Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7 (NAB)
The passage above from St. Paul's letter to Christians in Philippi is the second reading at Masses this weekend as we celebrate the Third Sunday in Advent. Regular readers know we don't usually make the readings at weekend Masses the theme of our newsletters. But we think Advent is too special a time to aspiring Jesus-like Leaders to overlook, so we continue the practice again this week.
No doubt Paul's perspective in this letter is upbeat. But if his words make it seem as if he is wearing rose-colored glasses, think again. And read the passage again -- this time with the realization that he is speaking from a prison cell, surviving moment to moment in the shadow of death.
Nonetheless, he tells us we should "rejoice in the Lord -- always."
He also urges us to behave so that "our gentleness (will) be known to everyone." That's pretty countercultural advice in our contemporary, individualistic world where we have heard for eons that "nice guys finish last." If we are gentle, won't other people just walk all over us? Won't we be treated, as New Yorkers like to say, like chopped liver?
St. Paul is not sympathetic to such concerns. Instead, he counsels us: "Do not worry about anything." And then he advises us that we should pray, turning our troubles over to God, asking Him for what we need and giving thanks for what we have and will receive.
If we follow his advice, he promises, we will experience the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding." He says that peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the safest place in all the universe.
In The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, we introduce Jesus' teaching about the necessity of leading as servants by first focusing on the disposition of our hearts, then moving on to what's needed in our heads, home to our minds. In St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, he writes from prison that if we turn over our honest concerns to God -- even, presumably, the fear of death -- God will grant us a peace so deep, complete and sublime that we cannot even understand it, much less explain it.
For most of us that is a struggle - a lifelong struggle; in fact, the struggle of human life.We think and act in pride or fear, insisting that we have to look out for "Old Number One" (as we tend to think of ourselves) and wondering always: If we don't look out for ourselves, who will do it for us?
St. Paul answers this question:God will look out for us.
Knowing that -- being really sure of that -- we can look beyond ourselves in all our leadership roles and tasks to focus on the good of those who we are called to lead. That is how we can "lead like Jesus."
So as the Third Sunday of Advent approaches and we find ourselves but days from Christmas, the celebration of Jesus' birth, I hope you will take St. Paul's words to heart. Be not afraid. You are not alone. And ultimately, the Lord will provide.
If we know that -- if we are really sure of it in our hearts as well as our heads -- the only thing it makes sense to do is, as St. Paul tells us, "Rejoice!"
So go ahead, just do it. Today and everyday. Happy Advent!
Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute