The Call of Christ in Our Time: Guidance for Christian Leaders
In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius proposes a prayer exercise to help us consider “the call of Christ.” He asks us to imagine a charismatic leader, chosen by God and revered by all, who calls people to join a movement to end poverty and disease, and to do away with ignorance, oppression, and slavery – in short, to address the evils which beset humankind. The invitation comes with a warning: whoever chooses to follow must imitate this leader, by laboring in the day and watching by night, so that afterwards they may share in the victory just as they have shared in the work. Ignatius imagines that, in spite of the sacrifices, most people would want to follow a good and kind leader with so noble a purpose.
The second part of the exercise is to apply these same criteria to Christ: to listen to his invitation, to count the cost of following him, to commit ourselves to endure whatever hardship might result from our labors in his service. If we are inspired to follow a human leader, Ignatius reasons, how much more reasonable is it that we should follow Christ and join his mission for the salvation of the world?
The purpose of the exercise is to prepare our hearts to be ready to receive and respond to God’s call as it comes to us, moment by moment, at each stage of our lives. So we ask ourselves: what might be the call of God to us in our present situation?
Not long ago a group of Christian leaders, representing both Protestant and Catholic traditions, met to discuss this very question. They agreed that a Christian’s identity in Christ precedes every other identity – nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography. We are followers of Jesus before anything else. If this is true, and “Jesus is Lord” and Caesar is not, what message is there for us and for our nation?
I hear a rallying cry in the document that came out of these discussions, entitled “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”
“Reclaiming Jesus” a summary
I. We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God in some of the children of God. Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation… and commit ourselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate white preference and advantage…
II. We believe that we are one body. In Christ there is to be no oppression based on race, gender identity or class. Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women… and the oppression of any other child of God.
III. We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God…
IV. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives…. Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life…
V. We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination… Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule…
VI. We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries… Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.
Full statement and resources available at ReclaimingJesus.org.
“Reclaiming Jesus” is a message for us to proclaim and to live, a message that reflects principles that lie at the heart of our Christian faith. Here is a vision and a cause to which we can give our lives.
An authentic Christian spirituality must take into account these types of concerns. It is an inadequate and unbalanced spirituality that is only concerned with our practice of prayer or our inner spiritual growth. Our union with God in prayer should move us into the world to truly love our neighbors and to seek their well-being. We have to find ways to get our hands dirty addressing the messiness of our world.
We cannot do this alone, of course. Jesus reminds us that “apart from him, we can do nothing” – and that we will also need one another. We need to deepen our trust in God. We need to find companions who share God’s vision and who can support and challenge us to remain faithful to our call. We need friends who will help us practice what we preach, and who will model for us right speech and actions. We need to establish a pattern of daily prayer and meditation; without it, we know we may well miss the mark. We need regular contact with poor and suffering people in order to listen and understand their needs (and to safeguard against imposing what we think is best). We need a friend or friends with whom we can unburden ourselves, people who can help us avoid traps and make wise choices. We need rest and recreation, physical exercise and a commitment to health, ongoing study (especially of social realities), and a sense of humor. All this we need to be a “new people” in Christ, capable of addressing the real needs of our time.
We also need help in facing our fears and uncertainties during such a tumultuous time as we are experiencing right now. We need God and other people to reveal to us the invitation or opportunity embedded in each of today’s stark challenges. We need to be reminded of all the ways our lives are connected, to inspire us to seek the common good. Our future and the future of our world depend on this.
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