Catholic Scouting forms future Catholic leaders

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the Votive Mass of Saint George at the Annual Scout Mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

What does it mean to be a leader? If you happened to have turned on the television this past week, you likely heard the many presidential candidates describing why they think they are qualified to be the leader of our country. Each candidate has his or her own particular thoughts about what it means to lead, but ultimately there are three basic characteristics which every leader must possess: Leaders have strength; they have a plan or vision for the future; and they listen closely to those who are entrusted to their care. As young men and women who participate in various Scouting programs throughout the diocese, you, too, are being formed to be a leader among your peers and friends: you, too, will need strength, vision, and a willingness to listen. However, you are becoming Christian leaders. To be a Christian leader means to grow in these three areas, but in a way that sets you apart from the rest. Ultimately, your leadership will point all of the people you meet to encounter the Lord Jesus, Who alone satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts with His mercy.

Leaders must have strength. What does this mean? Our culture tends to equate strength with physical attributes: tall stature, strong muscles, the ability to carry things - or people - on one's back. Real strength, however, is interior. It requires forming our will to choose what is good, to choose right over wrong. It means making the right decision when faced with a tough choice, and forming habits and virtues so that we want to do what is good. A Christian leader will be strong in these ways, and his/her example of goodness, kindness and generosity will lead others to want to live the same way. Your greatest leadership challenge as a Christian Scout or Scouting leader will be to always be true to who God wills you to be: disciples of Jesus doing what is right and good, growing in love for Him and all people. Jesus asks in today's Gospel, "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?" (cf. Lk 9:25). We are followers of Christ first and foremost, so we must live daily as His disciples regardless of how others may mock us or unfairly challenge our beliefs. We must work daily to cultivate good habits so that we may be unflinching in the face of adversity.

To possess Christian strength also means to be willing to carry one's cross. Life brings with it many blessings - it is filled with many occasions of joy and happiness. As the Psalmist said today, "Our mouths were filled with laughter; our tongues sang for joy" (cf. Ps 126). But life can also be filled with trials, with crosses. The cross has many shapes. Basically, it means doing or accepting what goes against our will, obeying rather than not, accepting a situation that is difficult, being kind when we rather not. You learn, as a Scout, how to approach difficulties and trials, how to solve problems. Jesus points to the only approach that makes ultimate sense for His followers: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me," (cf. Lk 9: 23). As I mentioned, for each of us that cross is different, but I ask you to prayerfully consider what cross you must carry daily in Scouting and in life. For you that might mean not only doing service but doing it with a sense of joy; or it might mean not simply doing chores begrudgingly at home - rather doing them before being asked and with a smile.

As we pick up our Crosses, we must follow closely behind Jesus. He will bring good out of every difficulty and will lead us to safety. A Christian leader is strong when he or she relies on Jesus' strength, especially in times of challenge. The Lord alone can make "all things new" (cf. Rev 21:5).

A leader must have a plan for victory. Military leaders outline strategies to defeat an enemy in battle. Coaches have plans to win games against another team. So what is the battle that the Christian leader must win? The Christian is always in a battle for sainthood - to become the man or woman God intends him or her to be. The goal of every life - its victory - is to be with God in heaven.

A winning strategy or plan involves what I mentioned before - the cultivation of good habits and the repeated choice of the good. It also involves prayer. In the first reading we hear the Lord Jesus say, "To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-saving water" (cf. Rev 21:6). We certainly remember to pray when we are really in need of God's help, almost like when we are really thirsty and remember we need to drink water. The Christian leader, however, must remember the importance of continually staying "hydrated," of staying in touch with God through daily conversations - to accept His "life-giving water" throughout the course of each day. Prayer is essential in securing victory. It is the way to discover the unique manner in which God wants us to be a saint. It lies at the center of any plan or strategy.

A leader must listen to others. The most effective and respected leaders are the ones who take extra care to listen to those who are entrusted to their care, to allow others to share their hopes, fears, and needs with them. Far from what we might imagine, a leader is not someone who does all of the talking. No, instead he or she welcomes the thoughts of others and develops his or her vision and plans accordingly. Listening to others also involves listening to the Lord. The leader must make time for quiet in a very noisy world so that he or she can let God's voice speak to his or her heart. A leader also recognizes that God speaks to them through other people - parents, friends, teachers, Scouting leaders. We must be attentive to the ordinary ways that God wants to talk to us throughout each day. And He wants to talk to us - always!

So then, Christian leaders - the leaders in both the Church and society - the leaders which your participation in Catholic Scouting will enable you to become - such leaders possess strength - the inner strength to do what is good and right before God and for the well-being of others. Such leaders have a vision or plan, ultimately to become what God calls each one of us to be - a saint, but that plan or vision involves necessarily following God's Plan for us, His will as we journey towards being with Him in heaven.

Such leaders are willing and ready to listen to others: what are their needs, and how can we assist, yes, and also willing to listen to God.

The patron saint of Catholic Scouting, Saint George, certainly possessed inner strength: he proclaimed the truth - that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, even though it meant death for him. Saint George's vision or plan was to become a saint, and to help others to do so on the way - and he did. Saint George listened to the needs of others, and helped them; he listened to God and followed Jesus.

My dear friends, your participation in the Scouting programs throughout the diocese is helping to form you as Christian leaders in your communities, so that you can lead people to God, whose mercy saves us. Our world - our families, our neighbors, and our friends need us to show them God's love and mercy. They need our strength, our vision, and our willingness to listen. May you always look to Jesus Christ, the face of the Father's mercy, to be your leader, your teacher, and your friend!

Saint George, pray for us and help us, like you, to be leaders with strength, with vision and with a willingness to listen. Amen.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016