“Leaders or would-be leaders must be like John the Baptist.”
In the Gospel reading for Gaudete Sunday, which is the Third Sunday of Advent, we once again meet John the Baptist exhorting the crowd to do penance and prepare the way of the Messiah.
Many among the crowd were asking whether John is the promised Christ, the Messiah. But the Baptist humbly answered them that he was not the One, telling his listeners, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
The gospel message is fitting not only for the moment but also for the entire year, if not the coming months. Although it has yet to officially begin since Feb. 8, 2022 is the start of the campaign period for national positions, the election campaign is now going on in earnest. Aspirants for national and local posts are traipsing the islands, holding campaign rallies and political meetings, caravans, and other activities to win the electorate. Every aspirant is presenting himself or herself as the better choice because he/she has all the answers to the problems of the country or the respective locality where he/she is running. Each tries to fashion himself/herself as the messiah, the bearer of the panacea and elixir to everything that ails society.
John the Baptist from the very start recognizes the folly of this claim. He does not arrogate unto himself the identity of the Christ but humbly acknowledges his nothingness before Him who is to come, One who is infinitely greater. John is just the messenger and not the message but Christ.
In the same vein, leaders or would-be leaders must be like John the Baptist. They cannot claim to be the messiah, for there is only one. Nor can people assert with doctrinal certitude to have the authority to solve all the problems that plague society. Instead, when presenting themselves to the people, the leader or aspiring leader must humbly acknowledge that he is merely acting as an instrument or tool for God to use as he pleases.
A good leader is a John the Baptist; one who is fully aware of his purpose and mission that God directs him to do. He is not a sepulcher – beautiful outside but rotten inside but one who gives full credit to God for all his accomplishments and possesses moral integrity and uprightness, working always in accordance to God’s will.
Pope Francis, in his homily delivered during the holy mass for the repose of the souls of the cardinals and bishops who died over the course of the year held last November 4 at St Peter’s Basilica, Altar of the Chair, urges us to look at adversity in a different way, i.e. to see through trials with much home, not despair or cynicism – but to wait patiently for the Lord for he never abandons his people.
God does not disappoint for “the Lord makes a turning point, at the very moment when, while continuing to dialogue with Him, it seems as if we are at rock bottom. In the abyss, in the anguish of non-meaning, God draws near to save us at that moment. This turnaround, according to the Holy Father, is not because the problems have disappeared, no, but “because crisis has become a mysterious opportunity for inner purification. Prosperity, in fact, often makes us blind, superficial, proud. This is the road to which prosperity leads us. On the other hand, the passage through adversity, if lived in the warmth of faith, despite its harshness and tears, allows us to be reborn, and we find ourselves different from the past.”
Gaudete Sunday is a day for rejoicing. As I wrote last year, to find joy and happiness even when the world’s storms are buffeting our inner peace and creating so much fear and disturbance in us, we must strive to recognize the hand of God in everything that we do and in every situation we find ourselves in. It is important that we become more alert and ready to rouse ourselves from the slumber of mediocrity and the slumber of indifference. This is especially true as we grapple with the shared experience of death and sickness. We can only recognize Christ in the manger if, like John the Baptist, we wear the vest of charity, selflessness, trust and total dependence in God and most of all love for the suffering.
In these times when so much is happening around us, good and bad, Evangelist John is calling us to try to recognize Christ in our midst and discern his divine will, to see everything from the perspective of our faith. As God is the God of history, he is also the God of forgiveness and providence, and most of all the God of love and joy.
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