The time between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent can feel a bit awkward. Ordinary Time began with the Baptism of Jesus, but we know it will be interrupted by a rather lengthy set of seasons, not resuming again until well into June. It would be a mistake to approach these weeks as simply a connector between seasons. Instead let’s consider this time as an extension of Epiphany, as in times of old when Epiphany was actually considered a season. In that light, we can reflect upon the leadership of the Magi and the symbolism of the gifts they gave which coincide with the three facets of our baptismal covenant, a reminder of our call: we are baptized as priest (frankincense), prophet (myrrh), and king (gold). To be priest refers to our membership in the common priesthood and so it is about being witnesses to our faith through prayer and service. We have looked at prophetic living in depth this past year, but suffice it to say that it is about humbly, yet boldly proclaiming the faith even if it is contrary to popular culture. To be king refers to our leadership as just and merciful in our use of whatever power we have; we set an example by living what we profess. Truly, our kingly role is one we do not often consider since kingship is a foreign concept to us. But if we look to the Scriptures we can see that there are many kinds of kings, not all involving a crown. Jesus taught that true kingship is wrapped in love, not as mere sentimentality, but as the foundation of everything we do. This bold love is our call as His disciples: leading through service.
The Old Testament is replete with stories of kings. There are two sets of books which are totally dedicated to their reigns: the aptly named 1 and 2 Kings, and also 1 and 2 Chronicles. The saga of kings in Israel actually begins with Saul in 1 Samuel and ends with the Exile hundreds of years later. Additional insights into some of the kings permeate the prophetic books as well. As expected, there were good kings and some horrifically evil ones. The greatest of these men, albeit not perfect by any means, was King David. At the end of his life David spoke of what God said to him about his kingship, and thus of God’s description of good leadership: “Of me the rock of Israel said: He that rules over men in justice, that rules with the fear of God, is like the morning light at sunrise on a cloudless morning, making the greensward sparkle after rain.” (2 Samuel 23:3-4; ‘Greensward’ is the green, grassy turf.)* In other words, a kingly leader is a person whose heart is filled with justice, but always in context of the deepest respect and relationship with God. This leader is a person of prayer; and it the result of that prayer, of coming to know and love God better, of disposing oneself wholly to God in humility and love, that this person is of great beauty to God. This is a person who stands out from among the rest.
In the New Testament we see that leadership is completely bound in mercy, compassion, and love, but that the love Jesus preached was incredibly challenging. He said: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) Jesus wanted us to love the way He loves, something that seems daunting since we know He is God and therefore He loves perfectly; we are imperfect and cannot love in this way. However, Jesus is not expecting perfection from us, but rather that our intentions are always formed from the perspective of the best interests of the other. Love is about action and heroism, and it is about humility and selflessness; love is about living in imitation of Jesus, leading others to God for the sheer joy of sharing what we have received. The love Jesus teaches is a thing of beauty, “like the morning light at sunrise on a cloudless morning making the greensward sparkle after rain.”
An example of a good leader was St. John Bosco (1815-88) whose feast day is January 31. He was from a poor family, and unfortunately his father died when he was a small boy. While his mother was saintly, one of his older brothers cruelly beat John when he discussed his desire to become a priest, not wanting him to leave the family. After much prayer, John ran away and after a short time was able to enter a seminary with the help of a priest he had met. John eventually devoted his life to helping boys who did not have fathers, especially after he saw how many were imprisoned for crimes committed due to lack of guidance. As a result John set up schools for poor and fatherless boys, offering education and guidance so that they could lead productive, Godly lives. He also began a religious congregation, the Salesians, so that others could aid in the ministry of teaching, role modeling, and service. St. John Bosco was a great leader, living his vocation as priest, (in the ministerial priesthood) prophet (going against the culture to bring the gospels to those who might never have heard it), and as king, (leading with justice, mercy, and love).
