Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we encounter Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew condemning the scribes and Pharisees of his day. He noted that these folks preached one thing, but practiced another. They were proud and arrogant, demanding all sorts of privileges as leaders of the Jewish community. Furthermore, they did not lift a finger to help the people on whom they were laying heavy burdens.
Jesus, on the other hand, had a very different vision of what good leadership would be for his followers. So, Jesus gave his followers what today we call the servant-leader model for leadership.
Specifically, Jesus said, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23: 12).
Through the centuries, Catholic leaders have been tempted to follow two types of leadership. One is called the cultic model, one that emphasizes that ordained priests are so special, that they need to be considered above all other people and, therefore, deserve an infinite variety of special privileges. This model is the opposite of what Jesus was teaching.
The other model is that of the servant-leader model, the model that Pope Francis heartily recommends when he says the “pastor must smell like the sheep.” This was Francis’ way of saying the pastor must be with the flock, not above and removed from the flock.
Today we look at a Spanish priest who tried to live the servant-leadership model of priesthood. His name was Manuel Míguez-González.
Manuel was born on March 24, 1831 in Spain as the fourth and final child of Benito Míguez and María González. Manuel had a sister and two brothers.
As a child, Manuel had a great love of animals, and loved to observe them, as would a scientist. When his elder brother Antonio was studying to become a priest, and his brother José was thinking of studying for the priesthood also, Manuel decided that he, too, would be a priest. The boys’ father, however, did not like the idea of all three sons becoming priests, for he needed a son to help him on the farm. Therefore, Benito decided that José would stay on the farm, while Antonio and Manuel would study to become priests.
In 1850, Manuel joined the Piarist novitiate in Madrid. This Order, founded by St. Joseph Calasanz, focuses its effort on educating children. It is in this Order that St. Mary parishioner, Norberto Bautista, is studying to become a priest. In religious life, Manuel took the name Faustino of the Incarnation.
During his studies, Manuel studied the natural sciences in addition to other fields, and he was ordained on March 8, 1856 and celebrated his first Mass of Thanksgiving on the feast of St. Joseph, 1856.
As a new priest, Fr. Faustino served in a wide range of schools in Spain. Then, in 1857, he was sent to serve in Cuba but later returned to Spain in 1860 because of illness. In addition to serving children, he was known as a confessor who had much patience and sage advice.
Fr. Faustino also developed a passion for studying medicinal plants, which he saw as remedies from God to cure various ailments. Often, he would prepare natural medicines for people with illnesses.
Fr. Faustino also developed a profound devotion to marginalized and illiterate women, and he became a champion for equal rights for girls and women. To help him in this fight, he founded the Daughters of the Divine Shepherdess on January 2, 1885. This new Order, also known as the Calasanzian Institute, is devoted to the education and promotion of women.
Fr. Faustino died on September 30, 1888 at the age of 93, and Pope Francis canonized him on October 15, 2017.
From today’s Gospel reading, and from St. Faustino’s life, we can learn many things. Here are just two.
First, Jesus advocated the servant-leader model of leadership over two thousand years ago, and Pope Francis advocates this same model today. St. Faustino adopted this model in his own life, especially by fighting for equal opportunities for girls and women.
Second, in the Gospel reading today, Jesus reminds us that the message and the messenger are two different things. For example, he strongly condemned the arrogant and prideful ways the scribes and Pharisees of his time, but he did not condemn their preaching. Often we reject teachings of others whom we do not like as people. This is a mistake, for even people we distain might have something worthwhile to say. I know many people, for example, who condemn science when they actually don’t like something a scientist has to say. Scientists and science are not the same thing. Scientists are human beings with personal opinions on a variety of issues. Science, on the other hand, is a particular way of studying the empirical world – that is, the world that is observable to one or more of the five senses.
Today as we continue our life journeys, it would be a good idea to reflect on the servant-leader model of leadership. Is that the model parents adopt in the domestic church – the home? Is that the model the ordained priests you know adopt?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
- Inés San Martín. “Pope Canonizes 35 New Saints, Including a ‘Feminist’ Priest. Cruz: Taking the Catholic Pulse, October 16, 2017.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Manuel Míguez González.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 15 October 2017.