Interestingly enough, it was during the Feast of Christ the King that I was given an insight into leadership and, more importantly, an opportunity to delve into what true Christian obedience should look like. Allow me to set the stage.
My teenage daughter and I arrived at a Mass different than the one we were accustomed to attending. We were a few minutes behind schedule. The section of pews we normally would have shuffled into were already packed with parishioners. Noting that, and also noting that a peculiar rumbling in my tummy meant I should visit the restroom prior to the beginning of Mass, I instructed my daughter to pick a pew and I would join her in a few minutes.
She did as requested. She chose a section, however, that did not easily offer access to a low gluten host that would be necessary for her if she wished to communicate. When it was time for Holy Communion we found ourselves awkwardly “swimming” against the crowd as we made our way to a Communion line that would allow her to communicate. That was not too big a deal, but in the confusion of where and when to go and how to get there my daughter very clearly and emphatically said, “Dad, you lead.”
And so lead I did. No problem. No problem, that is, until it was time to return to the pew in which we had originally sat. Because we were out of sync with the flow of traffic, we found that our particular seats were blocked at both ends of the pew with folks who had already returned from receiving Our Lord. They were praying peacefully, and it seemed improper to disturb them by asking them to move. It seemed even more improper to attempt to scramble over them. There was a bit of a dilemma, however, in that my daughter had left her purse at our original seats and it was clear she wished to return there to retrieve it.
So, as the leader, I was faced with competing interests. There was mine, which was simply to return to a pew, any pew, so I could more fully enter into the intimacy to which the Eucharist was calling me. There was my daughter’s need to be close to her purse and the Kleenex therein (her nose was beginning to run), and she also wanted to avoid the building embarrassment of the slight hesitation that caused us to continue to look out of sync with everyone. And, of course, there were the people in the pew already praying.
After a moment’s deliberation I saw the solution. It was simple enough: maneuver to a pew behind our original position and in so doing serve everyone’s interests! But herein lies the rub. This solution was not apparent to my daughter, and she immediately began to frustrate the plan by hesitation. She argued, pointed at her purse, and suddenly grew roots that shot six feet into the earth. I was flabbergasted. She told me to lead, and I led. But she did not like where I led; she rebelled against my designs. Interiorly I grumbled. Why did she ask me to lead in the first place? Ahh yes, I theorized, because she did not want the responsibility of making her own choices in the first place. Or perhaps she was truly counting on her dad to make all the right moves. Whatever her motivation, she was now not following through by being a good follower.
I felt my hackles rise. In the end, we somehow made it to the pew behind “our” pew and peace and harmony was restored to the universe.
For the rest of the Mass the irony never left me; today was the feast of Christ the King. Emphasis of course being on KING. What I just witnessed was the chaos that ensues when subjects are not obedient to the lawful authority of their sovereign. Worse yet, it was my own daughter, my own flesh and blood, that chose not to trust in the leadership of her dear old dad (I know I know, it sounds like I am griping. And yes, truly this is about the extent of any trouble with my daughter — so I know I am blessed. May God continue to gift us with His harmony!). I ended the Mass with a disgruntled harrumph!
It wasn’t until I got home that the tables were turned. Somewhere between dinner and bedtime a Holy Spirit – inspired thought struck me. It struck me, stung me deep, and embedded itself into my flesh. My daughter, in this sweet moment, was simply being a holy mirror to the soul of her father. How many times had I been the disobedient child? How many times had I snubbed the competent and most loving authority of my Heavenly Father? How many times had I asked Him to lead, only to recoil when I discovered He wanted to go where I didn’t want to go?
The list of times is longer than I care to admit.
This wound turned out to be medicine, however. It sent me on a journey that taught me something about obedience and why I lack it. Tune in next week to discover what I learned and how St. Joseph showed it to me.