The kind of love Jesus asks of us clearly involves great effort, but it bears fruit because it is steeped in love. From the way Jesus lived we see that kingly love is about forgiveness, not retaliation. Love is about selflessness; to really love means to set our own ego aside, seeing the other person as equal to ourselves in dignity. Therefore a kingly person never ‘lords it over’ anyone, but sees the other as sharing the same humanity, even if we are vastly different in how we dress, what we look like, how we speak, where we are from, or what our customs and preferences might be. A loving leader is one who does not condone everything the other says or does, however: to be kingly means we model kindness and respect, but we also know when to challenge. From experience we know that leaders, good or bad, influence the accepted behaviors of the people they lead. If we look to Scripture, it was the sinful behaviors of the evil kings which led the people astray because the people began to think, even if unconsciously, “If it is good enough for the king, it must be okay for us, too.” And similarly, when a good king was aligned with the love of God, acting justly, the people responded by living with similar dedication to God. (Of course, I am speaking generally: there are always faithful people in times of sinful leadership, and vice versa. But it cannot be denied that the behavior of a leader does affect the behavior of the populace.)
If we desire to live up to our baptismal role as kingly, we do not have to become the next political ‘wunderkind,’ spiritual guru, or voice of the people. What we do need is be an example of Christian love and charity in our daily activities. Like Jesus, we are called to truly listen to one another, being present to the one we are with. We are called to discern rather than to jump to conclusions based on what we think we see. A good rule of thumb (based on what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount) is that if we are going to assume anything, it is that things are not always what they seem. Only God knows all that there is to know about a person; there are always hidden circumstances of which we know nothing. Therefore, a kingly leader knows not to judge another based on what they see or hear. As a result, a kingly leader is one who is filled with the joy of accepting God’s wisdom, and is filled with gratitude.
Living our call to be kingly does not mean we will be impervious to suffering, but rather it means that we turn to God to help us to be the best witness we can be in all of the circumstances of our life. It also means that we become continually more aware of our own sinfulness and shortcomings, such that we learn to have a compassionate heart, realizing that we are no different in our imperfection than those we serve. True to our kingly role, we ‘rule’ only insofar as we become the servant of others, just as Jesus taught His disciples on the night before He died. (John 13:14-15) Thus, our witness will glorify God and lead others to Him. Then perhaps God can say of us, as of David, “[They are] like the morning light at sunrise on a cloudless morning, making the greensward sparkle after rain.”
May we live in conformity with our baptismal call to be priest, prophet, and king! May we continue to grow in understanding of what it means to be kingly, imitating Jesus, the true King! May we grow in our Epiphany journey, having our own moments of revelation as to God’s desire for us! May we seek the intercession of St. John Bosco that we might open our hearts to others, especially the poor! May our Christian leadership be a thing of beauty, “like the morning light at sunrise on a cloudless morning making the greensward sparkle after rain!” And may we imitate Jesus, making an effort to find quiet time for reflection upon our relationship with the Father as well as the grace to live our call to love! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Notes: Next post will be February 11.
* I like this translation, the NAB, for its poetry. NAB stands for New American Bible and it is the translation before the recent revision. (The newest one is the NABRE.)
1. This image was titled Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, found at the site below. It is a mosaic and is probably in a Greek Orthodox Church. I chose it because it is one of the few images that shows all three magi with their gifts in their hands. If you look closely at most images of the magi, one of them is empty handed, presumably already having delivered his gift. Trust me, I looked at many! http://www.greeknewsonline.com/gold-frankincense-and-myrrh-the-gifts-of-magi-to-christ/
2. This is one of my photos, and while it does not show a green, grassy turf, it does capture the beauty of the dew as after rain. It was taken while on a hike in Lost Maples State Natural Area in Texas.
3. Once again, while this does not depict a cloudless morning at sunrise, it does show the contrast of the sunlight bursting through the clouds after the rain. It was an incredible sight. This was taken at the harbor on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.
4. This a photo I took of a mosaic of St. John Bosco at the Salesian church in Turin, Italy, where he ministered and where the school still is thriving. I cropped the original photo to get more of a close up. Here he is seen with a young boy on the viewer's left, and a young man on the viewer's right. The boy is representative of the boys to whom St. John Bosco ministered. The young man, however was a model representing the fine men St. John's pupils grew into. But the fun part is that this model is himself on the road to canonization. That's Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati!
5. This painting is Jesus Healing a Blind Man by Duccio di Buoninsegno. I chose it to represent the compassion of Jesus. He never judged the people to whom He ministered, but rather, offered mercy and love.
6. This is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Christ the King the Bridegroom. I chose it because it features Jesus as a suffering servant king.
It can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/christ-the-king-the-bridegroom-066-william-hart-mcnichols.html
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart