When I was in school, I always wanted to be elected to student council. Being a leader among your peers. The authority to make decisions. To be a force for positive change. I believed that I was smart and mature enough to be a leader; I only had to convince others of the same belief.
In eighth grade I decided it was my time to run for student council. I was in a three way race for president of my Catholic school. My chances of winning were good, too. I was up against two of my friends, but I believed I had just as much of a chance of winning as either of them did. The runner up would be vice president, so my chances were really good. Even if I couldn’t be the president, at least I would have some influence for change.
I came in third place.
While my loss didn’t crush me, I never ran again. There were other chances for student council, but once I reached high school I wasn’t interested in what student councils did, like picking the DJ for the prom or organizing some lame school rally.
I never knew if I would be a leader after that. Let’s face it, I wasn’t the most popular, the richest, the hottest looking guy, the best sports player, or the smartest kid in class. In many ways I was above average, but never the best. And so I thought I would never be a leader.
Growing in Relationship with Jesus
For most of high school I wasn’t a very faithful Catholic, either. I grew up Catholic but didn’t know what I believed and what it meant to be loved as God loves. After my Confirmation in high school I didn’t go to Mass for seven months. I was a junior at that point and didn’t really know where my life was going.
My life began to change when a friend invited me to go to a youth group in my town. Admittedly, I was looking more for friendship or a girlfriend than God. But God took my small “yes” and turned it into a heart for Him.
Within a few months of going to youth group I was praying and going to Mass, not because I was being forced, but because I wanted to have a relationship with God. Because of that relationship, I became a student campus minister at my Catholic high school during my senior year, along with 35 other seniors.
Campus ministry, I assumed, would be a great place for me to grow in my faith among my peers. I assumed we all loved Jesus and the Church … right? Looking back at the group now, most everyone was a mediocre Catholic, but no one was likely to take their faith into a party on Friday night.
It was amongst that group of peers that I could have slumped away from being passionately in love with our God. It would have been easy to fit into the Catholic-by-name-only group and go along my merry way with another activity to add to my college application.
Instead, I was true to the Truth that had been poured into my life. I grew in my relationship with God and I shared the love He had given me with my peers. I was unafraid to share the Truth in school and live it out. I spoke honestly and with heart, but never overbearingly or without a sense of relationship. In other words, I was trying to be courageous without trying to be awkward or isolating.
Leadership is Not Given, It’s Lived
At the end of the year, my school gave out awards for different achievements. I knew that my grades had given me some automatic awards for academic excellence. I didn’t know what other awards would be given out and I was sure I wasn’t going to get any.
That is, until my name was called up for being the best Christian leader of the year.
Among the 1200 students at my Catholic school, I was now being given the title of Christian leader. For some that may have been a death sentence in the social fabric of high school, but for me I felt humbled and joyful.
What I came to realize was I didn’t need someone to tell or elect me to be a Christian leader. I already was one because of my baptism. (CCC 1546)
In a year’s time, I went from not knowing the love of Christ to someone who was publicly recognized as a follower and leader for Jesus. I was leading others to Jesus without someone telling me that it was now my responsibility to do so.
Take Heart and Live for Him
Being a leader does not happen over night. There is a big difference between being elected or recognized as a leader, and actually being one. Leadership means doing the hard work of relationship and acting virtuously. You are called to be a leader by virtue of your baptism, but are you willing to step up and actually be one?
Five hundred of you recently went to the Life Teen Leadership Conference at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. For some of you, the Leadership Conference permanently changed your life. You won’t be the same ever again. For others, there’s a struggle to be authentic.You don’t know who you are.Your life may be filled with people telling you to be this or be that. You love the feeling of being with everyone you met at the Leadership Conference, or the retreat, or the Steubenville conference, but now you go home to a world of broken relationships and hurt. How do you really live this life?
Others don’t want to be a leader. Even after God has poured out His love in your life, you’re still not sure that being a Christian is worth the investment. You would rather live your life and not ever think about God again. How do I know that? Because some of my best friends from high school who used to love God now deny Him every chance they get.
Being a leader doesn’t mean going to some event; being a leader means living this life to to the fullest and sharing God’s love with others. It means being courageous in the midst of despair and temptation. Being a leader means loving when it hurts the most. (Titus 2)
For those of you that went to Life Teen Leadership Conference or have gone in the past, you know that God spoke Truth in your life. You experienced powerful and beautiful moments of prayer at Mass, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in praying the Rosary, and getting together at night with your parish. You had an opportunity to get to know new people, have tons of fun playing sports, and share great meals with strangers. You were inspired and challenged by talks that made you take a harder look at your faith in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.
The question remains: Will you become the person, the leader, that God has created you to be?
Every saint was a sinner, but not every sinner is a saint. You have an opportunity to be a saint.