The Risk in Leading

29 August 2006: The beheading of John the Baptist
Mark 6, 14-29: The Risk in Leading

Every day, in every aspect of our lives, opportunities to lead beckon us. At work anat home, in our local communities or school organizations, even in our country and in the global village, the chance to make a difference is always present. Many of our budding student leaders always dream of making that difference, even fearing to pass through life like a passing wind, never remembered for anything important. In fact, one reason for me why I chose the priesthood is that I would like to make a difference. In every corner of the world around me, at every time, I hear endless complaints ranging from the daily household concerns to national issues. I find myself at the center of this mess, and asking myself, will I help fix this up? Yet often, I hesitate --- as every budding leader in school. For its passion and promise, for all its excitement and rewards, leading and taking a stand is risky and dangerous work.

Leadership is a dangerous endeavor because it challenges; it is revolutionary; it is radical; it pushes people to change. It prompts people to challenge given norms, and to think outside of the box. And most of all, it risks isolation. Eventually, many leaders become lonely and abandoned. Not all of those who believed in their dreams, stay. Real leadership that surfaces conflicts and challenges long-held beliefs --- ganito kami noon at okay naman kami --- and demands new ways of doing things, causes a lot of pain. And when people feel threatened, they take aim at the person pushing for change. As a result, many leaders often get hurt both personally and professionally.

This is what happened to John the Baptist. In the castle of Machaerus on a lonely ridge surrounded by ravines over looking the east side of the Dead Sea, John the Baptist was imprisoned. To this day, the dungeons, staples and iron hooks are still there and continue to be one of the forbidding, harshest, and loneliest fortresses in the world. What brought him there? John stood his ground: he told Herod Antipas, the ruler of his time, that by marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, he had broken the Jewish law (Leviticus 18, 16 & 20, 21) and had outraged the laws of decency and of morality. In the midst of all these chaos, John stood as a man of courage, as a heroic leader who lived for the truth and died for it.

Frequently, people who seek to exercise leadership are amazed that their organization and communities resist change. Take for example many organizations and groups in UP. Those who have persisted and lived for more that 50 years continue many of their former and original ways of doing things, to the extent of risking relevance. Fraternities continue their age-old initiations without question; anyone who tries to question its morality is ostracized. Organizations continue their ways in 1956 and experience a decline in membership; yet those who challenge them did not go unscathed.

In many ways, it is the story of many women who have abusive boyfriends. I told them, “Why not leave the guy? Surely life can be better for you.” They tell me, “Well, my boyfriend hurts me when he has other girls beside me, but when he realizes that I am the one for him, he comes back repentant and professes his love for me. I’ve never known anyone love me more sweetly than he does, except when he is unfaithful. What would I do alone and without him?” To persuade people to give up the love they know for a love they’ve never experienced means convincing them to take a leap of faith in themselves and in life. They must experience the loss of a relationship that, despite its problems, provides satisfaction and familiarity, and they will suffer the discomfort of sustained uncertainty about what will replace it. To change the way people see and do things is to challenge how they define and esteem themselves.

It is not surprising that many who would like to be leaders would rather not take it. No one would like to be beheaded. No one wants pain. But the problem is, our faith automatically make us leaders. Christians are supposed to be leaders, as John the Baptist was, as Christ is: challenging us all the time. If all of us, who come to mass every day, become leaders, and actively do something other than complain, the mess in this country of ours will be lesser than when all of us, who claim to be good Catholics, just sit here and do nothing. And when sitting here becomes comfortable, perhaps, we should burn that statue called “the oblation” and change this parish into a spa.

1 comment:

flowerdrumsong said...

Very well put again, Fr. JBoy. It's true what you said here - sometimes even taking a stand is ridiculed - just because the majority chose not to step up to the plate.

Thank you for sharing your insight. My visit to your site is an added reflection time for me. :)

God bless!