I. My heart was pounding yesterday morning as I arrived at the Basilica of Saint Mary for the Confirmation of some young people from Ascension. My exaggerated heart rate was the result of racing back from the Cathedral of Saint Paul where I thought the ceremony was taking place. During the Mass, I couldn’t help but wonder what the confirmation candidates were feeling. Were they excited or utterly disinterested? What were they thinking about the Mass, the Church, its members and its leaders? Do they, like Jesus in today’s gospel, find their religious teachers hypocritical, proud, and arrogant? Do they even listen to them? Pope Paul VI once said that people will not listen to teachers unless they’re also witnesses. People feel, he says, (quote), “an instinctive revulsion for everything that appears as pretense, façade or compromise.”
II In contrast to those qualities, lining every hallway in Ascension school are white cards that describe Christian character traits: kindness, optimism, respect, and the like. Each week our school community focuses on one of the traits, and tries to live it. When I asked the scholars at our All Saints Day Mass what the first thing a visitor might see upon walking into the school, one student mentioned those white cards. Another went one better. She said that the first thing a visitor might see is, “Kids being nice to each other.” Practicing what we preach.
III How does Ascension exercise religious leadership in this place in this time? How is Ascension called to lead on the North Side? How are we called to lead in support of immigrants and immigration reform? How am I called to lead? If we are to be credible, Pope Francis regularly reminds leaders and teachers to be shepherds living with the smell of their sheep. He says,
When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a [poor] neighborhood and quite another to go there, live there, and understand the problem from the inside and study it… One cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty.
“If you want to know what a person believes, watch their feet, not their mouths.” How does one stop talking and start leading?
h/t: Kathryn Mathews