“God Once Saw How Good It Was!”

Keynote presentation by Archbishop Wilton Gregory on the theme of the blessings of creation at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress.

“God saw how good it was” that special phrase appears five times in those opening passages of the Book of Genesis as the sacred text describes how the Lord God was obviously admiring His works of creation.  It is now our spiritual and moral obligation to “see how good it is” the created world that God has now entrusted to our care.  It’s not merely good because it is profitable or usable or exploitable.  First and foremost, it is good because it reflects God’s goodness itself.  In the very act of creation, God was bestowing upon all of nature an undeniable reflection of His own Divine Goodness.  The apex of that reflection is to be found in the women and men entrusted with God’s handiwork. Human beings are God’s creation that most perfectly reflects His Own Divinity.  If we are to begin to safeguard God’s creation, we must launch an increased reverence for every human life.  We must be so grateful for those whose concerns for the planet draw our attention to its fragility.  Yet we must first safeguard human life as the very starting point of environmental security. The life of human beings enjoys a priority of importance in the environmental concerns because those who have been entrusted with the care of creation must themselves be safeguarded in order to accomplish our Divine assignment of caring for His creation.

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Why Should Someone Trust You?

How do we determine that someone should be trusted? Is there a definitive test that we subject others to that gets us to a reliable and defensible answer? Are there black-and-white criteria with boxes that we check off as we reach a pre-determined grade or score?

Would that trust were so easy.

We are seeing this question played out practically every day in the political environment. We watch and read bellicose statements that sound more authoritarian and bullying than collaborative and bridge-building.

On the other hand, Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, today included this statement in his remarks to the staff at State: “Hi. I’m the new guy.” With a bit of candor and humility, he may have gained a few points toward the trust that he will need to lead the country in its foreign policy.

We’ve seen the former in our Church, too. We are not exempt. And gratefully, we have heard the latter as well. For folks like me, we were fortunate enough to hear Cardinal Joseph Bernadin refer to himself as “our brother.”

But words are words. And we know it. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” we think, even if we don’t say it.

It’s our actions that speak loudly, and tend to be the building blocks of trust.

Within a few months of starting a new job, I realized that there was a great deal of mistrust between my committee and my position. My predecessor had not followed through on their decisions, and they were mad. With good reason. “Trust me” because I was new wasn’t going to cut it. So I chose actions–regular, detailed communication, opening the budget, as much transparency as possible. Slowly, we built trust between us.

Officials were suspicious of Jesus. His words were probably familiar since there had been others who claimed to be the prophet, the savior, the messiah during his time. It was his actions that distinguished him, and earned the trust of his followers–sitting next to a Samaritan woman at the well, touching the unclean, spending hours and days with the poor and dispossessed.

Let’s leave our words aside, and look at what actions we can take to build the bonds of trust that we need as a Catholic community.

Are You Ready for What Comes Next?

ornamentReadiness is the “value of the season” now that we have passed into Advent. In the lead-up to the season, it’s hard to miss what the “what” is — the Kingdom of God — but as often happens at this time of year, I find I’m, um, stuck.

In The Christmas Ornament, a Hallmark Channel movie (we are big fans even though they start Christmas movies right after Halloween), the main character struggles with her grief over the death of her husband during the last year. She meets someone who helps her to start seeing what might come next in her life. But she gets stuck. At the end of the movie, she realizes that the answer to what comes next is a great, big question mark, and she is ready to start the journey to discover what “next” is.

I find the dramatic arc of a 2 hour movie–beginning, middle, and end–very comforting. Even more hilarious because my husband accents each one with the exclamation, “I’m going to go out on a limb . . .” quickly followed by the obvious “that ___________ are going to fall in love” or whatever the obvious final scene might be.

Not so much Advent.

Just because Christmas comes doesn’t mean that the readying has been complete or that we have arrived at what comes next.

And, well, duh, that is the point, right?

While Advent and Christmas draw lines in the proverbial sand, the movement of each is endless and timeless. We are never fully ready nor is the Kingdom ever fully here. But we as humans would tire too easily and quickly if the journey extended to the end we know nothing about. Think of the Israelites who spent 40 years in the desert on a journey to a home that many never saw. They tired, grew weary, looked for short-cuts, and were steered back on the path by their prophets and leaders.

