jesus didn’t say, "Sit around and be comfortable." He wants us to go and make spiritual connections with the outside world.
In my private vocational rehabilitation practice, I have encountered a wide range of disabilities over the years, ranging from serious burns to amputations to organic brain damage to spinal-cord injuries.
While you might say I am in a leadership role with those I am helping, I am often being led by them. How? By their inspirational—sometimes heroic—adaptations to traumatic injury, and by an abiding gratitude that they were not killed or injured worse.
I am convinced that good leadership has a built-in openness to learning from those we are trying to lead. Not only are we sent to reflect the light of Christ, but also to see His reflection in those we meet on our life’s journey.
As we live each day as leaders in the world, we will be faced with distractions that can impact our effectiveness. We are lured by the glossy appearance of possessions, pleasures, and positions. We are trapped in habitual sin. We give in easily to temptation, even though we think we can safely "flirt" with it. We engage in gossip, sarcasm, jealousy, and judgment. We give into depression, despair, and discouragement.
In short, the enemy (Satan) repeatedly attacks us in our role as Catholic leaders in God’s family of believers. But thanks be to the Father, we have supernatural grace to defend and protect us, especially in the Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. We have the formidable power of intercession through Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael the Archangel, not to mention all the other saints sitting on the bench awaiting our call for backup. And our weapon in the spiritual combat: the Rosary.
The most pressing thing to do is to claim your authentic role as a Catholic leader—and to do this in your daily, ordinary life and circumstances. You don’t have to be an author or a speaker or hold an important position. The only requirement is that you are a committed Catholic, and knowing that, as such, you are called to be a Christ-like leader in the world.
In short, we primarily lead by example, and then help others to see their place as leaders in the Church. A frequent smile, a cheerful disposition, a humble attitude and acts of kindness: All contribute to who we become as followers of Christ and true Catholic leaders. And all contribute to how receptive others will be to Christ and His Church.
During six years of military service in the California Air National Guard, I learned that there were many different functions and varied levels of responsibility in our fighter interceptor unit, all contributing towards a common goal. I had a specific assignment in the aircraft maintenance squadron, different from those in base supply or munitions. But we all had a common goal: to protect and defend the Western United States from coastal intrusion.
So it is with the Church. We are united in our mission to bring Christ to others, and there is no better way to live our personal mission than to reflect the light of Christ in our lives—through the truth proclaimed in Scripture and Tradition, and through the abundant graces that flow from regular sacramental life in the Church.
This is our mission. Simply put, to be a Catholic is to be a leader; one who influences and leads others to Christ and helps them to become leaders, too.
E-mail this article to a friend
Rick Sarkisian is founder and president of Valley Rehabilitation Services, Inc., which has specialized in vocational and career guidance since 1976. He is author of a number of books, including LifeWork: Finding Your Purpose in Life
, and Not Your Average Joe
. This column is the basis for a future series of vocation- and lifepurpose- themed booklets from LifeWork Press
. This article published in Lay Witness Magazine and reproduced with permission of Catholics United for the Faith
. All rights reserved.