By:Sr. Jeanne Hagelskamp, S.P.
Associate Professor, Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership
“When through one person, a little more love and goodness, a little more light and truth come into the world, then that one’s life has had meaning.” This quote, which we used on our parents’ memorial cards, embodies the essence of Christian leadership. This may sound soupy or mushy, but my siblings and I did, indeed, consider our parents quiet, ordinary Christian leaders. No, they were not famous, they never attended college, they struggled their entire lives to put food on the table and clothes on our backs, and to give us the very best education we could want for ourselves. They were faithful to prayer, they gave of themselves unconditionally to us and to those in need, and they taught us to stand up for what is right and just. They lived the words of Micah 6:8: “What does God require of you? Nothing more than this: To act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with Your God.”
Another way of thinking about Christian leadership is to consider the words of our very own Indiana Saint Mother Theodore Guerin: What must we do to become saints? Nothing extraordinary, only that which we do every day—only do it for his love. This challenge seems easy enough—in fact, if we aren't careful, we might tend to “let ourselves off the hook” if we ignore the last phrase. Now I'm not one who often puts words into Mother Theodore’s mouth, but I confess that I have taken a particular liking to changing one solitary word—so that it reads “What must we do to become saints? Nothing extraordinary, only that which we do every day—only do it with his love.” To say we do it “for his love” is challenge enough, making God’s love our sole motivation. However, to do it “with his love” sets forth a challenge or imperative to aspire to love as God loves and to allow our lives to be driven by that same call to love. In a very powerful way, it is the call to leadership that is expressed by the prophet Micah. We are called to live our everyday lives, always aspiring to do it with God’s steadfast love—God’s Providence—empowering us.
What would it mean to walk through our day, doing all that we do with God’s love? It seems to me that that is precisely the mission that Jesus undertook when he walked this earth. As he went about his work (and play!), in many ways he lived an ordinary life—but he lived it “to the max,” always seeking to understand what God was calling him to do in any situation. He lived each day, always seeking to share with others God’s passionate/compassionate love. Time after time, as he went about his business, he went out of his way to be with the most vulnerable. He didn't just “help them.” It wasn't a one-sided thing. Rather, he invited them into relationship with him -- he rubbed elbows with them, invited them to the table to share a meal, and let his compassion and love overflow when they were hurting. This “loving tenderly” wasn't just about “doing for,” but rather about “walking with”—and staying in relationship with—the most vulnerable. And that, for me, is a part of Christian leadership.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. And honestly, this is the part that I believe that I personally (and many of us) struggle with as I try to be a Christian leader. Jesus was not afraid to “throw the zingers” that would challenge the status quo or “call out” injustice. He was, indeed, an unrelenting voice for the voiceless—and not just when it was convenient… not just when the price was right. He was a champion for those oppressed by unjust systems—and he clearly knew the cost of speaking up and challenging wrong. Yet he did it, time and time again, and never did he stop to measure his words because of fear of the price it might cost him. Over time, he knew that others had had enough of his “revolution” and were seeking for a way to kill him. Nonetheless, he continued to reach out to those shunned by others and to stand up for the rights of those most oppressed by the system.
I think all of us would probably agree that Jesus was an extraordinary Christian leader. He is the model for us of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way with God’s love as his driving force. No doubt, none of us will ever be able to love so unconditionally, inspire so passionately, and challenge so intensely…but we ought to aspire to it. In the meantime, if each of us could choose our very ordinary path of Christian leadership, doing nothing extraordinary, but rather acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly with God’s love each day, then, indeed, a little more love and goodness, and little more light and truth will come into the world… and our lives will certainly have meaning.