Our journey is unknowably long and tiring, too. But we need weigh stations along the way to celebrate the distance we have come before we face the distance that still lies ahead. Maybe we need to hear our contemporary prophets point out where the path is that cuts through the many “-isms” we face lies. Maybe we need to admit that all we’re ever going to experience is the journey, but others will arrive at the endpoint.

Maybe that is the point after all.

 

What Is Your Duty?

legalWhat is our “duty”?

We’ve been debating this question (whether we acknowledge it or not) in other arenas for quite some time. You needn’t look any farther than the TV in your living room on any given Sunday regardless of the season and see a baseball, basketball, hockey, or football player who has exhibited the kind of behavior that would have been considered disgraceful by icons like Vince Lombardi (look him up!)

Yelling “what would Vince Lombardi say” is one of my husband’s favorite activities. Very square, tie-tied-tightly, short-haired Vince Lombardi enforced a code of behavior that recognized the public character of the game and its players. And as a coach in Green Bay, the American “Mecca” of football (sorry, Dallas), Lombardi understood that his duty was clearly to the profession and the public, to be the model for good behavior and morals, to go beyond the rule book.

And today we face the question of where is our duty, to the rules and laws or to what is ethical and right.

Is our duty to ourselves as individuals? Or is it to the community at large with whom we interact on a daily basis? Are the rules for those interactions strict and limited, or should we expect ourselves to go beyond them and adhere to a higher standard?

While an action may be legal, the question is, is it ethical? And with that question, we must answer, what is our duty, to do what is in the best interest of our selves or the best interest of others?

4 Leadership Fit-Ness Tests

officeOn a somewhat regular basis, I receive notifications of open leadership positions which got me thinking about what are some of the key leadership questions I ask as an employer and a potential employee.

Here are 4 of them. A word of caution. They may overlap, but it is rare that any given individual possesses all of the qualities.

  1. Are you an “ambassador” or an “administrator?” My experience has been that most top leaders, especially those with decision-making authority, fall into one of these two categories. An “ambassador” is the type of leader that prefers to be outward facing, e.g., is good at being the face of the ministry or field, is in demand as a speaker, and wants to out in the field pushing the mission of the organization. An “administrator” tends to be the leader whose strengths are focused in-house, on staff, implementing vision and mission, and engaging members in the best possible way. They prefer that others are the face of the organization–perhaps the president or chair of the board or the admired “all-stars.”
  2. What part of the lifecycle of a ministry or organization is the most life-giving for you? Marketing people talk about lifecycles of products, e.g., it’s created new,  it hopefully rises in awareness and popularity, then steadies off when it is in its prime, and starts to level off or weaken as other products enter the category. Ministry and organizations are like this too. And use the number of years that the ministry in the parish or the organization has been around.Ministries and organizations have multiple lifecycles, especially if they are attentive to reinventing themselves as the field and marketplace changes. I work for a 26-year-old organization that is really in start-up mode. We have been in a 5-6 year process of reinventing what benefits we offer and how we want to support the Catholic publishing industry.Most importantly, though, know what part of that lifecycle gives you life. Do you like the challenge of making a dream reality or are you best at keeping the boat moving in the right direction?

    And this leads to the next question.

  3. Is your strength in creating things or implementing them? This question could be rewritten in a Myers-Briggs way (a personality inventory), and read, “Are you a P or a J?” We all possess some of both, but the question is where is your home base? Every aspect of the lifecycle requires each of this, but some require more of the other from the leader. In start-up mode, creativity may be key to taking a new vision and putting it into action.
  4. Lastly, what personal, professional, and emotional need will this leadership role fill for you? I admire veteran ministry leaders because most have chosen their field because it fulls something in each of these categories. But here’s the thing. I’ve seen people (and been one) who have moved from parish ministry to diocesan ministry who eventually felt like their new role didn’t really impact the lives of people like their old job did. I’ve been, and this is tough. That’s why the “emotional” part of it is key. It may be that you had a personal and professional goal to work at the diocesan level, but once you get there, you may find that it does not fill your emotional need. Watch out for that! And it you run into it, fix it. Trust me, you won’t be satisfied if you don’t.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

seniorIn the last year, there has been a veritable procession of departures at the top leadership levels among my member publishers. Based on the beautiful “good-bye” emails that I’ve received, I compiled a list of issues that were considered in answer to the question, “Should I stay or should I go now?”

