Christian Service shows Authentic Leadership

Pope Francis washing the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center on Holy Thursday in 2013.

Pope Francis washing the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center on Holy Thursday in 2013.


“What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it…We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.”  Pope Francis’ homily at the Chrism Mass in 2013.

I remember when I was first asked to be the coordinator of parish youth ministry at the Basilica of St. John in the 1990s.  I was excited because the pastor had recognized that I had gifts he felt would be of use to the parish, and especially teens, to grow in closer relationship with God.  Immediately after I said yes, without much discernment, I immediately became very afraid…”What am I doing?”  “Am I nuts?”  “Surely this is the worst mistake anyone could make?”

Well after some research and time on the job I realized the answer was yes to all of the questions except the mistake.  I grew to love youth ministry and it was because in servicing others in Jesus’ name, I saw his face more clearly.  The teens reflections, vibrancy and problems helped me understand Jesus’ washing of the feet more clearly.  Shortly after I began in youth ministry a parishioner provided me with a picture of very dirty feet.  Below is a copy of the exact picture I have next to my Breviary (thank you internet.)  I look at that picture every morning as I contemplate “Who do you say that I am?”  (Matthew 16:15b)images

I think about the times Jesus lived and what roads would have been filled with: not very good thoughts I must say.  And yet he humbled himself to wash the feet and he told his disciples that they too must do the same.  Pope Francis above proposes that we find God’s anointing for us when we self-sacrifice for the good of others…even when they are wrong, rude, boring, left-wing or right-wing, from the wrong family, etc.

I propose that the Pope is telling each of us that one of the most powerful symbols of authenticity is service to our sisters and brothers.  Each day I need to ask myself, is my leadership style there primarily for serving other’s needs or my own?  Perhaps this is rude to have you ask this of yourself but it is worth thinking about when registrations are late, a parent yells at you for something that isn’t your fault, or your parish leadership doesn’t always take time to give you thanks for your hard work.  The blessings of working in diocesan ministry is that I have the chance to see inspiration daily and it helps me dig deeper to understand that leadership in line with Jesus’ teaching is leadership at a personal cost.  As we enter this new catechetical season in the next month, let us focus on the many feet we will encounter…some of which may be our own.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Pope Francis, Service


Inspirational Leadership Requires Self-Leadership

Mary Green, receiving an award for 25 years of service in catechetical leadership on May 13, 2014 in Atlantic.  Photo by Dr. Cheryl Fournier.

Mary Green, receiving an award from Father Michael Amadeo, for 25 years of service in catechetical leadership on May 13, 2014 in Atlantic. Photo by Dr. Cheryl Fournier.

Pope Francis, in his Pentecost Vigil address on May 18, 2013, stated, “The worst enemy of a fragile faith — curious, isn’t it? — is fear.  Do not be afraid!  We are frail and we know it, but he is stronger!”  He goes on to say, “Think about it: when we are too self-confident, we are more fragile — much more fragile.  Always with the Lord, with the Lord!  And when we say “with the Lord”, we mean with the Eucharist, with the Bible, with prayer… but also with the family, with our mother, also with her, because she is the one who brings us to the Lord; she is the mother, she is the one who knows everything.  So pray to Our Lady too and ask her, as a mother, to ‘make me strong’.”

Chris Lowney, author of Pope Francis: Why he Leads the Way he Leads,” proposes that “Pope Francis’ leadership inspires others because of his self-leadership, and the respective path to self-leadership involved deep introspective journeys (p. 25.) ”  He continues to reflect on Pope Francis’ first 48 hours as the Roman Pontiff by recognizing that the pope has learned to “Be Who You Are (p. 25.)”  He continues with a short reflection on the qualities found in Pope Francis and others who share this gift of personal understanding, “Be comfortable in your own skin.  Know who you are, the good and the bad.  And find the courage not just to be yourself, but the best version of yourself.  These are the foundations of self-leadership, and all leadership starts with self-leadership because you can’t lead the rest of us if you can’t lead yourself.  And you can’t lead yourself if you haven’t done the work to know who you are (p. 28.)”

We have an excellent example of what Pope Francis and Chris Lowney illustrate in Mary Green.  Mary is a disciple of God, daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, colleague and wise sage.  On Friday July 4, 2014 Mary lost her physical battle with cancer but it did nothing but fuel her soul to seek God’s face and share his good news of grace and mercy with those she encountered.  Her faithfulness inspired me, and many others, to grow deeper in Christian faith and love for the Church.

I will miss the many conversations that Mary and I had over the years about faith, the Church, catechetical ministry, parish life, children…vocation.  Mary was passionate about her faith and her love for the Church, even when she felt the Church was moving in the wrong direction.  She was one of the few people you could have a vigorous discussion about pastoral issues facing the Catholic Church and even if you found yourself on different ends of the argument in the end, you couldn’t help but admire her faithfulness and her charity in the midst of the conversation.  She also is one of the few people who took responsibility when she felt she let people down.  She and I were both passionate about inclusion of all people in our parish communities.  When it came to disabled people, Mary felt we were not doing nearly enough including the efforts at her own parish.  She rolled up her sleeves, spoke to the pastor, worked on a good first step and went for it.  Today this parish is leading the way in what can be done for all families, including those who have people with disabilities, to be included in every aspect of parish life.

