After having graduated from the US Naval Academy – the first cauldron of forming leaders for the Navy and Marine Corp – and after finishing nuclear power training and submarine school, I reported as a bright shiny Ensign to my first submarine! I was ready to be a deep-diving, backing down full at crush depth, denizen of the deep – “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “Hunt for Red October” all rolled into one.
Turns out the submarine’s supply office had just been medically disqualified from serving on submarines, I was the next officer to walk aboard, and so the Captain assigned me as Supply Officer (and Food Service Office) for a submarine that was in a 30-day intensive dry dock refit in which they removed and replaced the galley. Yikes. How did I do? Well… that’s another story.
We successfully completed all the work and went to sea as scheduled none the worse for wear. One night while sound asleep one of the crew woke me from the dead of slumber saying “The Captain needs you in Control!” Imagine – the captain needs me… for a critical mission, to man the periscope, launch torpedoes… When I arrived in Control, here was the scene: the Captain standing on the elevated periscope stand, with the entire diving team, sonar guys, the quartermaster and Navigator, the odd electronic technicians, and several of my fellow officers present. The Captain says, “Well Baby Chop (chop is slang for the Supply Officer, and “baby” indicated my apparent status)… Well Baby Chop, what is this” This indicating the cardboard roll around which toilet paper is wrapped – without toilet paper – being twirled on a raised index finger. How did that end up… that too is another story.
But, freeze the story. What do you think about that instance of leadership? Over the years when chatting with other graduates and submariners, I have brought the story up. One of my friends asked what ever happened to the junior officers of that boat (submarines are “boats” not “ships”)? My first patrol was that C.O.’s last patrol. The junior officer who had served with him for 3-5 years – everyone left the service at the end of their commitments. My friend who asked had served for a C.O. with great leadership skills. Every one of the junior officers went on to a career that included their own commands. Leadership makes a difference.
The Marines have a mnemonic for leadership: “JJ Did Tie Buckle”. It is to remind leaders of the most essential attributes of leadership: justice, judgment, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, enthusiasm. At its core the leadership message is to focus on the men and women you lead. Take care of them and they will take care of the mission.
Said the same way: Christian leadership takes care of the flock so that the flock can take care of the mission.
Consider the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles. For the last two weeks at daily Mass we have heard stories of the leaders and elders of Israel. While members of their flock are being healed, they are worried about their power. The Gospel presents a different kind of leader come to the people: the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd promised by the Prophet Ezekiel (chapter 34). Ezekiel notes that the people have had one poor king, leader and elder after another. Leaders who fed themselves on the flock. But God promises through Ezekiel that God himself will come and be the Good Shepherd.
And there is Jesus in the Temple area announcing: “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) – the one who does not run away, who knows the sheep – and the sheep know him – and he will lay down his life for the sheep. When you take a step back and think about Jesus as Lord and Leader, you can see the one who announced the mission – the Kingdom of God is at hand. But that said, you see the Leader who is ever focused on the disciples, the sheep of his nascent flock. He is ever focused on them, caring for them, lifting up them that they might carry on and complete the mission. Take care of them and they will take care of the mission. Take care of the flock so that the flock can take care of the mission.
Said in many ways and times, but said in today’s second reading: See what love God has bestowed on you. You are children of God, now. What you will become has not yet been revealed, but if you stay the course you will become like me. (cf. 1 John 3:1-2) Even today you are leader and shepherd of a flock, large or small. Leader/shepherd of a community of faith, a family, a business, a classroom, and a myriad of other settings. A flock you are called to know and let them know you. A flock you pour your energy and love into so that they can fulfill the mission. A flock from which you call forth their skills, abilities, interests and passion. A flock which you ever raise up.
It is the call of every Christian woman and man – to act/lead as a good shepherd knowing that you and the ones you lead are all children of God. It is the call to set them on the path of becoming “like him.”
This is our ongoing mission in the world to the ends of earth, to the ends of nation, the city, the neighborhood and within our own homes, unto the end of time.
“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him” (1 John 3:1-2)