6 leadership lessons of St. Francis

by mbenefiel

As I walked on pilgrimage this month in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, I pondered what I could learn from him about leadership.  Like all of us, Francis scored some wins and some losses when it came to leadership.  And like all of us, Francis didn’t always know in advance what approach to leadership would prove effective.  As I reflect on Francis’ life, six lessons in leadership effectiveness stand out to me.

  1. Be true to yourself.  Francis traveled a number of paths before he found the one that was right for him.  The son of a successful cloth merchant in thirteenth-century Italy, Francis seemed destined for business success.  From playboy to soldier to knight to cloth merchant, Francis experimented with paths he thought might suit him.  It was only when he heard God’s call to rebuild the church that he discovered his true path.  Yet when he abandoned his father’s business and embraced poverty and service, the townspeople called him crazy.  For years he wandered through his native city following a path that no one understood.  In time, as he persevered in pursuing the way that was his to pursue, a few people caught his vision and began to follow him.  Eventually, his followers numbered in the thousands.  By being true to himself and persevering in the face of misunderstanding and mockery, Francis forged a new way that attracted thousands.
  2. Love God passionately.  Francis brought the passion of his former life to his love of God.  Not one for half measures, Francis fell utterly in love with God, and loved with abandon.  He roamed the countryside singing of his love, and he constantly sought ways to please God.
  3. Embrace all.  Francis learned early on that rebuilding God’s church meant embracing everyone.  He embraced the leper who represented the lowest caste in society.  When people began to follow his way, he embraced brothers from the highest class to the lowest, inviting them to live together in simplicity and community.  When Clare ran away from home in order to follow him, he embraced her and helped her establish a women’s order.  Francis learned to see the gifts that each person brought and to embrace people with gratitude for their contributions.
  4. Live with joy.   Francis lived with contagious joy.  His delight in the beauty of nature, in the uniqueness of each person, in the gifts of God, drew people to him.  Even in adversity, Francis lived with joy.  For example, when a hut in which he took refuge for a night proved to be infested with mice, after an initial expression of displeasure, Francis welcomed his “brother mice” with joy and hospitality.  His joy disarmed friends and detractors alike.
  5. Approach power courageously. Francis, the “little poor man of Assisi,” decided early in his ministry that he and his tiny band of brothers should approach the Pope to ask for his blessing on their way of life.  Undaunted by Pope Innocent III’s wealth and power in contrast to their outcast status, the rag-tag band walked from Assisi to Rome.  Rebuffed by the cardinals when they arrived, they persevered in seeking an audience with the Pope.  After the Pope had a dream in which he saw a little poor man holding up a huge church, he realized he needed to talk to Francis.  Francis and the brothers, fearless before the Pope, described their way of life as living the gospel as Jesus intended.  The Pope, impressed by their sincerity and commitment, gave his provisional blessing.
  6. Reach across differences. The Crusades broke Francis’ heart.  He hated seeing Christians fighting Muslims over the holy land.  In 1219, he traveled to Egypt where the battle was raging, and crossed enemy lines, unarmed, in order to speak with the Ottoman Sultan.  He hoped to find common ground, and risked his life to do so.  He boldly spoke to the Sultan and the Sultan listened attentively.  Though he didn’t achieve reconciliation, the two men left the encounter with mutual respect and admiration.

St. Francis, not always knowing what he was doing, discovered how to be an effective leader as he followed his calling.  Much of his success in leadership was a side effect of his faithfulness.

St. Francis displayed a great deal of love and courage during his lifetime, and he influenced many people through his example.  His life, teachings, and spiritual insights have attracted many followers through the years.  His teachings are timeless and continue to live on today.

Note: Francis also suffered a number of failures in leadership which can also prove instructive (to be explored in a subsequent reflection).

Word from our Bishop

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them…” (Mt 19:14)

A CACINA Response to the School Shootings

There is little more to be said about the school shootings from a newsworthy point of view other than that the tide seems to be turning. In the past, we would mourn the tragedy and soon forget about doing anything about it. It has become clear that our representatives have been bought by the NRA through campaign donations and they are not about to look that gift horse in the mouth. But they are starting to. What has changed?
The teenagers at Parkland are older than the survivors at Sandy Hook. With age and education, they have realized that they have a voice and that they are going to use it. We support their movement fully.
Jesus said: Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Mt. 18:1-5) The “children” at Parkland are able to see things through the eyes of some innocence and they have not yet been corrupted by many of the values of our generations. Many of us despair of being able to do anything, and so we sit and watch the news and maybe gripe to our friends, but we don’t do anything.
It is time for us to join with the voices from Parkland – those dead and those living – to call our representatives to account, to study the issue fully, to look at what other countries have done and realize that there are answers that we have been too blind to see.
We can prevent other tragedies like this from happening, and it isn’t by more guns.  Arming teachers and armed guards are not the answer. They didn’t help at Parkland and won’t help elsewhere.
Please join me and my fellow Bishops and make your priorities known to your representatives and, if they don’t listen, work to remove them and find someone who will. Think about leadership yourselves. Take on the fresh dreams of the young and do not be complacent. We can not afford to let this momentum die but push for real change through prayer and action. We have prayed and prayed. The time for action is now.

The College of Bishops

Most Rev. Ronald Stephens
Presiding Bishop
The Catholic Apostolic Church of North America

Are you called ?

Be an associate of the Franciscans of Fort Lauderdale

Prayer: Join with the friars in prayer, especially for the needs and intentions of Sts. Francis and Clare Parish, and vocations to the community.

Community: Spend time each month with the Friars as spiritual guide through prayer, education and informal activities and discussion.

Service: Become actively involved in a variety of ways to offer assistance to our parish and the surrounding community as examples of Franciscan spirituality.

Growth: Experience your faith more deeply by exploring the joy and richness of a spiritual life led by Franciscan ideals.

This opportunity is offered to all men and women who express a desire to spend more time in prayer, learning and fellowship. Initially, applicants would spend a period of time exploring the purpose, work and goals of this informal religious community. After this ‘novitiate’ members would ‘profess’ annual promises to the community and receive a San Damiano cross as a physical sign of their membership. Persons living outside the parish area are encouraged to remain members. Men and women of ALL ages are welcome.

To inquire more contact Fr Vinnie at church, or send a message.

Old theological battles matter little today

by Bill Tammeus

From the distance of 500 years, the Protestant Reformation, which began Oct. 31, 1517, seems increasingly to have been both avoidable and regrettable.

Had Martin Luther and the Catholic Church then both been more willing to listen, acknowledge error, remove ego from the equation and, in humility, pay attention to the sometimes gentle, often subtle, never coercive Holy Spirit, perhaps the Western church might have held together.

But we cannot change history. The best we can do is change the present and try to shape the future. That seems to be what’s happening between Catholics and Protestants at the upper reaches of authority. Whether it will make any difference to people in the pews is so far unknowable, but we can hope.

The most recent evidence that Catholics and Protestants sometimes are singing from the same page came July 5 at a ceremony in Wittenberg, Germany, where Luther once nailed his “95 theses” to the cathedral door in hopes of a debate that would lead to fixing things he found wrong in the church. (He may have mailed in the theses, but let’s go with the legend.)

At that ceremony, the World Communion of Reformed Churches (in the U.S. think Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ, among others) said it was in harmony with a document (the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification) that the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed in 1999.

In announcing its agreement with that document, the organization of Reformed churches issued its own statement highlighting why it decided the Lutherans and Catholics got it right.

Young people lift up a cross during an ecumenical service March 11 at St. Michael’s Church in Hildesheim, Germany. The Catholic and the Protestant Church in Germany are holding an ecumenical gathering with the title “Healing of Memories” on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (CNS photo/Jens Schulze, pool via EPA)In announcing its agreement with that document, the organization of Reformed churches issued its own statement highlighting why it decided the Lutherans and Catholics got it right.

In typical church document language — meaning stilted and extraordinarily careful — the Reformed Churches declared this: “We rejoice together that the historical doctrinal differences on the doctrine of justification no longer divide us, and we experience this as a moment of self-examination, conversion and new commitment to one another manifesting new unity and advancing our common witness for peace and justice.”

So it seems that the Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity increasingly are singing “Kumbaya” together around the campfire. Are they? And, if so, what does it mean?

Well, as a longtime advocate for both interfaith and ecumenical dialogue and understanding, I hope this is another step toward healing the 500-year-old divide. But I doubt that it changes much inside the walls of Catholic or Protestant churches.

For one thing, I bet you could go to every Catholic and Protestant congregation in the U.S. this Sunday and you wouldn’t find more than .005 percent of the people there who’ve even heard about what the Reformed churches said in July. And I’d be surprised if you could find more than 2 percent of people there who had heard of the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran agreement.

