Fourth Sunday of Lent- Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ., President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, reflects. 

Year A Readings {Reading I: 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a Reading II: Eph 5:8-14 Gospel: Jn 9:1-41}

The first reading of the Fourth Sunday of Lent tells the story of how God commanded the prophet Samuel to choose and anoint a new leader for the people of Israel. Leadership is an important theme in the Scripture. The selection, appointment and performance of leaders have important implications for the overall wellbeing and fate of the people. So, when God mandated Samuel to set out in search of a new king, the prophet fulfilled this command with diligence and discretion.

Reflecting on this text in the context of Africa, I am reminded of the widespread lack of credible and competent leadership. Of the many problems besetting the continent, this leadership gap counts among the most intractable and consequential. This gap comes at a cost.

For decades, people in Africa have endured the pernicious consequences of what some observers have described as “politics of the belly” and myriad dysfunctionalities of leadership. Such pathological deficit of leadership prompted the second African Synod (2009) to state categorically that “Africa needs saints in high political office: saintly politicians….” The Synod reserved unflattering words for Catholic leaders who fell short of this ideal. It said: “Many Catholics in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office. The Synod calls on such people to repent or quit the public arena and stop causing havoc to the people and giving the Catholic Church a bad name.”

The Scripture presents David as a model leader, despite his flaws and foibles. Against this backdrop, it is worth reflecting on the kind of leadership that Africa needs. Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti, offers us a useful guide on the profile of a model leader. Leaders are people animated by charity. (FT, 180, 186). In other words, they are women and men who are committed to making a difference in the lives of people.

When leaders are animated by charity, they serve the common good, not individual interests (180); provide a dignified life for all citizens through work (162); “… will seek ways of building communities at every level of social life, in order to recalibrate and reorient globalization and thus avoid its disruptive effects” (182); offer concrete solutions to pressing needs (183-4); eliminate social conditions that cause suffering (186); show preferential option for “those in the greatest need” (187); address anything that threatens or violates fundamental human rights (188); eliminate hunger and poverty (189, 172); stop the trafficking in human beings (190); and defend fundamental human rights (172).

This ideal of leadership based on charity may seem unachievable, but it is not impossible, if we try. Imagine if, as Pope Francis says, leaders were actually people who love (193) and politics were conducted by people who love, not those who merely lust for power (195)? The outcome would be what the African Synod calls “saintly politicians.” Were that the case, it would mean that rather than sacrifice people for personal interest and gains, leaders would make sacrifices – “make room for everyone” and create a world where “everyone has a place” (190); they would recognise “that all people are our brothers and sisters”; and they would promote “forms of social friendship that include everyone” (180).

Here is the interesting thing about leadership: leadership is not the monopoly of those at the top, whether they have been elected or not, selected or they have usurped power by force or by fraud. Leadership is about everybody. As Chris Lowney reminds us in his book, Heroic Leadership, everybody is a leader, and we are all leading all the time.

Rather than focusing our attention on others, todays first reading invites us to undertake an honest examination of conscience. God has called us to be leaders. How well are we fulfilling our leadership vocation? Pope Francis proposes a useful format for this personal introspection and examination of conscience:

“How much love did I put into my work?” “What did I do for the progress of our people?” “What mark did I leave on the life of society?” “What real bonds did I create?” “What positive forces did I unleash?” “How much social peace did I sow?” “What good did I achieve in the position that was entrusted to me?” (197).

We do not need any special anointing by a prophet to answer these questions. God has given us the vocation and the grace to be women and men for and with others. Like David, may the Spirit of God come upon us and make us faithful leaders after the heart of Christ.

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