By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

In The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, we say that “leadership begins on the inside.”

By that we mean it begins in our hearts, with what really matters to each of us. And in our heads, too, with how we decide to live out our deepest values.

Our Catholic Vision also teaches that “everyone is a leader some of the time” – because not only do we try to lead every time we try to influence another person, but we also lead when we are influencing people without even being aware of it. It happens all the time.

That puts the onus of leadership on all of us – on each and every one of us.

I’m finding that yoke overwhelming today as I contemplate the issues emerging in our lives during this Easter season, especially in the United States, the world’s most powerful and influential country.

We have huge things on our plate.

On Tuesday morning I learned that a draft of a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade had been leaked Monday night.

Within the hour, I finished the book Cathonomics, dealing with how Catholic teaching on the economy differs significantly from prevailing attitudes about the economy in the U.S. today – and how and why the Catholic vision is better.

Meanwhile, I was preparing to highlight in this issue of The Catholic Leader the coming observance of Laudato Sí Week later this month.

Suddenly, as people called to be Jesus-like Leaders in the world around us, we have to deal with arguably the three biggest issues in contemporary life:

  • Abortion;
  • Economics; and the
  • Environment.

Battle just begun

If the draft of the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding Roe v. Wade holds up in its final version, expected in late June or July, we can celebrate a victory for the cause of life. But we will do so knowing the battle has not ended, but rather has just begun at a broader and more complex level.

In about 20 states, “trigger laws” will make all or most abortions illegal. Expect more states to pass such laws. But also expect for the battle over whether and when abortion should be legal to be fought with new fury in all 50 states.

Meanwhile, battles will rage over efforts to pass legislation to make abortion both legal and illegal at the national level, and more battles will be fought over whether or not to restrict women going from one state to another to procure an abortion or using the mails to obtain the medications to cause an abortion.

Then there is also the issue of how to care for women in crisis pregnancies. Studies show that most of the women who have abortions don’t decide to proceed as a matter of free and unfettered choice. They do it because they don’t see a viable option.

What steps can we take to provide them with options? That’s an issue that will be with us so long as abortions are legal anywhere and, sadly, even after that since illegal and self-induced efforts cannot simply be banished by law.

God is in the details. How, then, is a Catholic to respond and best serve life in the churning chaos bound to arise in all these heated disputes and desperate circumstances?

Seeking a better way

After reading Cathonomics, I’m as certain as a human can be that our prevailing attitudes regarding how our economy should work is way off base and leading us to ruin.

I’m convinced, too, that the Catholic vision for a just and robust economy is a vastly superior option. The issues are:

How do we get from one to the other?

How can I, as a Catholic lay leader, help make it happen?

Hearing the Earth’s cry

Last but certainly not least in this unholy trinity of concerns is the environment. Clearly, as the scientific consensus insists, we are actively undermining the Earth’s ability to sustain life.

The cycle of seasons, which we experience vividly here in the Upper Midwest, is natural. But it isn’t magic and it isn’t guaranteed.

Climate change is already happening – and costing us a lot in terms of human lives, droughts, forest fires and property destroyed by storms. Before long, we’re told, whole Pacific Island cultures will be lost forever, subsumed by rising seas.

In recent centuries we have learned that the Earth has always been subject to climate changes. But more recently we have learned that much of the climate change we have begun to experience now is largely the result of human activity.

We are pumping pollutants into our air and water – the gifts of the Earth that sustain life – at unprecedented levels. If it continues at current rates for the rest of this century, the ability of the Earth to sustain life – all life – will be severely, perhaps mortally, imperiled.

There are things we can do about it as individuals, as citizens and as members of the human race. In the midst of this massive challenge to the human community, Catholicism points the way to a better future – a sustainable future. It gives us a vision of better days ahead.

That vision is most comprehensively presented in Laudato Sí, an encyclical published seven years ago this month by Pope Francis. It reflects a brilliant – yet succinct -- synthesis of modern science and ancient Gospel values.

The universal church will observe Laudato Si Week May 22-29, during which we will celebrate Ascension Thursday, marking the moment when Jesus departed the Earth.

Anticipating that moment at the Last Supper, Jesus promised that he would send his Spirit and said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)  

What does it mean for a Catholic leader – remember, we are all leaders – to do greater works than Jesus’ own with respect to protecting the Earth’s ability to sustain life, all life?

Overwhelming questions

The questions I am asking here are not rhetorical ones for me. They are real. And they are overwhelming at the moment.

Add to that some other news I got in the 24 hours before I wrote this.

  • Catholic News Service, the comprehensive and professional news gathering and reporting service owned by the U.S. bishops but operated with impressive and credibility-building independence and objectivity, is shutting down its entire domestic operation -- leaving a great void likely to be filled by all sorts of enterprises with ideological axes to grind that will cut up the Catholic body into ever smaller, disjointed pieces.
  • My wife tested positive for Covid-19; her symptoms are mild but pronounced.

So there you have it. Yes, I am overwhelmed with questions and tasks large and small, near and far. I am truly overwhelmed.

Seeking to respond like Jesus, I’m reminded that he often stepped back from his ministry and went off to spend time alone – or rather with his Father. I think it’s time for me to do that too. I feel called to it.

I’m going to take the coming summer off from this work, try to answer some of the questions raised here and see where the Spirit leads me. A quiet woods beside a little lake in northern Wisconsin beckons. I have always found God there, sometimes with family, sometimes in solitude.

Lord willing, we’ll be back with another issue of The Catholic Leader in the fall. Or Lord willing, we won’t. I’ll do my best to consult and discern, and then to let you know.

But now, for me, is a time to step back into solitude. I know I won’t be alone. There is great comfort and consolation in that.

Vaya con Dios …