Probably the best to be hoped for would be to find that some folks at those worship services will know that Luther was against the Catholic Church selling indulgences and was in favor of the idea that people are saved by grace through faith.

After that it will be on to such topics as the miserable coffee in the fellowship hall, the upcoming annual stewardship campaign, the need to recruit more Sunday school teachers and the terrific solo at today’s service.

Bill Tammeus

However important the theological battles were 500 years ago — or even 1,000 years ago in the Great Schism — the sad truth today is that many people of faith are biblically and theologically illiterate. They’re more interested in how to live a moral life in an immoral age, and that’s not a bad thing.

In other words, they care much less about “works righteousness” than they do keeping their ethical balance at work and home.

So good for some Protestants and the Vatican for agreeing about some difficult matters of angels dancing on heads of pins. But let’s also focus on reforming the companies making those pins so they don’t exploit workers.

[Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and former award-winning Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the daily “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s Web site and a column for The Presbyterian Outlook. His latest book is The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith . E-mail him at wtammeus@gmail.com.]

“RABBI, WHERE DO YOU LIVE?”

(Jn. 1:39)
“And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What is you want?’ They answered Rabbi, where do you live? He replied “come and see. (Jn. 1:38-39). So the disciples took up the invitation and followed and spent the day with him. It is unfortunate that we do not have an account of what took place that day. What did they discuss? What was the reaction to this one who The Baptist call the “Lamb of God?” But, if Jesus was true to form, he would have begun to instruct these two would-be disciples in the Reign of God.

How does one begin to instruct another is a very new and novel way of thinking? I would think that the instructor would begin by giving some very broad ideas and concepts that would set the stage, as it were, to more in-depth information. Jesus would most likely invite these two to explore a new way of looking at life, not as we would view it, but as God would view it.

Jesus may have first present the “Broad View of God.” In this view, Jesus would invite the disciples to see that in a world where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more. That God’s last world is LOVE and HATE. That God is very hopeful, as hopeful as the old woman who is once heard to boast, “I’ve lived through the Depression and three world wars – I hardly wait to see what happens next!”

Jesus may have invited these men to explore would may be the “Long View of God.” Jesus would ask these disciples to take a new look at what nature shows us every day. That is, life can and does emerge from death. That some things must die that others may be born and that Victory can come from seeming defeat.

At last, Jesus may have invited the disciples to explore the “Value View of God.” Here, Jesus might remind these would – be disciples that being God is about all things. God is able to see everything in perspective and that all things are not equal. Here Jesus would tell the disciples to get their priorities in order. Jesus would tell them several important facts of this new life. First, that GIVING comes before RECEIVING. Two, that BEING is better than HAVING. Third, that GOOD comes from GOOD MEANS and Forth, that PEOPLE are prior to THINGS, and that God is most important above all.

We who have taken up the Lord’s invitation to “come and see” might want to come to understand that God is not looking for perfection. Rather, God is looking for people who are willing to strive towards that perfection to which we are all called. Maybe, just maybe, if we begin to see our world and ourselves through the eyes of God, we might be able to laugh a little more at some of our short comings, be a little more open, forgiving, and at peace with ourselves and those around us. And in this way we might, just might, come to believe that being human is our way to becoming divine.

Peace and All Good

Fr. Vinnie, osf

“THOSE WHOM HE CURED, WHO WERE VARIOUSLY AFFLICTED, WERE MANY, AND SO WERE THE DEMONS HE EXPELLED.”

Fr. Raymond Brown wrote: “. . . working within the worldview of his time, Jesus, by driving out demons in his process of healing, is indicating that sickness is not simply a bodily ailment but is a manifestation of the power of evil in the world. . . suffering, tears, disasters and death are representative of alienation from God and of evil. . . the very existence of such factor indicates the incompletion of God’s plan.”
In the Gospel of Mark, we are told that the crowd came to Peter’s mother-law’s house and he cured them. We do not hear about who came, how he healed them or what he healed them of. Dis that beg to be healed? Did they allow the sickest to go first? Mark gives no instructions on how to behave or on what to say.
But, is it all that easy? “. . . no healing, no gift from God comes without some conditions.” William Faulkner once wrote. “The past is not dead –it is not ever past.” This sets the context for God’s condition. The past is not dead. Another southern writer, Flannery O’Connor, wrote in a short story about a father asking forgiveness from his son. The father states; I did not trust you, but please forgive me and forget it.” To which the son replied; “I’ll forget it, but you better not forget it.”
The past is not dead. . .it is not even past. . .the present is the totality of what went before. The acid of our past etches the metal of the present.
Even though we are healed, we still carry the scars that should remind us that we have wondered where we should not have gone. God asks that we remember that. God offers us healing, but that healing must be total me in the past, present, and future. God’s healing should make our lives a celebration of second chances and our prayer should be; “O God of second chances, here I am again.”
Peace and All God
Fr. Vinnie, osf

