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All men must die, all men must serve: The call to servant leadership

Charles Dickens’ famous quote fittingly describes the situation of the Philippine Catholic Church today, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The Church is under great and constant scrutiny, having to contend with persistent accusations about hypocrisy and mishandling of financial and sexual abuses. Not a few bishops and priests were severely criticized either for being too outspoken or for being overly silent on the raging social issues such as poverty, corruption and extra-judicial killings. The recent bombing in Jolo Cathedral and the still unresolved murders of priests and civilians, especially the vulnerable children, have made a lot of people very apprehensive and uncertain about the practice of the faith and even about life itself. It is these very situations, however, that the Church, from the hierarchy to the lay people, is given the chance to not only purify herself but to also lead the way forward. The current troubling circumstances can be graced occasions for the Church’s ongoing self-reflection on the true nature of her mission in the community and society and consequently what kind of leadership she should exercise in order to fulfill her purpose. 

Vatican II stressed that the ministry of the hierarchy (bishops, priests and deacons) is the sharing in the threefold mission of Christ—priestly, prophetic and kingly. In 2018, the Philippine Church celebrated the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons with the theme, “renewed servant-leaders for the new evangelization.” The challenge for Church leaders, year in and year out, was not to put one’s self on pedestals and positions of authority but to be role models and authentic witnesses through humble servant leadership. From personal experiences and observations, I would dare say (and humbly ask for understanding and forgiveness) that there have been a lot of distortions when it comes to the practice of the kingly ministry. Many lay people may have been scandalized when seeing Church leaders who, instead of fulfilling the kingly mission, which should be have been expressed in service, in the promotion of justice, peace and liberation, have instead chosen to be served, to enrich themselves and to aspire for position and be caught up with worldly ambitions and concerns.   

We could pick up a lesson or two on servant leadership from Game of Thrones, one of the groundbreaking TV shows, not about the narcissistic politics and frequent backstabbing, but in the featured High Valyrian saying, valar morghulis, which means “all men must die,” which is usually answered with the phrase valar dohaeris, meaning “all men must serve.” The saying not only emphasized the reality of death, which all of us must face, but also articulated the invitation to make something of ourselves while we are still alive. To live for others. To serve others. 

Our Catholic faith pushes the envelope on servant leadership, where Jesus declared, “there is no greater love than to lay done one’s life for one’s friends.” We are not only invited to confront the stark reality of death but to even welcome it, embrace it, in the name of service. The call to offer one’s life for the flock should not just be a pious platitude but a concrete call that shepherds must be ready to respond to, for the capacity to give up one’s life for others may very well be the ultimate test and standard of servant leadership. It is what distinguishes the servant leader from the self-serving leader. It is what separates the merciful leader from the mercenary, from the one who is just after the pay, not the well-being of the sheep. 

This is indeed trying times for the Church, and the Church should not let this golden opportunity pass by. When a church leader shows that the life of others is more important than one’s own life, then, that person is able to bring the powerful and moving message across the organization that the focus is not about the leader or any material goal but about the concern and development of the members, which is what servant leadership is all about. This sincere readiness to offer one’s life for others is a trait that the discerning faithful would not just notice and appreciate but would most likely lead to a deeper commitment to God and to the community. When this happens, the servant leader’s death then, becomes filled with meaning, and the servant leader’s dying to one’s self and for others, becomes life-giving. 

Fr. Didoy Molina is a Doctor of Business Administration student at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He took up philosophy studies in San Carlos Seminary and finished his theology studies in Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila and seminary formation in San Jose Seminary. He finished his MBA at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business. He is currently the parish priest of Christ the King Parish in Pamplona Uno, Las Piñas City. He can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.

Topics: Green Light , Philippine Catholic Church , Vatican
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