CRISIS IN MORAL AND SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEB 12:4-15; PS 103:1-2,13-14,17-18; MARK 6:1-6 ]

In the gospel, we read of how Jesus was rejected by His own townsfolks.  His own people were prejudiced against Him.  They knew Him as the son of a carpenter and one of them.  They “were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him.”

Indeed, when a leader is not accepted by the people he ministers to, he cannot get anything done.  Whatever he says is heard with skepticism and suspicions.  In such a situation, one cannot expect a leader to lead, to motivate or to win over the hearts of the people.  If the people are not with the leader, he cannot lead.  There is nothing he can do well without the support of his people.  When he is rejected, he also loses confidence in himself.  He will feel misunderstood, unappreciated and useless.  Whatever zeal he has will be lost because he gets discouraged, disillusioned and resentful.  So we can appreciate why when Jesus was rejected, “he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

If this happened to our Lord, what more can we expect of the leaders in our day, especially those in public service, namely, political and religious leaders?   Unlike Jesus, our leaders are not perfect.  Leaders are equally sinners like the rest of humanity.  Leaders too, have a past and a history of doing wrong things in their lives.  Even all great saints were once great sinners.  However, today, the world’s expectations of leaders are unrealistic.  At least for corporate and sometimes even for political leaders, because of the desire for economic prosperity, the world can tolerate corporate and political leaders who live immoral lives privately.  So long as they are able to bring economic prosperity to the organization or country and  they do not commit fraud or use their power for their vested interest, all other sins can be tolerated; whether gambling, alcoholism, womanizing, and all the other vices.   The world knows that if they were to look for a leader with morality and without fault, no one would be able to assume either corporate or political leadership.  The corporate organization and the country would be left without any leaders!

So moral leadership today is only expected from religious leaders.  Because religious leaders preach and teach morality, the world assumes religious leaders to be conceived without original sin and remain sinless throughout their lives.  A religious leader who has a past history of sins would be exposed publicly even if he has repented and are lving a new life.   He would be discredited and exposed.  Today, every sin or inappropriate behavior or conduct of a religious leader will go viral in the social media.  Some are half-truths, others are simply fake news or presumptuous judgment of people.  Of course, some could be true.  Nevertheless, they are circulated like wild fire, destroying the integrity of the leader and diminishing his authority.  As for the poor religious leader, if he were to fight back, he would appear to be defensive or lacking compassion.  If he were to keep quiet, people would assume the half-truths to be the truth.  So he is in a dilemma.

Indeed, today, the devil uses social media to his favour by making use of it as an instrument to destroy the credibility of leaders.  The twofold strategy of the Evil One is to destroy the institutions of marriage and family; and the public and religious institutions by making people lose trust in the leaders.  Of course, we know that the devil likes to work with half-truths and lies.  This is what the Lord said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  (Jn 8:44)  Those who spread half-truths and make presumptuous judgments are unwittingly being made use of by the devil to destroy the credibility of leaders so that society would be left rudderless.  Those who think that they are doing the people of God or the nation a service by attacking the leaders publicly, are in fact are destroying all confidence in leadership, especially when it is not a serious offence or crime that was committed.

As a consequence, it would be more and more difficult to find religious leaders anymore.  Destroying the religious leaders is the last bastion of the devil to overcome, having already destroyed the credibility of corporate and political leaders.  Once religious leaders lose all credibility, no one would be able to preach or teach morality.  Relativism rules the day.  No one would know what truth is, but act according to one’s individualistic preferences.   When religious leaders are expected to be perfect and be without sin, who wants to be a religious leader?  He would always be under public scrutiny and sometimes misjudged by presumptuous and self-righteous people.  More so for us Catholics, because our priests and religious are expected to serve the people without condition, all day and all night, without remuneration.  They are to observe celibacy, poverty and obedience.  With such demands and unrealistic expectations from the people of God, it would take a saint conceived without sin to join the priestly and religious life.  Eventually, the Church would be without any leaders and Christianity would be destroyed.

Are we then to surrender in defeat to the strategy of the Evil One and allow him to destroy the last bastion of faith and morals?  On one hand, religious leaders must seek to remove the prejudices of the world by striving for holiness and fighting against sin.  The letter to the Hebrews said, “In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting in to the point of bloodshed. Have you forgotten that encouraging text in which you are addressed as sons?”  Leaders therefore need to strive for integrity of life, which is what holiness is all about, living a holistic life, when faith and life are one.  This is what the author of Hebrew is encouraging us.  “Seek peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord. Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a large number.”  Religious leaders must endeavor to live a life of holiness so that we can avoid scandals and prevent gossips from taking place.

Yet, even if leaders seek to live a righteous life, there will be times when they will be judged, wrongfully or even rightly for their failures, and often publicly exposed as well.  What can religious leaders do?  There is nothing much they can do but to suffer in silence and do what they can to control the damage caused by such attacks on their integrity.  To do more would be to allow the devil to publicize the scandal, apparent or real.  This is where prudence must be exercised.  Such prudence requires deep humility and objectivity on the part of the person being accused, falsely or rightly.

However, one must not fall into resentment in the process.  This is what the first reading is warning us.  “My son, do not scorn correction from the Lord, do not resent his training, for the Lord trains those he loves, and chastises every son he accepts.  Perseverance is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Our human fathers were training us for a short life and according to their own lights; but he does it all for our own good, so that we may share his own holiness. Of course, any discipline is at the time a matter for grief, not joy; but later, in those who have undergone it, it bears fruit in peace and uprightness.”  We need to take all our trials, the ridicules, the slanders and humiliation as means for purification of our sins if we have done wrong, or growth in holiness and mortifications for the salvation of souls if we have been misjudged and falsely accused.

Indeed, at the end of the day, let us find joy not in what people say about us but what we feel the Lord thinks of us.  “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.”  (1 Jn 3:20f)  The author exhorts us, “So steady all weary hands and trembling knees and make your crooked paths straight; then the injured limb will not be maimed, it will get better instead.”  Instead of blaming society for losing faith in religious leaders, let religious leaders strive for holiness and integrity, and eventually we will heal the injured limb of our people as well.  With the psalmist, we trust in the Lord.  “As a father has compassion on his sons, the Lord has pity on those who fear him; for he knows of what we are made, he remembers that we are dust.  But the love of the Lord is everlasting upon those who hold him in fear; his justice reaches out to children’s children when they keep his covenant in truth.”


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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