Policing the Communion Line

Not in My Parish

By Fr. Nonomen

You never know where God will surprise you.

The installation of Cardinal Joseph William Tobin of Newark, New Jersey / CNS photo

In the middle of a hot summer, while I was standing in the produce section at the local supermarket, a woman I had never met tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself. She told me that she and her husband were not parishioners but had experienced an amazing Lenten journey at my parish. For the past two years, she said, they had fallen into a spiritual malaise. That began when the pastor of her own parish left the priesthood. He was a popular man, highly charismatic, and deeply spiritual. His unexpected departure brought to a head many issues in the church that she and her husband struggled with. Changes to their home parish also disoriented them. Looking for some fresh air, they had prayed their way through Lent with us and then joined us for the Easter Vigil. It was there, she said, that God gave her a gift: she watched as her former pastor and his new wife (who were never before at any of our Masses) joined the Communion line and received the Eucharist. “In that moment, I knew,” she said. “I was suddenly filled with a joyful, peaceful assurance that the church I love would weather the storms and issues that seem sometimes to tear it apart. Seeing Father Ed with his wife showed me how God is always doing something new! As they received Communion, I saw that there is room for all in Christ. And that has helped heal my heart.”

I walked away from this exchange with a bag of tomatoes and a grin on my face, thinking she doesn’t realize just how amazing the Communion line was that night. Besides Ed and his new wife, there were other Catholic priests and even a Protestant minister and her wife. Also, I saw a prominent local political leader, well known in the community and healing from a recent, very-public divorce. There were professional theologians and professional electricians. There were college students and middle-school students; the newly married and the recently widowed. It seemed that the depth and breadth of humanity was in the Communion line, all of their lives containing stories of hope and all of them, in that moment, drawn to one table, one altar, one Lord. I saw it. I sensed it. It was a foretaste of what liturgists call “the heavenly banquet.” I am so grateful that my new friend, the evangelizer in the produce department, saw it as well.

The people of the Kingdom are a diverse people, aware of their need and drawn to the God who welcomes all
As you might imagine, it didn’t take long for all these lofty thoughts of the Kingdom to come crashing back to earth. I thought of the diocesan administration and of how some might be extremely concerned about the “scandal” this sort of Communion line could cause. But as a participant and witness, it seemed to have the opposite effect, a healing effect. Of the hundreds who attended the Vigil that night, no one wrote a nasty letter of complaint, no unkind word was heard, not even so much as a passing sarcastic comment. Many noticed the same things I did that night and many were inspired.

How does this happen? To begin with, the Vigil Mass cannot be taken out of context. Throughout the year, the people of this parish make a deliberate effort to be hospitable and welcoming. That is especially the case for the Vigil, which is touted as the high point of the liturgical year. No one is checking “Valid Catholic” cards at the door, and no one feels a particular need to be a Communion Cop. We recognize that we’re all a bunch of needy sinful people, who are eager to make room for others at the Lord’s Table. Add to this a year-long, parish-wide emphasis on the religious education of adults, both through formal catechesis and in the way we run a picnic or a liturgy or a parish council. Education has a broadening effect, which hopefully trickles down to the heart. The wider the heart, the easier it is to see the working of God and, consequentially, the longer the Communion line.

The more intriguing question, perhaps, is not how but why this happened. I figure it to be a lesson in grace. At a time when elitism and intolerance have crept into so many facets of life, the Lord insists that the Kingdom of God will be otherwise and often surprises us with glimpses of it right here, right now. The people of the Kingdom are a richly diverse people, aware of their need and drawn to the God who welcomes all and lavishes grace on all, even that former priest, even that same-sex couple, even that unsuspecting cleric in the produce department who thought he was only going home with a bag of tomatoes.