Twenty-first Century Catholic Leaders
We are excited to kick off a new collaboration with State of Formation, an online journal on religious life started by IFYC alum Josh Stanton. Over the next few weeks, we’ll feature blogs from our young leaders addressing the question: what do you expect from leaders of your religious and ethical traditions? Check back in with State of Formation for later responses from leaders of these same traditions and communities.
As a young Roman Catholic, I often find myself dismayed and excited by the situation of my faith community in the contemporary world, and I am sure many of my peers would agree. I’m dismayed by the missed opportunities, the misallocated energy, and the stagnation of a critical hermeneutic of social engagement in the world that my faith community has experienced.
And yet, I’m excited by the possibility for our generation to lead the movement for healing of festering wounds, for transcendence of old barriers, and for initiating a renewed invocation of the Incarnation in our world. To act on this excitement, however, we must have the bold courage and persistence of leaders in the Catholic Church.
What do I expect from Catholic leaders, both ordained and lay, in the twenty-first century? The Church now faces a tumultuous time not only in its own history but in the history of the world. The sex abuse scandal, the question of LGBTQ and female involvement in ministry, tense global politics, and continued injustice in Israel/Palestine, Tibet, Sudan, and elsewhere all weigh heavily on the Catholic community.
Both the Vatican and community leaders around the world must carefully navigate the reality of a new century with a plethora of new scientific, political, social, and ethical questions. New leaders of the Church must be fully attuned to pulses of the world and of the Church; they must be deeply and prayerfully responsive to the deep thirsts of a bleeding world and an aching global spiritual community.
Catholic lay and ordained leaders must bring a critical lens to contemporary issues with a willingness to engage in our history, narratives, magisterium and tradition as a faith community to redefine and reclaim the prophetic voice of our community. I expect all Catholic leaders to be unafraid and unabashed in challenging systems of injustice and oppression in local communities, and I expect Catholic leaders to engage non-Catholics in the pursuit of peace, justice, and social transformation in our world. In that vein, Catholic leaders must re-commit to the interfaith and ecumenical movements not only in word and in thought but in deed, in prayers of action materialized in the sweat and blood of our brows as we fight for social justice in all communities.
I expect Catholic leaders to be formed in the spirit of humility, with a willingness to admit our communal and historical mistakes, and to admit that we cannot survive and thrive if we do not engage our neighbors, religious or nonreligious. Similarly, such humility also demands the courage to express the beauty and power of our community of faith, the potential of our common actions, and the hope of embodying the love of God in the world.
Lastly, I expect that Catholic leaders will not make being a Christian any easier. A call to return to the radical discipleship of early Christians must be initiated, and this sense of discipleship is something the Church has often lost sight of. I expect my leaders to be embodiments of Christ’s agape, to inspire those that have left the churches en masse, and to continue to invigorate the faithful to a new and refreshed engagement of faith in the world. They must not offer dead homilies on Sunday mornings, but must engage, passionately, the message of the Gospel that is the essence of their vocation.
The global Catholic community demands new leadership in the twenty-first century, and such leaders must not be isolated from the world and lost in theological abstractions or philosophical strands. The new leaders must be engaged, they must be willing, and they must be enthralled. Only then will the Catholic community move forward in making much-needed strides in engagement and in re-embracing the prophetic voice that has dimmed, and nearly died, in recent decades.
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