Leadership is a demanding job, requiring both dedication and training. Half-hearted and poorly trained leaders can’t lead, a tragedy that damages the lives of so many people. In our first reading, Jeremiah cries out a warning to those responsible for lousy spiritual leadership, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.” The people of his time expected leaders who led by example, but experienced just the opposite, causing them to suffer, to scatter, and ultimately, to become lost. However, in the midst of poor leaders, we are reminded again today that Jesus always remains the dedicated and true leader of his people.
Leadership training is carefully spelled out in today’s Gospel. Jesus continued to instruct the apostles until they eventually became leaders who were held accountable for the work they were commissioned to do. They were reminded that their very name, “apostle,” means “one who is sent out.” They were sent out to carry Jesus’ message of repentance and healing. This message was not theirs, but Jesus’ message by whose name and authority they operated.
As a vital part of their training, the apostles were directed to balance their pastoring efforts with healthy doses of rest. Often in the Scriptures we read of how Jesus withdrew from the crowds to rest and pray. He knew it was crucial to maintain the proper balance between prayer and work---between contemplation and action. Both are necessary to remain effective. Spiritual author Henri Nouwen reminded us that we are all called to solitude. “Solitude allows us to struggle against our anger and greed and let our new self be born in the loving encounter with Jesus Christ…[where] we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity with all humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need.” Too much action or too much prayer will never lead to exemplary leadership.
The call to lead in Jesus’ name is never silent. He often recognized the needs of others and “moved with pity,” reached out to address their needs. Pope Francis reminded us that “an evangelizing community gets involved in people’s daily lives,” but warned: “We are seeing in many pastoral workers an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life…not part of their very identity.” (Joy of the Gospel) Spiritual leaders can never take time off, because their pastoring doesn’t work like a water faucet that can be turned on and off. Spiritual leadership is a 24/7 commitment. Our world needs full-time leaders who are willing to take part in the mission of Jesus that restores dignity to all in need.
As modern apostles involved in leadership training, we would do well to maintain a delicate balance between work and rest. We can’t afford to lose our balance, so we take time to respond to Jesus’ call to mission, yet, reserve quiet time to be healed and renewed. When have you last deliberately carved out quiet time in the midst of busy days? We have a standing invitation: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
----Deacon Wilson Shierk