  1. Age: For those who have retired, age is an obvious marker. When we reach our 60s and even 70s, retirement is definitely on the radar screen, and hopefully has been part of the plan for a while. But I’m seeing more and more people leave a job in their late 40s and 50s. There are personal and family reasons, and then there is the issue of . . .
  2. Tenure: And I’m not talking like in the academic world. Many companies and organizations have a “Rule of XX” for retirement which is usually a combination of age and years of service. I’ve met a number of people who started with the organization out of high school or in their early 20s, and are now in their mid- to late 50s and they meet that rule. For some, they may see a change in leadership or direction that is more than just a gentle bend in the road. For others, they may see that they have dedicated a significant portion of their professional career to one thing, and it’s time to find a new “thing.”
  3. Balance: We’ve been bombarded with work-life balance articles and how-to’s, but balance is a key criteria. Whether you want to spend more time with your grandchildren, children, spouse, or community, balance is a good lifetime practice. No minute of any day can ever be replayed, so making choices that make each moment rich and fulfilling is key.
  4. Goals: When you made your current choice, what did you set out to accomplish? Have you met those goals? Now, what else do you want to accomplish? And where? What other opportunities are there out there that interest me?
  5. Call: Have you been faithful to God’s call to you and generous in using the gifts He has bestowed on you? Is there something you have been unable to respond to for whatever reason? How and where can you respond, or is there a new call that is leading you in a different direction?

One Tip on Healthy Culture

Blessed SacramentIf there is one lesson to be learned from this political season, it is how silence can breed mistrust and transparency can feed trust.

Catholics have many positive experiences of silence. The pause between an intercession and the words, “We pray to the Lord . . .” Or the grander silences like the incensing of the altar and preparation of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday.

In our secular experience, we often keep silent and do not talk about those things we share in common–“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”–because we do share them.

However, this political year has shown us the high price for not talking about things.

On Sunday when my children’s choir led the music, one of the 6-year-olds looked up at me during the Eucharistic Prayer and asked me what the “round thing” in the priest’s hand was. I said, “It’s Jesus.” He mumbled, “It looks like a round thing.” I repeated it again, “It’s Jesus.” He looked away and the conversation ended.

But I stood there, looking at my eight 6-year-olds, knowing that they would be preparing for First Communion next year, thinking about how easy it was for me to just believe what was happening in the reverent silence, and how hard it was to explain it satisfactorily to a 6-year-old.

His understanding and trust in transubstantiation won’t come through osmosis by silently looking at the elevated host. It didn’t for me–or you. It will take lots of explanation, lots of tumbling around in his brain, lots of conversations and questions before he will be able to trust in our shared Catholic belief about the mystery of the Eucharist.

And if people like me and his parents and his teachers don’t take the time to talk with him about it over the years, he’ll make up his own mind . . . When that day comes (if it comes, please, no!), it will be near impossible for him to trust in any different understanding because those of us around him have been silent.

Bottom line: Information and transparency build trust. If we want to create a healthy culture, we must articulate what we know and believe first–and often–before we can settle into the silence of assumed agreement. And even then, we cannot be afraid to talk about them again and again and again.

Who Will Reap the Harvest?

harvestChange, change, change, change, change.

It’s a key driver in this year’s elections. And the one challenge put before most of us as leaders at some point in time.

As much as we want to be the one out front, leading the way from what was to what will be, the reality is, in most cases, we only sow seeds.

Great leaders know this. They know that most of what they try to accomplish will only be evident years after they leave their position. Politicians take advantage of this sometimes, highlighting the changes that happen during their years in office when, in fact, their predecessor’s decisions were often the ones that forged the current path.

The truth is, the harvest is for others to reap.

Ministry with teens is one of the best examples of this. As I look back at my years of teaching in an all-girls’ Catholic high school and subsequently as a volunteer in my parish’s youth ministry program, we adults knew that we had four years–and in some cases, fewer–to sow the seeds of faith, hope, and love (ah, yes, the theological virtues!) in the hopes that there would be a harvest.

As each graduating class of seniors departed, there was an internal tug-of-war–what more can we do to keep them connected versus just letting them go free in the hope that the seeds would take root and they would find a “home” in their faith and the Church.

Social media has been the greatest friend to this “sower.” With it, I have been able to follow the lives of our “kids” (many of whom now have their own kids). And I’ve been able to share in their joys and sorrows, and watch how the seeds we planted have fared.

Some fell on rocky ground. Some fell among weeds. But some fell on good soil, took root, and have grown and flourished.

