“The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr: he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct: and he is not what people want, but rather what the people need… Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” - G. K. Chesterton
A distinguishing mark of great writing is that it remains just as true and important throughout time. G.K. Chesterton, widely considered the greatest Catholic writer and thinker of the 20th century, wrote the above statement in preface to a book about the lives of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi. His words are especially meaningful when put into the context of these two Catholic giants. but they have perhaps never been truer than they are today.
In a society where cowardice is a virtue and masculinity is a vice, it is not surprising that there are few strong and capable leaders. Naturally, we look to the Church for leadership, but we are constantly forced to filter and interpret the Pope’s ambiguity, and we constantly see the College of Cardinals accused of shameful and scandalous crimes. We look to our government, where our election choices two years ago were narrowed down to Donald Trump, who is obnoxious at best, and Hillary Clinton, who does not have a best.
This is all to say that in a world where our leadership is so poor it is no wonder that the sheep stray and the flock is dispersed…
Leadership is a funny thing. It’s obvious that some people are born with a temperament to lead and some are born with a temperament to follow, but no one has purely one nor the other.
Everyone is called to be a leader to a certain degree.
We must all continually choose to avoid temptations -- from within and without. In doing so, we are already being leaders at the very simplest level. Every day we have to challenge our own capacity for action and our growth as individuals. This self-accountability is so necessary in our world -- a world depraved of leaders.
Today demands radical efforts to combat radical evil. There are too few who strive for personal conquest and growth -- too few that it is not enough for them to lead only themselves and leave others behind. I would even venture to say that our world is so complacent with vice, that if you strive for perfection and virtue, you stick out.
Leadership is firstly an internal work. We have to reflect on goodness and choose it on a daily basis if we are to lead others to do the same. Any good leader masters himself before he has any success leading others. Study, reflection, self-discipline -- these are foundations of leadership. Only with this strong foundation can we hope to have any efficacy among others.
The external aspect of leadership varies from person to person. Without even going out of your way to be a leader, you are already noticed if you are making even the smallest efforts in virtue. Making the sign of the cross before meals and having a clean mouth is enough for people in any school or workplace to notice that you are different. Are there enough Catholics among us willing to step up and do the tough things that need to be done and say the tough things that need to be said?
It is good to remember that leaders are obliged to speak up when the good of their neighbor demands it. That means every time in school, at work, at family reunions, we must be ready to publicly defend what is right and true. Obviously, we should realize when a conversation has gone beyond the point of fruitful, however, do we really shy away because we fear that our words will not be productive or because we fear the judgements of our peers? The former is prudent, the latter negligent.
The reality of the situation puts us in a very delicate place. When our leaders fall through with their responsibilities, it is for us to pick up the burden, to carry the torch. In the biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, God asks for only ten just men. Only ten men to spare a world steeped in sin and vice. Are there ten men today? -- It is not the sins of the evil that will determine the direction and momentum of mankind, but the actions of the good.