A few months ago, my daughter and I were invited in Rome for a speech on my book. During our free time, we visited the “Eternal City”. We are not religious but have a strong respect for the believers, as long as they do not feel obliged to rape, torture and kill in the name of their faith and have the humility to accept that others may have chosen a different illustration of God than theirs.
At a point, my daughter suggested: “Why don’t we go to the Vatican? Historically and culturally, it is an important place, regardless of our convictions.” I agreed and we headed towards St. Peter’s square. When we got there, I realized that it was Palm Sunday, an important celebration in the Catholic agenda. The square was full of people and we could see Pope Francis on giant screens, celebrating the mass in Italian. As we had arrived late and do not speak Italian, we did not understand at first what was happening. But both of us felt confusedly that something powerful was taking place. So we stayed.
It is only after, reading the press, that we realized our intuition had been right; we had taken part to an historical event: Pope Francis, like Reverend Martin Luther King before him, had decided to get away from a scripted and unauthentic speech prepared by his staff, and chosen to speak with passion and from the heart.
The purpose of his Homily was to challenge his fellow Christians to move from “benevolent neutrality towards engagement” in a world that needed their conviction and determination more than ever before. In the Christian tradition, Palm Sunday marks the “beginning of the end” for Jesus life as a human. Shortly after a triumphal entry in Jerusalem, Jesus, perceived as a threat by the establishment, was denounced, arrested and put on an expeditive trial, resulting in his painful death.
“Has my life fallen asleep? Am I like Pontius Pilate, who, when he saw the situation becoming difficult, washed his hands? Where is my heart?” did he challenge the audience with. Later on, we caught a discussion between some participants to the mass: “Maybe did we always make it too easy to ourselves… It was reassuring to have the figure of Judas Iscariot (the apostle who betrayed Jesus, following the Catholic tradition). Of course he is the bad guy; obviously nobody wants nor can be as vile or evil as him. So thank you dear Judas, your existence allows us to sit comfortably in our neutrality chair, since there will always be a worse person than us. Thank you Jesus of Nazareth for your perfection. You were so above the rest of us, so unreachable that we all have a decent excuse again for our passivity: Nobody should aspire to be as engaged as you! We are no sons of God!”
But the discussion went on: “Our “benchmarks” should not be Jesus nor Judas but the other apostles. Where were they when their master was arrested, humiliated and executed? In a tavern getting drunk, in hiding and denying several times that they knew him… Our should we aim to be the apostles at the later stage of their lives, taking a stand, getting their courage and passion back and going to spread their faith around their world. What kind of apostles do we want to be? Let us stop hiding behind Jesus and Judas”.
When the day drew to an end, we thought that it had been worth going out of our way to be witnesses of such an inspiring moment.
Back to work, I reflected, that too often employees and ourselves leaders, also take the excuse of: “If I were at the top I would” or “At least I am not as bad as those who…”, failing to ask ourselves: What kind of an apostle do I want to be? Am I going to hide in neutrality, suffer in silence and hope somebody else will take a stand, or will I courageously follow my heart, convictions and take a purposeful stand?
At the end of 2014 and preparing ourselves for 2015, in the light of the many changes and delicate moments that we are heading for, I thought worth our while reflecting on Pope Francis question: Which apostles do I, do we, business leaders, want to be?