31st Sun [A] 2002

Fr. Charles Irvin

Malachi 1:14-2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9; Matthew 23:1-12

Who irritated and provoked Jesus to the point that he became angry? To whom did Jesus direct his harshest words? Was it not the religious leaders he encountered… even Peter, the leader of the apostles?

Leadership is a special calling from God. Leaders are responsible for God’s children, for the world and for the lives that God places in their care. For all leaders, God has high expectations. And when they fail, corrupt or pervert God’s ways, there is a special divine wrath and punishment awaiting them.

We all want to be leaders. Our childhood games teach us to be leaders. “Follow the Leader” is a childhood game I distinctly remember – and what fun it was to he be the leader! When we’re teenagers we crave chances to be responsible. Having the responsibilities of leadership is a big part of our maturation process.

It’s when we become adults that problems develop. Ego, pride and greed come on stage and tempt us especially when we have leadership positions. They likewise corrupt and thwart God’s plans and intentions for those who have the privilege of leadership. In the Christian worldview, all authority is derivative from God’s. When pride, ego, arrogance, and power corrupt the consequence is that God’s people suffer.

I hardly need to list the terrible corruptions in leadership that beset us even as I speak. Our Church is suffering because of dreadful failures in leadership. Wall Street is on shaky ground because of such failures. And as for our political leadership… well words seem inadequate and futile when it comes to presenting examples of this particular crisis. I am reminded here of a cartoon that years ago appeared in New Yorker magazine. Two rather portly gentlemen were standing at a New York bar sipping martinis and one says to the other “What’s a little political corruption between two consenting adults?”

What we face is a societal Crisis in Confidence. Faith, trust and belief in our basic institutions are being tested… tested perhaps as never before.

In this context the readings of today’s Mass are relevant, pertinent, and instructive. Having just heard them, I want to give you three points to ponder.

      1 – The authority and responsibility of leadership comes from God. It is given us to care for His people whether in an ecclesial context or a secular context. Having leadership makes us accountable to God. It is a vocation in which we respond to God’s confidence in us. To ignore than is to fall into the dangerous trap of pride, arrogance, and ego-centrism.

     2 – Those in leadership need to “talk the talk”, talk God’s talk. Their words need to put us in touch with Truth, Justice, Integrity, and Mission, all of them given us by God through the mediation of his leaders, those to whom he has given responsibility for our care. The words of our leaders need to be based on God’s words… and we need to hear them.

     3 – Not only do our leaders need to “talk the talk,” they must “walk the walk”. Their words and their authority need to be based upon integrity. They need to live the words they speak. They need to live in God’s truth. When there is a dis-integration between their words and their ways of living then there is a dis-integration in the lives of those over whom they exercise their leadership. We are lead away from God’s ways.

How can a child learn to live in truth when he sees his parents are living a lie? How can a child grow in the life of the Church when his parents do not? When our Church’s priests and bishops do not?

How can we bring our youngsters to resolve conflicts peacefully when we resolve conflicts by bashing our opponents into submission?

How can we teach our children the value of self-sacrifice and caring for others when we give them examples of greedy acquisition and money grabbing through corrupt corporate accounting practices or political corruption?

If you think that the conditions set forth in today’s readings are irrelevant to us, then perhaps you haven’t been reading the newspapers or watching news broadcasts. God’s word could hardly be more pertinent to us than in the conditions in which we presently find ourselves living.

I want to draw one last major point from today’s gospel account, and it’s this: We need to be responsible for choosing whom we will follow. It’s childish to say, “So and so made me do it.” It’s irresponsible to say, “I was only following my leader”. We follow the leaders we choose to follow – plain and simple.

The only leadership worthy of our total and complete allegiance is God’s leadership. It is God’s fatherhood that should guide me; it’s God’s ways that should instruct me; it’s God’s authority, and his alone, that governs my conscience. If I allow others to be false gods, substitutes for God and surrogates of his loving care and concern for me, then I am placing my faith in the princes and powers of this world.

We must, therefore, exercise care and due discretion of judgment in following where our earthly leaders want to take us. For ultimately, if we irresponsibly turn all accountability over to those who exercise leadership over us, we will only have our selves to blame when things fall apart.

Leaders who live in integrity and wholeness live in the holiness of God. Leaders who do not so live can only lead us into disaster… for which we have ample proofs.

Pray then for our leaders, whoever and wherever they are. Pray for them. God knows that in these times of ours they need all of the help they can get.                    

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”