Reflection for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
Whenever the time comes for choosing the heads of our government institutions, the nuances of the processes of democratic systems once more come into play in which the question of a “perfect selection” is again inevitably raised:
Who and how do we define the right leader for us? Is she the one who favors hearing individual needs over those of the community, or the one who sides with community imperatives at the expense of individual wants? Does age and experience matter? Or does gender or religion matter? Should she have a more technocratic background, or does sincerity alone have adequate weight? Is her wealth and prestige really relevant, as if “win-ability” is a non-negotiable factor in our choices? Or are they simply chosen because of “the use we can eventually have for them?”
Who we choose, is chosen at least to the extent that we are willing to admit, based on how a particular candidate will fulfill our myriad personal ambitions. However, the attribute of a leader we would in common most likely disfavor is one who bravely points out our errors, a “killjoy” who makes us feel uneasy with her correctness. Proud democracies will never elect prophets.
But the freedom of nations depends on the genuine goodness of leaders who are at the same time, prophets. A leader-prophet is vox populi and vox Dei. It is precisely in her sincere concern for the safety and growth of her flock, and in her beseeching representation of that same flock to God, that she becomes the mediator of God’s loving concern for them.
Leaders guide the people to what is right and just, while prophets admonish them when they turn to what is wrong and unjust. Leaders must listen to their yearnings and aspirations, while prophets must listen to a collective conscience enabled and animated by the Spirit. Leaders are inspiring and well-loved when their citizens follow them and succeed, while prophets are disturbing and feared or despised when they refuse to obey even at the risk of losing their own lives or engendering an irreversible social disintegration.
A leader-prophet is compassionate. She is moved with pity for a flock without a shepherd, and is moved with even more pity for a flock with a bad shepherd. In our unceasing exasperation of experiencing our own evil, we have learned in time to develop our sense for what is true and just, for what will lead us to peace and happiness. We sometimes intuitively know if and when we are going astray, if our leaders are liars and if our prophets are false. In such a situation of helplessness, a true leader-prophet will unhesitatingly give herself up to straighten our crooked paths.
A leader-prophet listens more than she talks, and counsels more than she commands. She is aware of the sorrows and pains, and is willing to absorb the unending grievance of a world gone wrong. She ventures to teach us, even those who may be beyond instruction; she dares to scold us, even those who may be beyond reprimanding. But in the cold silence of irreconcilable differences, she will always be a caring parent, mirroring the benevolent ministrations of the creator Spirit.
A leader-prophet brings together again what was unduly scattered, for it is in the fragile unity of diverse people that all shall prosper. A leader-prophet lives with her people, through their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and failures, helping them to overcome evil and the fear of evil. She will never promise the elimination of darkness, but she will always promise her solidarity with us in darkness. And a leader-prophet may have to eventually die in that darkness for her people, in order to strengthen a precarious unity, for it is through the experience of one person’s selflessness that self-centeredness acquires its guilt. It is in the encounter of humble sacrifice that proud rhetoric earns its shame.
So, beware of false leader-prophets, never stand behind them. They are vox malum, the voice of the sinister one. They know only themselves, and speak of themselves or for themselves. They do not care for anyone, but themselves. They will definitely lie about themselves, convincing us of the “magnanimity and generosity” that only they can boast of. But they will cheat us anyway, leaving us with unfulfilled promises, empty words of “encouragement and reassurance,” all contrived to keep us in a perpetual bondage and subjugation to their oppressive socio-political dominance. Their scandalous malice will only lead us to a woeful decay, destruction and death.
If the freedom of our country is to be nurtured and preserved for future generations, then we must always stand behind those who can both direct our dreams and warn us of our follies, so that we may all achieve our desired common ends. We cannot choose only either.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.