My final memory of Mary is at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) Annual Meeting held in St. Louis this past May.  Mary was in her element: learning about new ways to evangelize and catechize, encountering colleagues from around the country, speaking to national leaders to know more about methodologies to help her parish community and sharing her joy and new-found knowledge with all of us who were blessed to be there too.  On Wednesday evening we all went out to dinner and Mary was full of energy and life as she was whisked away in a bicycle cart carriage to the restaurant.  We spoke about our diocese, catechetical ministry, our colleagues as we enjoyed wine, delicious Italian food and wonderful desserts.  It was a night I will always cherish and her final challenge to me to strive to be the best version of myself.

Mary Green, pray for us.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


Pope Francis’ Leadership Model – Lessons for those who serve in Evangelization & Catechesis



Author Chris Lowney, Loyola Press, begins his new book Pope Francis: Why he Leads the Way he Leads – Lessons from the First Jesuit Pope with the following quote from Pope Francis, “Today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather witnesses.  It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives.”  Ouch!  For someone like me who has spent most of his adult life in a teaching/coaching position, I am not sure how to take the Pope?

I decided to look further at what Pope Francis said on his May 18, 2013 Pentecost Vigil Address in St. Peter’s Square to gather some context to this brief statement which launches this book.  The Pope said, “Because God sets beside us people who help us on our journey of faith.  We do not find our faith in the abstract, no!  It is always a person preaching who tells us who Jesus is, who communicates faith to us and gives us the first proclamation.  And this is how I received my first experience of faith.”  Pope Francis provide a simple three step process for experiencing God:

  1. Jesus
  2. Prayer
  3. Witness

Finally he lands his point that helps me make sense of the initial comment regarding witnessing over teaching, “Faith can only be communicated through witness, and that means love.  Not with our own ideas but with the Gospel, lived out in our own lives and brought to life within us by the Holy Spirit…It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives: living consistently, the very consistency of our lives!  This consistency means living Christianity as an encounter with Jesus that brings me to others.”

Most teachers I know that are effective have this quality of witness in their character.  Think about the catechists and youth ministry associates who work with children and teens every week?  Yes, they work on lesson plans and additional study to become well versed for the session, but what the children and teens experience is the Holy Spirit animating this person to be with them to share their faith in God and our Catholic Church.  Witnessing to one’s faith may sound like a “Protestant” method but when you think of it the way Pope Francis does, it is each of us sharing with others why Jesus is vital to the way in which we live our lives.

With that said, will you consider volunteering your time to work with children or teens once a year to share your faith?  If you are a catechist or youth minister, who in your parish would be open to sharing their faith with your children and teens?  Are there parishioners who would be open to sharing a bit of their faith journey in the parish bulletin, on the website or parish Facebook page?  If you are a parent or grand parent, have you shared with your children/grandchildren how important Jesus is in your life?  Evangelization is the responsibility of everyone, not just the pastor and staff.  As I learned today from Pope Francis, evangelization happens when we give witness to our words and deeds.

Join me each Monday for a different reflection on Pope Francis and leadership.


Sunday, Sunday, Sunday: The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Life Teen Podcast is attached.  Readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time: Is 62:1-5; Ps 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-11.

“Everyone loves a good wedding.  To really understand the depth of this week’s readings we have to understand what a wedding is and what matrimony was made for.  This week’s Gospel is about the wedding feast at Cana.  It is Jesus’ first public miracle.  When Jesus performs miracles, he performs them to reveal something about: himself, about the heart of God, and to reveal his glory.  At every single Mass, working through the power of the Holy Spirit and the hands of the priest, the wine becomes the blood of Jesus Christ.  St. John the evangelist reminds us that God’s first miracle in Exodus is to change water into blood.  At the wedding feast at Cana water is turned into wine.  At Mass, the wine is turned into Christ’s blood.  God is using these physical elements and human people to reveal his glory.  He reveals his glory to each of us so that we may be in an intimate relationship with us: even more so than an intimate relationship with one’s spouse.”  (Mark Hart)

This podcast is an excellent foundation for a weekly Bible study focused on the readings throughout the liturgical year.  These Bible studies can be at the parish, at a coffee shop or even on-line.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday Podcast – The 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time


National Vocation Awareness Week: Vocation or Callings with Dr. Mike Carotta

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops established the National Vocation Awareness Week in 1976.  The celebration was moved to coincide with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on 1997.  This week the Catholic Church in the United States sets aside to promote vocations to the priesthood, religious life and the diaconate through education and prayer.  We also are asked to renew our commitment to help everyone grow in holiness and to match the gifts God has given each of us with the a world who needs to know and love God.

