Today was Peter’s big day as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-19):
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood as not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Theologically speaking, I guess this is the day the pope was made. But for the sake of our journey through depression, I’m going to concentrate on this question of “Who do you say that I am?” Because I still haven’t figured that out, God. And in highlighting Peter’s correct response, I think (this is my opinion, of course) that you are telling us what makes for a good leader. This chapter in Matthew is your version of “7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” I came up with five, and here they are:
1. Truthfulness. Choose your words carefully.
Peter didn’t say, “You are the Christ, dude!” just to appease Jesus, even though he does come across as a tad of a people-pleaser. He seemed to wholeheartedly believe all ten words (probably more in Hebrew, right?) of his statement: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He chose his words carefully. Just like he did when he denied Jesus at his death, but let’s not focus on that today, the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
Choosing and using words carefully–the first agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements”– is especially important when putting out fires on an online discussion board. Beyond Blue reader/member Larry/Doxieman reminded all of us at Group Beyond Blue of that the other day. For Ruiz, the first agreement (“Be impeccable with your word”) means this: *speak with integrity * say only what you mean * avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others * use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
As a writer, that commandment is bloody hard. But all leaders, and I suppose as moderator of an exploding online support group that puts me in that category, need a reminder of just how powerful our words are.
2. Humility. Know your place.
The best spiritual leaders know that they are mere instruments of God. They don’t get in the way of God’s grace and miracles. Their egos are like dried grape skins after God has made wine from their juice. Furthermore, they know it’s about the wine, not about the grapes. Peter didn’t say, “We together are the Christ.” There was only one Christ, and it wasn’t the one supposedly guarding the gates of heaven.
One of the many reasons the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux, my patron saint, appeals to me is her humility and her little way. In the ninth chapter of “Story of a Soul” she writes:
I am too little to have any vanity, I am also too little to know how to turn beautiful phrases so as to make it appear that I have a great deal of humility. I prefer to acknowledge simply that “He that is might hath done great things to me” (Luke 1:49); and the greatest is His having shown me my littleness, my powerlessness for all good.
3. Vision. Get a game plan.
I suppose spending so much time at the Naval Academy, where leaders are formed (at least that’s what they say)–tutoring the midshipmen and working out at their gym–is unconsciously converting me into a more-structured person. Some of the midshipmen’s assignments are fascinating–especially those from their leadership classes. For example, in one assignment they were asked to draft a mission statement for themselves. I went home and composed my own. (Remember? I asked you guys to write your own, as well.)
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is always reminding his disciples of the ultimate game plan, which is, I THINK, the kingdom of heaven on earth. “Come on, guys, think big picture! Where are you going? What is your destination? And what are you doing to get there?” Maybe Jesus would sounds like a holy version of Tony Robbins if he were around today. Like Robbins, Jesus is always challenging us to expand our vision. Explains author John Dear in “The Questions of Jesus: Challenging Ourselves to Discover Life’s Great Answers”:
Jesus wants us to see even greater things. He wants us to have the fullness of his own vision, not to see into the future or to bilocate, but to see with the eyes of love which recognize all others as our brothers and sisters. In the end, he wants us to see him, the Holy Christ, present in every human being. He wants God to reign on earth as God reigns in heaven, which means he wants us to behind “the beatific vision” here and now.
4. Personality. Be yourself.
I know that Jesus didn’t pick his disciples as if they were contestants for the homecoming court (or American Idol?) and the head of the flock like the prom queen. But it does seem that Jesus valued personality as a quality for leadership because his friends were by no means boring. Look at Peter: a drama queen who denies his best buddy during his hour of need, and obsessed with knowing that he is the greatest among the disciples, constantly requesting Jesus’ ranking list: “Come on, Jeese Buddy, which one is us is greatest? You know the answer. Pick me! Pick me!” Yes, the rock of the church is a tad neurotic. Which is GREAT news for me!
I like what my friend Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. writes in his book “My Life with the Saints” about why he choose Peter as his vow name:
Understanding Peter’s humanity was a liberating insight for me. For if God calls each of us individually, he calls us with both our gifts and our failings. And it is in our failings, and in the parts of our lives that embarrass us, that we are often drawn closest to God.
5. Faithfulness. Never lose hope.
Finally, all spiritual leaders understand that although it feels as if you, God, are absent much of time, that you are really there.
When I ponder the lives of the three Theresas–St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, and Mother Teresa–I find that they all had this in common: times of frightening darkness, where all was bleak in their hearts but a slight ray of light. And so they focused their attention and concentration–and all of their efforts–on that faint spot of illumination.
A true leader can ask the hard question–who is God?–in the context of hope. Writes Henri Nouwen in “Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith”:
In meditating on the questions “Who is God and who is God for me,” we touch the terrifying truth that our fragile lives, in fact, vibrate between two sides of the darkness. We hesitantly come forth out of darkness of birth and slowly vanish into the darkness of death. … We try to keep a vital balance on the thin rope of live that is stretched between the two definitive poles that mark our chronological lives. We are surrounded by the reality of the unseen and the unknown, which fill every part of our life with terror, but at the same time hold the secret mystery of our being alive. That secret is this: Thought we walk in darkness, we have seen a great light. And this light, while it can be masked, cannot go out, as it shines for all eternity.