Relinquishing our Pet Projects

14 August 2007 Tuesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 31, 1-8 Delegation

In the first reading, Moses is about to die when he delegates to Joshua the leadership of the Israelites. Moses’ task of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt was coming to an end. He will be able to see from the horizon the Promised Land, but he will not be able to set foot on it. On one hand, it seems that God is cruel: He did not allow Moses be there. On the other hand, God is reminding Moses that the whole project is His work. Salvation is the work of God. God takes the leading; Moses and Joshua are His assistants.

Let us look on a leadership technique from Moses. Moses accepts and recognizes that the central mover of this project is God himself. He takes the emphasis away from him; and puts the limelight on God. So, Moses doesn’t throw a tantrum asserting that going to the Promise Land should be granted to him after everything that he has done. The humility and surrender of Moses tells us of his mature faith: to surrender is to relinquish the control of the outcome of a certain endeavor. He lets God do His work too. And then, Moses lets Joshua take the reins and the gearshift. Joshua in turn receives both authority and responsibility and at the same time, acknowledging the role of Yahweh.

Many of us would rather work alone, than with others. We feel that working with others makes the work slower and less efficient: we spend more energy improving our working relationship, than accomplishing the tasks given to us; or our emotional investments in group work become an added burden. And so we would rather have the style of leadership that is centralized like a bureaucracy. We feel assured when we can control the outcome or output of a certain project. We feel good when the project takes on our personality, vision and direction. Some projects may begin as a response to God’s invitation like a foundation for children with cancer; and ends as an institution built around the personalities of the founding members. Wait for the founding members to die, and the institution dies with them. This becomes the problem of continuity.

The parish depends on the personality of the parish priest. The colors of the building and the spirit of the community mirror the favorite color and the energy of the priest. The programs are amended as the parish leaders are changed. There seem to be no proper relinquishment or turn-over; there is no program that is followed through. When I was sent to Xavier University High School as a campus minister on my first year as a priest, I designed a program for social and catechetical involvement for high school students. We were able to field students after their afternoon classes to teach English, Math, Science and Catechism to an elementary school in Cagayan de Oro. When I was called to another work, I thought that the next campus minister would maintain the program. Unfortunately, he did not. He had his own. We realize that whoever becomes campus minister, genuinely responds to the work of God. But the work often takes on the personality of the one in leadership.

In the end, the work is God’s work. And God is not limited to the persons sent to perform His work. The realization of the Kingdom of God is still achieved despite the people working in His vineyard. Despite the various personalities assigned in the parish or in the school, the work somehow moves on. We had good and bad popes; we had scandals and scams; we had good and bad leadership, but Church continues to move despite them.

As Moses teaches us the humility involved in relinquishment, we too must remember that our work is also God’s. We are able to delegate the tasks and the office to the next generation of leaders. We are able to turn-over completely the project or the program to someone else. We acknowledge that above all it is God who is the author of the things that we do. We accept the truth that our work is also God’s work. We are able to let go of our life’s pet projects and trust the new generation to bring it to another level, and if not, to modify it to make it more relevant in their lives.

Just as Moses and Joshua recognize that Yahweh is the central character of their long journey, so should we. We give our best to a task given to us, but also remember that our work is also God’s.

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