For me, it is helpful that this week begins with the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  It reminds me that at the core pursuit of holiness is an experience with God.  Yesterday’s second reading, St. Paul’s Letter to Titus, beautifully puts this in perspective when he writes that we, “become heirs in hope for eternal life. (Titus 2:7)”  What does it mean to be part of God’s family?  What can I do to proclaim the kingdom?  Are there some who have different roles from me, and am I doing all I can to recognize and affirm those gifts?

Dr. Mike Carotta, who will be in our diocese in April for round two of our Confirmation Workshops, discusses in the video clip below “callings” and “vocation”.  It is thought provoking for all of us…not just for discerning our own vocation but also helping others in discernment and prayer on their vocation.  The video is from a wonderful web resource called The Five Loaves.  “Understanding our vocation, not just our job but our calling, requires discernment and prayer.  Mike offers some great insights this week on the question of knowing our vocation and what it calls us to understand about ourselves.”

“What’s Your Calling” – Dr. Mike Carotta

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Dr. Mike Carotta, Vocation


Sunday, Sunday, Sunday: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

The Life Teen Podcast is attached.  Readings for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30; Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22.

“What would you place on the list of most important dates in your life?  Would your Baptism be one of those dates?  Oftentimes we understand that Baptism is important but we don’t understand why it is that important.  Baptism accomplishes what circumcision, in the Old Testament, could only signify…Baptism brings you and I into the family of Christ.  This is a feast in which we should celebrate that God invites us into this relationship.  When we are Baptized, we are Baptized into the perfect family of the Holy Trinity.  This is unmerited, a free gift of grace, because of God’s mercy to become a part of God’s family.  We are not just having our sins washed away in Baptism: we are being recreated and reborn.  Now we are a son and a daughter of God.”  (Mark Hart)

This podcast is an excellent foundation for a weekly Bible study focused on the readings throughout the liturgical year.  These Bible studies can be at the parish, at a coffee shop or even on-line.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday Podcast – The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord


USCCB Blog: The Face of Poverty by Bishop Richard E. Pates

Bishop Richard E. Pates

Bishop Richard E. Pates

Poverty has a face; it is the face of Christ in poor people. As Jesus taught: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me.” The Gospel reminds us that the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and those in prison are Christ.

Christ is present in the hungry child in Malawi, stunted and sickly from a lack of proper nutrition. Christ is in infants on the verge of death from preventable water-borne illnesses due to a lack of clean water supplies in Zambia. Christ is visible in refugees and strangers who flee famine, war or persecution, as in Syria today. We meet Christ in the naked child whose body is racked with toxic poisons from a polluted water source near an unregulated mining operation in Peru. Christ gazes out of the dull eyes of a mother dying of AIDS in South Africa, too sick to care for her children, soon to be orphans. We come upon Christ in a father separated from his children for a non-violent drug offense in a U.S. prison, the nation with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Earlier this year, I saw the face of Christ in an unlikely place of poverty: a sprawling seminary in Nigeria. I was there to preside over the ordination to the priesthood of 10 Nigerian Spiritans and 15 to the transitional diaconate. Spiritan priests from Nigeria have faithfully served the Diocese of Des Moines for many years. The high school seminary has 600 students, approximately 10 percent of whom will likely become priests. The seminary provides a broad and good education, but what struck me was that while the seminary was rich in faith, it was poor in resources. The classrooms were little more than shelters. There were few books and no technology. Living quarters were below standard. For me, this seminary became a symbol of the spiritual richness and physical poverty of the Church in Africa. Although the seminarians were much better off than many poor Nigerians, poverty was still evident.

Of course, recognizing Christ in the poor is not enough. We must then meet Christ’s needs in His people. Our Diocese of Des Moines has begun in a small way to do just that. The schools of our diocese are reaching out to the seminary to provide cash assistance to address the seminary’s urgent need for resources. There is a person-to-person connection and an effort to support and enhance the resources at the seminary’s disposal.

In the same way, the broader Church in our diocese and throughout the United States reaches out to the Church and people of poor countries in the developing world. The Church in Latin America collection and the Church in Africa initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provide grants for pastoral activities. Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, provides humanitarian and development assistance, often in partnership with the local Church, in about 100 countries. We can do our part by supporting this work.

We can also raise our voices in the public square on behalf of the world’s poor.  Motivated by Christ’s identification with poor persons, we can encourage public officials to preserve and strengthen U.S. poverty-focused international assistance. This aid is less than one percent of the federal budget, but literally saves lives and creates livelihoods for the poorest people in the poorest places on earth all of whom are Christ. They are our brothers and sisters in the human family.

More information on poverty can be found at the Catholics Confront Global Poverty website.

Bishop Richard E. Pates, from the Diocese of Des Moines, chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 105 other followers