Today’s readings place us in the midst of conflicts. In the first reading the apostles are called before the Sanhedrin. The apostles are filled with the Spirit. This leads them to speak with courage and authority. It allows them to draw crowds and leads to confrontations with the religious authorities. The first reading ends giving us a vision of the wrath of the Jewish leaders. The Gospel outlines the authority of Jesus. It offers eternal life to the faithful and threatens God’s wrath on the unbelievers. The Psalm encourages the downtrodden reminding them of God’s deliverance.
At a different time, I might have found these words drawing out my own religious fervor. My feelings would have led me to a sense that confrontation and conflict were justified on the basis of the Lord’s call. Often what I feel explodes in self-righteous criticism. As I have grown older my passion has not disappeared, but the way I manifest it has. I still have my moments of emotion. I do not claim that I am the person who I aspire to be, but I notice my spiritual desires and my personal responses have evolved.
I am drawn in a very different way in my reflection today. Today is the feast of St. Peter Canisius. My feeling is the life of this sixteenth century Jesuit gives us direction and guidance. Peter Canisius was a leader in the counter-reformation. He could have justified a leadership style of smug intimidation as many of his contemporaries did. Yet he avoided alienating responses. He adopted a leadership style of listening and service, but not of compromise. Instead of being insulting to those with different views he demonstrated what was at the root of his being through acts of charity in addition to his intellectual input. (This may, in part, be due to experiences in his ministry where linguistic barriers diminished the effectiveness of his rhetoric.) Peter Canisius was a man who was firm in his beliefs, unwavering but not abusive.
Listening and service is not always the model for the “leaders” we encounter. It is very human to focus on our own plan. In the last week I spoke with one of our state officials. I realized this person had called me to make his point. The conversation was very much one-sided. I did not feel that I was heard. In a recent interaction with another administrator I realized that although I was being heard, I never got the feeling that this person was listening.
In today’s readings and in the life of Peter Canisius, we see a consistent view of principle over compromise. Our forefathers in faith were not willing to sell out in an effort to be expeditious. As an election nears, I feel many candidates are trying to make everyone feel like they have gotten a piece of the pie. I have come to the conclusion that if we are discerning in our actions, we will likely not please everyone. My hope is that our leaders would invest in what matches our mission.
My prayer today is to go beyond hearing to true listening. I pray that I am able to discern crying from whining. I pray for the desire to lead through quiet service rather than a loud voice. I pray for strength in my faith and commitment to what is in my heart.
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