Posted by: ritagone | March 13, 2013

What Now? A New President!


George Weigel is a Catholic theologian and writer who wrote, several years back, one of the most profoundly astute books about the state of Christianity in Europe and the direction of the secular continent, which has proven to be remarkably accurate, called “The Cube and the Cathedral.”

Recently, in an interview with the director of the Ministry for Gospel Renewal at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center, Mr. Weigel was asked what qualities he hoped to find in the next pope to be elected any moment now by the cardinals in Rome.

George Weigel is one of my heroes, so I read his interview with rapt interest and the specific answer to that question.  And when I read it, it seemed appropriate — given that we at Christian Associates have recently found a new President to lead us forward for the coming season —  to take Weigel’s words to heart.  I would, therefore, like to quote part of his answer that applies:

“A man of profound, transparent, and charismatic faith, who conveys the adventure of Christian discipleship through his person as well as by his words.  A man of extensive pastoral experience, who can speak across and through different cultural experiences and who has demonstrated a capacity to make postmoderns soaked in the juices of irony and cynicism think again.  A man with good judgment in people, who can find the collaborators he needs to reform the church’s central bureaucracy and make it an instrument of the New Evangelization, not an impediment to it.  A man of natural resilience, amplified by grace, who can bear the burden of the papacy without being crushed by it, physically and emotionally.  A man of openness and curiosity who seeks information and analysis from outside the normal ecclesiastical channels.  A man of strategic vision who can see around corners and over walls, who can discern possibilities where others find only obstacles, and who can thereby plant seeds for the long term, content to let the harvest be reaped in God’s good time.  A man of courage, who is not beset by problems or crumbles beneath them, which must include the courage to be a disciplinarian when necessary.  A man of some linguistic facility.  It’s a tall order, I know, but it’s been filled before and it can be filled again.”

You know, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Seriously, I really couldn’t have said it better.  Weigel has laid out in his desire for the next Pope qualities that would enhance any leader of any organization, ministry, or place of business.

“Too idealistic!” you might say.  “Only Jesus could fulfill this description.”  Yes, “but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” and if we don’t ask for more, we get less…always.

Bearing in mind Weigel’s stirring description of what he’s looking for as the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church, I give you now: Ann Patchett.

Author Ann Patchett gave such a stirring and memorable graduation speech at her Alma Mater, Sarah Lawrence, in 2006 that it was poured into a wonderful short book entitled “What Now?”  Much of what she says there applies to the transition we’re undergoing at CA with a new President, so I’d like to quote an extended passage from the book:

“It turns out those early years of my education which had seemed to me such a waste of time had given me a nearly magical ability to disappear into a crowd.  This was not the kind of thing one learned at Sarah Lawrence or the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, places that told everyone who came through the door just how special they are.  I’m not knocking being special, it was nice to hear, but when it was clear that I was just like everybody else, I was glad to have had some experience with anonymity to fall back on.  The nuns were not much on extolling the virtues of leadership.  In fact, we were taught to follow.  When told to line up at the door, the person who got there first was inevitably pulled from her spot and sent to the back and the person from the back was sent up front to take her place.  The idea was that we should not accidentally wind up with too grand an opinion of ourselves, and frankly I regard this as sound counsel.  In a world that is flooded with children’s leadership camps and grown-up leadership seminars and bestselling books on leadership, I count myself as fortunate to have been taught a thing or two about following.  Like leading, it is a skill, and unlike leading, it’s one that you’ll actually get to use on a daily basis.  It is senseless to think that at every moment of our lives we should all be the team captain, the class president, the general, the CEO, and yet so often this is what we’re being prepared for.  No matter how many great ideas you might have about salad preparation or the reorganization of time cards, waitressing is not a leadership position.  You’re busy and so you ask somebody else to bring the water to table four.  Someone else is busy and so you clear the dirty plates from table twelve.  You learn to be helpful and you learn to ask for help.  It turns out that most positions in life, even the big ones, aren’t really so much about leadership.  Being successful, and certainly being happy, comes from honing your skills in working with other people.  For the most part we travel in groups – you’re ahead of somebody for awhile, then somebody’s ahead of you, a lot of people are beside you all the way.  It’s what the nuns had always taught us: sing together, eat together, pray together.

The closing statement of her commencement address could just as well be spoken to Dudley Callison, our new President, and to all of us in the tribe of CA, and so I’d like to end with her beautiful and challenging words:

“You are, every one of you, someone’s favorite unfolding story.  We will all be anxious to see what happens next.”

So thanks, George and Ann, for some stimulating and challenging words to start off our new President of CA.  We will indeed all be anxious to see what happens next!


  1. Great post today. Loved what both said. Oh, that we could all be that type of leader/person. Sue Brantingham

  2. This is great Rita. Inspiring and challenging in all the right ways. Thank you for going in front of me, standing behind me and walking this road beside me. It will indeed be an interesting journey to share. Love, Dudley

    Sent from my iPhone

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