Servant Leadership


Servant Leadership Based on Love and Forgiveness:

 (Acts 24:27, 25:13-21; Ps 103; Jn 21:15-19)


In the early years of my ministry in northern Saskatchewan, a brother priest and I went by boat from Île-à-la Crosse to Patuanak to visit Bishop Dumouchel OMI, who loved to serve this mission whenever he could. He greeted us by informing us he had received a letter of complaint about us young priests, lamenting we did not preach enough about sin, purgatory, hell and damnation – all we talked about was love and forgiveness. A little shocked and fearful, we waited with trepidation while he paused a moment, then with a twinkle in his eye, continued, “I have a word of advice for you young priests – keep on preaching love and forgiveness!”

The readings today remind us the criteria for genuine servant leadership in the church is the experience of being loved and forgiven, and the ability to love and forgive.

Think of it – what C.E.O or president of a large company or corporation, addressing the leading members of their organization, would dwell on the theme of love, rather than profits, marketing and efficiency? Yet in today’s gospel in which Jesus, after his resurrection from the dead, starts to lay the foundations for the church based on Peter, speaks only of love. Three times he asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” What is going on here?

Peter, as we know, had denied Jesus three times. It is easy to make the connection that with these words, Jesus was reminding Peter of that failing, and forgiving him for it. Add to this the fact that when Peter experienced the first miraculous catch of fish, he blurted out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). The response of Jesus was to accept Peter as he was and continue to guide him into a leadership role. It would seem that this experience of being loved and forgiven by Jesus is the criteria for leadership in the church, and not any personal skill or academic standing.

We can deduce, in the first reading, that it is the same situation for St. Paul. He who was persecuting the early followers of the Way, and who had approved the stoning to death of Stephen, met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In that dramatic encounter, there was no punishment or judgement on the part of Jesus – just a gentle forgiveness through the words, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

One of the reasons Paul went to Arabia after that encounter and his subsequent healing from his inability to see, was to integrate how forgiven he was by Jesus. I suspect Paul’s ability to accept imprisonment and mistreatment for two years at the hands of the local governors was because of this transformative experience of being forgiven by Jesus on the road to Damascus. This had given him a keen awareness of God’s tremendous love incarnate in Jesus Christ, and the bigger picture of God’s plan, so he was able to patiently put up with all kinds of suffering for the sake of the gospel. Like Peter, Paul’s leadership in evangelization was based on the experience of being loved and forgiven.

As tough and crusty as Paul could be at times, the centrality of God as love would sometimes burst forth with great clarity and poetic brilliance in his writing, such as his famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-9, in which he describes love as patient, kind, gentle, forgiving, trusting, etc. I like to suggest to people that they substitute the word “I” instead of love as they pray with this passage, to bring home the reality of this call to love. That would read like this: “I am patient, I am kind, I am not envious or boastful or arrogant, I am not irritable or resentful, etc.

Given that love is so central to the experience of these two leaders of the Church, it is no surprise that the core teaching of Jesus, the commandments he left us, would have love as their focus: we are to love God with our whole being, love others as we love ourselves, love one another as he has loved us, and above all, love our enemies by forgiving them from the heart. Along that same line, Fr. Mark Blom, who was vocation director for OMI Lacombe Province for many years, continually pointed out in his ministry that the basis for discernment of vocations is the experience of the love of God for the young men considering a vocation to Oblate religious life and priesthood.

The Eucharist is an ongoing daily experience of the love of God for us, in which we receive God’s forgiveness and healing through word and sacrament. May our celebration empower us to, each in our own way, exercise servant leadership in making that love known to others as did Peter, Paul and the many martyrs over the centuries.

Updated: May 16, 2024 — 2:17 pm

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