Christ Like Lay Leaders
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
The most important and prominent expression or sign of the new evangelization, called for by Pope John Paul II way back in 1983, is a rich flowering of renewal movements and ecclesial communities, which the Pope has constantly looked upon as "a special Gift of the Spirit to our age and a reason for Hope for the Church and for mankind" (Address at Pentecost, 1996).
At the specific invitation of Pope John Paul II, the 'Renewal in the Spirit', i.e., the Italian Charismatic Renewal, took part in the celebration of the first Vespers of the Solemnity of Pentecost on 29th May last year in St Peter's Square Rome. In his homily, the Pope attested that, "Thanks to the Charismatic Movement, a multitude of Christians, men and women, young people and adults have rediscovered Pentecost as a living reality in their daily lives. I hope that the spirituality of Pentecost will spread in the Church as a renewed incentive to prayer, holiness, communion and proclamation! This evening's celebration reminds me of the memorable encounter with the ecclesial movements and new communities on the eve of Pentecost six years ago (on 30th May 1998). … I forcefully repeat what I remarked on that occasion: the ecclesial movements and new communities are a 'providential response', 'given by the Holy Spirit' to today's demand for the new evangelization, for which "there is so much need today for mature Christian personalities" as well as for "living Christian communities".
The Parish therefore needs the power and fellowship of these renewal movements, giving to the life of the Church energies of spiritual renewal of extraordinary intensity and potentials for effective evangelizing activity, but within a micro-structure of smaller ecclesial communities, called Basic Christian Communities, where Christians are born and grow in maturity, living their vocation and mission in depth. The new evangelization will thus depend very much on the lay faithful being fully aware of their baptismal vocation and of their responsibility for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today it is often the laity who must be in the forefront in seeking to apply the Church's teaching to the ethical, moral and social questions, which arise in their communities or at the national level. The specific mission of lay men and women is the evangelization of the family and of society, and of the cultural and political life. The prime movers of this new springtime are becoming the young people to whom the Pope never tires of telling: "You are the hope of the Church, you are my hope!" The task then of the Church today, and of its pastors, is to ensure that laity are formed as evangelizing leaders, able to face the challenges of the contemporary world not just with worldly wisdom and efficiency but with hearts renewed and strengthened by the truth of Christ. For contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, or if he listens to teachers, he does so because they are witnesses.
A truly Christian leader is therefore one who, like Christ, has a true vision of what God wants him to do - and he does it. It was after thirty preparation years of waiting, praying and listening that Jesus had a vision of his messianic task and an experience of special anointing. "Heaven opened before him and He saw the Spirit coming down upon him and He heard the Father speak to him" (Mk 1:10,11). He was now aware that he had received the authority from the Father to preach the Good News of Salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit to heal the sick and deliver the oppressed. And it was through an intimate relationship with his Father expressed in prayer and obedience (Jn 11:41; 14:31), that he kept this vision constantly before his mind, receiving the wisdom to know what to do and the power how to do it. A distorted vision can drive one to brainwash minds and destroy lives (cfr Mt 16:23). On the contrary a right vision will spur one to change the world upside down.
This vision has to be caught by close contact with Jesus and not just taught by distant training. "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people" (Mt 4:19). That is why he appointed the twelve first of all just to be with him, as his companions, and then only to preach and cast out demons (Mk 3:14; Lk 6:12). "Whoever wants to serve me", he told them, "must follow me and be wherever I am" (Jn 12:26). Their personal life and relationships were to him more important than their ministry, whether it be their prayer life and their relationship with the Father (Lk 10:20; 11:1,2), or their relationships with one another, devoid of all jealousy and violence (Lk 9:46-50). As a parting shot he dramatically washed their feet saying, "If I then your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another's feet. Copy my example" (Jn 13:14,15). As Mother Theresa said, "God does not require us to be successful but he expects us to be faithful". A Christ like leader then is one who strives to imitate Christ in every detail of his life.
The leader needs to imitate Jesus above all in the way Jesus always acted under the protective authority of the Father throughout his three years ministry from start to finish. "As the Father has sent me into the world, so I have sent you into the world" (cfr Jn 17:18). It was the Father that flagged off Jesus' mission, "You are my beloved Son, whom I have chosen" (Mk 1:11; 9:7). It was the Father that later confirmed this mission to the apostles, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him" (Mk 9:7). That is why he could pray, "Father, I myself knew that you hear me always" (Jn 11:41). That is why he could say, "The ruler of this world evil one has no power over me because I love the Father and I act just as the Father commanded (Jn 14:30). He therefore taught his disciples the same prayer he would himself say in his agony, "Father, your will be done" (Mt 6:10; Lk 22:42). And he challenged them, "You did not choose me, no, it was I who have chosen you, and sent you to go out and bear much fruit … As long as you remain in me and my words remain in you … you will bear lasting fruit" (Jn 15:5,7,16). They took up that challenge with phenomenal results. A Christ like leader is thus one who always acts under the authority and in the name of Christ and his Church.
Finally a true leader should be aware that from the very beginning of his ministry Jesus was on the look out for his replacements. "Feed and take care of my lambs and my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17). It was after a whole night of prayer that he called only those that he wanted, for the establishment of his kingdom would depend on them. Next he spent as much time teaching them as preaching to the crowds. Then he gave them practical training sending them out in pairs ahead of him to all the towns and villages of Galilee (Lk 10:1). He corrected them when they were jealous like James and encouraged them when they were weak like Peter (Lk 22:31,32). He prayed for their protection and for their unity (Jn 17). He constantly reminded them that he would have to leave them and they would have to carry on his work, by themselves, though not quite alone - he would be with them by his Spirit (Jn 16:7). And finally he commissioned them to go everywhere, to preach to everyone, to teach all nations, to heal the sick, to deliver the oppressed, to shepherd his people and above all to be his witnesses (Mk 16:15-18; Jn 13:35). Hence a Christ like leader is finally one who looks out for others, for new leaders, and helps to make them ready, to take his place.
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved.