Servant Leaders

What makes a person a good leader? According to Our Lord, a good leader is a good servant.

“Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” ~ Mark 10: 42-44


In this passage, from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples how they should lead. They are to lead as He does, through service.

“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Mark 10: 45

“The greatest among you must be your servant.” ~ Matthew 23:11

Serving others was central to the teachings of Jesus.

What kind of servant leader am I? Am I selfish, more concerned with my own interests, my own power? Or am I a leader that serves others with love the way Jesus has called me to do?

Many people enter into positions of leadership for the wrong reasons. Many see their position as one of power. This is a way for them to have authority over others and to set forth their own agendas. The idea of serving is far from view. Helping others reach their potential never enters their thoughts. They often become disillusioned in their role as leader, and those they rule over soon come to resent them since their skills at leading are so poor.

The leadership that Christ proposes does not mean placing oneself above others, rather it means placing oneself lower than others. A good leader will also be adept in seeking to uplift others and bringing them to the fullness of their potential and to the fullness of a relationship with Christ.

 In a Christian context St. Paul reveals the encouragement a leader should bring to the community: “I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.”  ~ Ephesians 4: 1-3

 Leadership is difficult work.

The expectations of a leader are high. They are often the first to be ridiculed and replaced, especially when things do not turn out as planned.

I would like to look at a few of our Carmelite saints and how they modeled servant leadership.

St. Teresa proposed the virtues of Mary, the Virgin, as a model for imitation. Mary, as the first Christian, the first disciple of Christ, centered her life in total adherence to the humanity of Christ and she lived in communion with him even to the foot of the cross. Her contemplative gaze, poverty and humility are paramount among the virtues that St. Teresa proposes for us to imitate.

St. Teresa modeled these herself especially when she was appointed Prioress of the Incarnation in 1571. The nuns at this convent were upset, to say the least, that St. Teresa was to be their leader. Knowing this, and not wanting the position herself, she placed a statue of Mary in the first place in the choir. In this way she helped the religious of this community to foster their devotion, love and respect on Mary. By doing this St. Teresa was expressing her own poverty and humility as a leader. In addition, this gesture helped the nuns to grow in their imitation of Mary. St. Teresa later affectionately wrote in a letter to Maria de Mendoza . “My ‘Prioress’ (the Virgin Mary) is doing wonders.”


A good leader won’t be impelled to tell people how to do things. A servant leader will tell others what to do and then let them do it. St Therese and her “little way” is a good example of this aspect of a servant leader. Saying, “rather than aspiring to doing great deeds, do many small deeds with great love.” 

One day the superior had asked a sister in the community to help another sister who was working outside with a tree. There were three sisters present and the superior said that the first one to remove her apron would be the one to do this task. St. Therese knew this was a desired task and wanted very much to do it. However, she realized that another sister also wanted to do it. Therefore, St. Therese took off her apron slowly so that the other sister would remove hers first and be chosen to do the task. This was her way of service to her sister and a way of showing love for her sister and for God.

St. Therese would follow the lead and the needs of others, and she would acknowledge, recognize and promote their efforts. A leader that can do this is someone who can humbly tell others what to do and then can step back and let them surprise her with the results.

St. John of the Cross offers further guidance on having a servant attitude. In his Counsels to a Religious on How to Reach Perfection he advises that we undertake the tasks we have been assigned with the intention of pleasing only God. Sometimes we will be asked to do something we would rather not because we may find it requires more of ourselves than we would like to give or because it was not “our” idea.

“Never set your eyes on the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the work at hand as a motive for doing it or failing to do it, but on doing it for God. Thus you must undertake all things, agreeable or disagreeable, for the sole purpose of pleasing God through them.” (Third Counsel)

Then in his fourth counsel he tells us to do our work in a detached way. We “should do everything in the world as finished. Thus, when (for not being able to avoid it) you have to deal with some matter, do so in as detached a way as you would if it did not exist.” We should, however, do the task well.

 “execute your tasks in such a way that no fault is committed; for neighbor, God, nor obedience wants you to commit a fault.”

Whatever we do should be done with the desire for God to please him and with our heart fixed on him. Then, with this counsel in mind, when the time comes to step down and let someone else take over, we can do so simply and humbly.

 For the servant leader this passage from 1 Peter is a description that fits all who lead the church – pope, bishops, priests, and lay people with pastoral responsibility. The best leaders are those who lead by example, the way Christ did with his apostles.

 “Tend the flock of God in your midst, [overseeing] not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”       (1 Peter 5: 2-4)

Favorite Religious Books

Patricia who blogs over at I Want to See God has tagged me for a “meme”. I had to look up “meme”, not being as computer savvy as I’d like to be.

For this “meme” I am to name my three favorite religious books and then choose five friends to do the same. My thoughts went wild thinking about which three books from my religious book collection would be my favorite. All the titles on my bookshelf passed across my mind, especially those I have read over and over again. All those Carmelite books – how could I just choose three! I mean, St. John of the Cross is my dear favorite, but then I have grown to love St. Teresa of Jesus and have read The Way of Perfection how many times now? Then, of course, there is little St. Therese and her Story of a Soul – who wouldn’t include that as their favorite?

I decided that these and all the other Carmelite writings and books that I own and have read are a given as favorites. Instead of including these obvious ones in this “meme” , I will redirect readers to this page for a list of these and where they can find them. For this “meme”, I decided to include two spiritual classics that were ones St. Therese and St. Teresa had read and gained much profit from in their spiritual lives. For my third book, I chose one that was written by a Carmelite priest.

This first spiritual classic is The Imitation of Christ. This was a favorite of St. Therese. She had it memorized by age fifteen. Her aunt would open up the book and give St. Therese the book and chapter number, and St. Therese would recite the passage from memory!

“I was nourished for a long time on the “pure flour” contained in the Imitation of Christ, this being the only book which did me any good. . . I knew almost all the chapters of my beloved Imitation by heart. This little book never parted company from me,  for in the summer I carried it in my pocket,in winter, in my muff.”        (Story of a Soul)


The Imitation of Christ was first published in the 1400‘s. It is a spiritual classic loved by Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. Each book is relatively short and contains short chapters on various topics pertaining to the spiritual life and the Blessed Sacrament. This book is also in the public domain and can be found in numerous places on the internet.

My copy is published by The Confraternity of the Precious Blood and is a rather small one that does fit in a pocket or in a purse. Although I do not have this book memorized, I do have numerous pages dog-eared and many passaged underlined. I have read and reread it several times by keeping it with me in my purse and pulling it out whenever I found myself someplace where I had to wait: dentist office waiting rooms, in line at the drive-up window at the bank, waiting for children to finish sports practice, etc. I would even take it to the ski hill with me and keep it in my ski coat pocket pulling it out whenever I was alone on the ski lift to meditate on a page or two during the ride up the mountain.

The other spiritual classic is The Third Spiritual Alphabet. This was the book that St. Teresa of Avila was so fond of and mentions in her autobiography (Life, chap 4).  This book is about the prayer of recollection and St. Teresa says she was:

“delighted with the book and resolved to follow that way of prayer with all my might”

It was St. Teresa’s uncle who gave her The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna  when she was ill and living at her father’s home. This book is another readable medieval classic from the early 16th century written by a Franciscan, Francisco de Osuna, on the topic of recollection. Each chapter, or treatise, covers a particular topic or point of recollection giving practical advice and quoting from Scriptures. Each treatise can stand on its own, so it isn’t necessary to read the book systematically beginning with the first chapter. My favorite chapters have been on giving thanks, on how we are to control our speech, and on safeguarding the heart. All of which are important if we are to be recollected and focused on God.

The third book that has been a favorite is Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D. This lovely book, well worth the price if found in hardcover, is based on the liturgical year. Beginning with Advent, the book covers numerous topics on the interior life, virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, Mary, and prayer. For each day of the liturgical year, there is a two-part meditation, followed by a “colloquy”.  This book is an excellent one to use for daily meditation and the practice of lectio divina. The liturgical calendar this book follows is the traditional Tridentine calendar; however, you can still use it and follow the Novus ordo calendar with some simple adaptations.

This was lots of fun and I would like to invite the following five friends to join in on this fun sharing their three favorite religious books: cinhosa at cinhosa, Emily at Catholic Poster Girl, Christine at laudem gloriae, Kellie at Faith, Family and Friends, and Julia at The Value of Sparrows.

Prudence in Action

Do not yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider things carefully and patiently in the light of God’s will. For very often, sad to say, we are so weak that we believe and speak evil of others rather than good. Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech.

Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one’s opinion, not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad the gossip one has heard, is great wisdom.

Take counsel with a wise and conscientious man. Seek the advice of your betters in preference to following your own inclinations.

A good life makes a man wise according to God and gives him experience in many things, for the more humble he is and the more subject to God, the wiser and the more at peace he will be in all things.

(Imitation of Christ, Book I, Chapter 4 by Thomas a Kempis)

Hearing and Receiving God’s Word

All Carmelites are to greatly esteem the Sacred Scriptures. They are an important part of their day. Prayers are recited from the Breviary which consists of Psalms and Scripture readings from both the Old and New Testament. These are prayed rooted in the tradition of lectio divina (literally, “divine reading”), which is a particular way of reading and praying over the Scriptures.

The heart of the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert is that “each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Law of the Lord (i.e. Scripture) day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty” (Rule no. 8)

However, our prayer life can become routine and performed more out of duty than of love. In The Imitation of Christ, a book well known and loved by St. Therese of Lisieux, the author tells us how we should hear the scriptures (the Word of God) and what our disposition should be in order to receive them.

“My words are spirit and life – John 6:69, and not to estimated by the sense of man. They are not intended to gratify a vain self complacency, but are to be heard in silence and received with all humility and great affection.” (Imitation of Christ- Bk III ch 3 ~ by Thomas a Kempis)

They should be heard in silence. Exterior silence, of course, which is why the Carmelite is to stay in his cell, unless duty calls. But once alone and all is quiet the soul will need to approach the Scriptures in interior silence as well in order to hear the divine voice. All those extraneous thoughts and concerns must be calmed in the soul.

The Scriptures must be received in all humility, remembering who we are and who God is. The humble soul knows that it is in need of instruction, knows it is nothing and is open to what is being asked.

The Words of God should be received with great affection, reverenced and loved whenever they are read or heard. Fostering this attitude will aide the soul at prayer.