So, in a society that seems to grow more impatient and a culture that demands immediate gratification, what are we to do? Remember and practice the theological virtues so that we may teach them in both our words and deeds.

As Jesus shows us, faith is not something that we go from not having to having. It develops over time through prayer and action. While we are conditioned in our culture to connect hope with wanting things, hope is an attitude that looks to the future, but walks with others in the present (think the familiar poem, “Footsteps.”) And love comes through the care we take in the sowing and feeding so that there may be a harvest.

Being a sower is what we are called to. When you have the opportunity to harvest, thank God for those who came before you and tended the fertile ground and planted that seed. And ask God for support to those who will come after you to tend what you have planted.

 

 

It’s the Journey

path(Follow up to last week’s post.)

Second phrase that sticks in my mind is, “It’s the journey.”

One of the stories that you hear repeatedly in Santiago di Campostela–and you see the evidence of it–is of pilgrims who have made the trek along any of the Camino routes, have arrived in Santiago, and are struck by the thought, “So, now what?”

We heard a lot about the how the Camino, especially the most well-known route starting in France and winding its was through Northern Spain has changed. Movies like “The Way” have popularized the journey along the Camino all over, but especially among Americans. It has become an item on many “bucket lists.”

So it isn’t surprising that the end point might have an unsettling, unsatisfactory, and even empty feel to it.

Bucket lists are for checking off — setting an objective and accomplishing it. Being able to say that you did that — like sky diving (remember when that was at the top of the lists of “things to accomplish in my life.”)

Focusing on the Camino as an accomplishment neglects and ignores its basic nature — as a journey. Getting there is good, but how we get there is even more important.

I remember a number of years ago listening to a reading from the first chapter in the Book of Joshua, which starts by telling us that Moses has died before he and the people can cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. The monologue going on in my head was immersed in the idea that Moses must have been disappointed to have come so far, but not been able to make the final step. As I think back on it, I realize how the 40 year journey was the focus of Moses’ life and leadership, not the destination. Reaching the destination was for another.

But the journey. That was Moses.

Let’s start by admitting that we are focused on a destination (e.g., goal, objective, “bucket list” item) in some way, shape, or form as leaders. Take a look at your list. Wallow in the kudos or endorphins you expect at the end when whatever it is is completed.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, set that aside and let’s look at what the journey to that destination is and will be like. What are the gifts and charisms that you need for the journey? How do they differ from what you will need once you reach the destination? How comfortable are you with letting someone else lead the last steps or take over once you are there?

It’s Your Camino

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Safely returned from a five-day “taste” of the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, there are two phrases that have stuck in my mind.

The first is, “It’s your Camino.” Here are some of the distinguishing features of our Camino trip.

  • We walked parts of the Portuguese Camino, the oldest route, but not the one most people think of.
  • We went with a tour group which meant comfortable hotels and good, reliable meals, not hostels with bunk beds.
  • We had “options” — no need to press onward to reach the next destination because there was always the van to pick you up and take you to that night’s lodgings if the hiking was too much.
  • We had a gaggle of women (and I mean that quite complimentary!) who walked and chatted and shopped and . . . bonded over small and big things.
  • We talked about the obvious and the metaphysical.

In and amongst all of this, “It’s your Camino” meant that it was always your choice how you walked it. Long, short, fast, slow, quiet, talking, taking mental pictures, taking physical pictures, in boots, in tennis shoes, with rain gear, without rain gear.

I thought a lot about how my “how” has changed over the years. I went backpacking about 25 years ago, and spent one of the 9 days at the front, right behind the leader. In looking back, I’m not sure what I thought I was going to achieve by doing that, but it was a consistent pattern in my life. In the end, we all arrived at the same destination, but “sooner” was the imperative for me.

On the Camino, one day I started at the front and kept a pace that had my thighs quaking by the time the day was done. It was also the only day that I hiked the longest possible distance and spent it mostly in conversation. On the rest of the days, I found my own pace, often hanging back with my Mom. I had a better opportunity to take in and embrace everything that was around us. And I felt more like a pilgrim on a journey–one of a pair like the disciples that Jesus sent forth, two by two.

It’s still my Camino, my journey, even as I sit at my desk, working through email, solving problems, moving programs forward. So, the big question is, how do I want to walk the journey of my personal, spiritual, and work life? What are the choices that I want to make?

What is your “Camino” like?