Originally published August 6, 2008
The Feast of the Transfiguration (6 August 2008) resonates with something I experienced in Japan a few weeks ago. Let me explain.
While in the Okinawa, I had the opportunity to do a presentation for a group of international students from Japan and China. These were students in a college leadership program, and I had to give them a presentation about leadership skills and qualities to them? Me? Go figure!
I don’t speak Japanese, and I would never consider myself the most capable leader. On top of that, despite my Asian background, I have nothing in common with that culture. I’m Filipino! I have to admit this presentation was not easy. It was challenging trying to communicate with the students, who hardly responded to my questions. They all seemed to be paying attention, but who knows what was going on in their minds? But, thanks to my host, Virgil Lorenzo, the welcome encouragement of the team of teachers, and some very talented translators, we were able to communicate and learn from each other.
We talked about leadership qualities such as staying balanced on a strong foundation and keeping focus on the ultimate goal. The majority of these students were not Catholic – not even Christian, in fact. Yet, they easily grasped how these spiritual principals are not limited to faith, and can be applied to academic discipline and especially leadership. We even managed to squeeze in a Grace Before Meals cooking demonstration of “Penne alla Arrabiata.” It was my first time seeing pasta eaten with chopsticks. I realize the Chinese were the ones who introduced pasta to the Italians, but this seemed a bit surreal, even for me.
I recall this experience on the Feast of the Transfiguration because I saw a common characteristic – actually a common weakness or temptation – shared by the Disciples, these international students, and myself. It prevents us all from being true leaders in society. That temptation is fear. Fear is what made the Disciples, particularly Peter, flee Jesus when He needed them the most during His persecution and scourging. The Disciples feared the cost of being associated with the Lord. Fear made them forget the beauty of the Transfiguration, which was supposed to help these future spiritual leaders deal with the scandal of the Cross. Fear is what prevented these talented international students from attempting to speak in English with me, even though that was the purpose of my presence.
Fear is what will prevent these students from being true leaders for their peers. If they don’t lead, they will follow. And in this world, it’s very easy to follow the wrong crowd. That was evident to me in my brief visit with them. Despite cultural differences, it’s easy to see how they face the same struggles as their American and international counterparts. Fear is what made me hesitant in coming to Japan in the first place, especially after the busy trip to WYD in Australia. I was honestly hesitant to accept this invitation because I didn’t know how a non-Christian nation would respond to hearing about leadership from a Catholic Priest after all the bad press the Church has gotten. I wondered if these students would even like my cooking.
Considering my minuscule attempts of evangelization, I can’t imagine what it was like for the Disciples, who, after they found their courage in God, went to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Christian message.
As natural as it is to fear the unknown, we have a supernatural force, called grace, to give us courage! That courage in the face of fear helps us to be the leaders we are called to be.
Not everyone can be a leader in the hierarchical sense. After all, a successful restaurant is not comprised of only executive chefs and you know what they say about too many of them! Catholics have only one Pope. And, even he knows he is not the leader, but a servant of God. Therefore, consider how we’re all called to be leaders in the sense of being a good example. Parents set good examples for their children, and students can be good examples for others. In this good example, we become true leaders! It’s an undeniable fact that we tend to follow the crowd or at least pay attention to the masses. If we can inspire more people to see they are called to have the courage to be a good example to others, they can become true leaders in society. Whether they see themselves as leaders or not, just by courageously setting a good example, they are leaders.
After I got over my fear (and my pride of not wanting to say anything stupid or have my simple pasta dish be rejected by the originators of pasta), I found that I enjoyed my time with these students and the opportunity to see more of God’s beautiful creation in a land and culture so unfamiliar to me. That’s generally the case when it comes to the unknown. We may find that looking at these situations with faith and grace can help us learn something valuable, even enjoy the new experience! If these students find the courage to be good examples and leaders, they can find the courage to speak not only English to a complete stranger, but more importantly speak the Good News to their families and friends – near and far! Just consider the Disciples. When they finally allowed grace to help them overcome their fear, they spoke out in strange new territories. Courage helped them to share a message of hope. These simple students became leaders in their own right. Now their influence and example extends to the ends of the earth!
These young students reminded me of how fear touches all people and cultures. Even though we all look different, it’s easy to see that fear looks similar in each of us. It looks like a lamp beneath a bushel basket, it is a talent buried in shame. As the Good News needs good example, we should consider how the Transfiguration of the Lord can help us change from fearful followers into courageous leaders for our families and communities.
Let us pray: Father in Heaven, we can be so scared, especially when it comes to new experiences or unique challenges. We can be like the Disciples who feared the cross and forgot the beauty of Your transfiguration. Help us never forget that natural fear can be replaced with supernatural courage. Lord, we pray for missionaries, especially Fr. Chris and all of those who are committed to sharing the Gospels’ message with people in all corners of the earth. May we be strong in faith and courageous in our hope in You. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
August 16- 17
Meadowlands Expo Center
in Seacaucus, NJ
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