Servant Leadership

Jesus reminds us in today's Gospel that love of rank and status is incompatible with the demands of Christian discipleship.  The mother of James and John wants to ensure that her sons will sit at Jesus' side; one at his right, the other at his left.  Jesus responds in a sober and straightforward manner: “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” (Matt 20:22)  He goes on to remind the disciples that among God's people, whoever wants to be great must first become a slave and the servant of all, "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28)  The message is clear: Jesus, who humbly chose to be hollowed out and emptied for love, is himself the archetype that his disciples must imitate, especially when exercising leadership.

Today the Church remembers such a leader, St. Toribio of Mogrovejo.  Born into a noble family and appointed Lima, Perú's second archbishop, Toribio sailed from his native Spain in 1580 to humbly serve the flock entrusted to his care.  Toribio worked tirelessly in defense of the indigenous population of his archbishopric from the abuses committed by their conquerors, and was known for his heroic generosity and dedication to the poor.  The archbishop was criticized by some of Perú's vice-regal authorities for spending a considerable amount of time traveling through his enormous archdiocese on foot to preach the Gospel to indigenous communities, sometimes alone and under hazardous circumstances.    

St. Toribio is an example of the servant leadership that Jesus calls us all to imitate in today's Gospel.  As servants to one another, and as followers of Jesus Christ, let us examine our hearts and ask ourselves: Do we desire to stand out as the most accomplished lay ministers at the parish?  If we are consecrated religious, are we taken with how others admire us as we follow our way of life?  Do we frequently imagine ourselves being elected superiors of our communities?  If we are ordained, do we fantasize about receiving a bishop's miter and crosier?  Finally, when we become aware of these desires, do we take care to redirect them into love of God and a sincere commitment to serve God's people according to our state in life?  It is incumbent on us to cultivate a profound awareness of our motivations as disciples, so that we may offer them humbly and without fear to the God of love whose living image is Jesus Christ, the One to whom we are called to be conformed in the Spirit as servants and leaders, and above all as Christians.