A pile of dirty dishes

Habits are hard to change. For example there are some people who leave dirty dishes inside the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher. The result? The ‘lazy’ act in not having done the job properly is repaid with interest when, a few days later, we find a stack of dirty plates all crusty. This reminds me of a situation similar to the one of Arthur in the famous Walt Disney cartoon “The Sword in the Stone”. After a long day with the Merlin, Arthur forgets about the tasks entrusted to him by the Lord of the castle and has to wash all the dishes. The difference between us and Arthur is that we do not have neither a magic wand nor a Merlin wizard who will come to save us. At the end, we will have to scrape all the dishes with elbow grease to get the stains off

This example was cited by Elizabeth Lyle, an expert in business leadership strategies at a Ted Talk conference in October 2018. Lyle helps emerging business leaders find new strategies to run their businesses. The reality of the market is very volatile. It necessitates competitiveness and flexibility, and many companies find themselves with people in top management who adopt old and ineffective models. At times, such models are harmful to the success of their organizations.

Lyle observes that changing certain modes of operation adopted and consolidated by people requires time. This is the same as changing a bad habit after so many years – like leaving dirty dishes in the sink – despite acknowledging that it is a counter-productive habit. Furthermore, Lyle acknowledges that changes in organizations do not solely depend on the leaders who drive them. Rather, the real responsibility in searching for new and winning strategies depends on those who are have an intermediate position in the organization’s hierarchy. Ultimately, workers in this organizational tier they will be the ones that lead the organization in the future.

Such workers are the actors to bring about change as they are the ones that will take on the responsibilities in the future. At present, they have the burden and the risk of proposing change, even though this might come at the expense in taking a wrong step that could compromise their career and reputation. In the words of Lyle, if one doesn’t take this risk, the company will be doomed to fail, because they will steer it in the future with past models of government.

What does this example have to do with our faith and the reality of the church that we live today? I would say: a lot. As happens every year, we Jesuits in formation of the Euro-Mediterranean Province (Italy, Malta, Albania and Romania) gathered together to spend the last week of 2018 together. This year we went to Albania. There we visited the places where so many people were persecuted by the communist regime because of their Christian faith. Despite the violence during the persecutions and the numerous martyrs, the faith in Albania survived, and people continued to pray. Today’s Christians are called to remember and treasure this precious heritage. A Clarisse nun in Scutari, a city in the northern part of Albania, gave us her testimony. She said that faith is – paradoxically – more in danger at present than during the times of the persecutions because a deep secularization process of society is taking place. This is making the peoples’ hearts evermore indifferent to the presence of God.

Those Christians who gave up their lives felt responsible for the faith they had received. We too in Western Europe are the heirs of a long tradition of faith passed on past generations, some of which have lived times of bloodshed. Who we are today from a historical and cultural point of view is, in part, thanks to Christianity. How come did we not realize this precious legacy that is our faith? Why have churches have come to be emptier in recent decades, and to add, people lack the will to question the sense and meaning of life? Maybe we got used to leaving the dirty dishes in the sink, thinking that others would wash them for us?

Putting the metaphor aside I think that, to a certain extent, the situation today is the result of the fact that the Church, despite having made considerable progress, has not yet fully succeeded in making Christians feel responsible for the faith transmitted to them. On the other hand, the Church was concerned with safeguarding models of the past – models no longer suited to meet the challenges of today’s age – somewhat like the companies mentioned by Elizabeth Lyle. As was previously stated, habits do not change neither very easily nor from one day to the next. This is evermore so for an institution linked to secular schemes like the Church.

It is not a question of uprooting everything. Instead, it is important for those leading the Church to enable today’s Christians to come out of their habits and to propose, in a responsible manner, processes of change and new creative ways of proclaiming the Good News and the transmission of the faith. Afterall, the Church is made up of a community. It is made up of all Christians. All of us are responsible for change, because all of us are at risk.

Let us start to roll up our sleeves and put the dishes in the dishwasher. We are responsible for the faith that was passed on to us, a faith for which many people before us were willing to give up their life for.

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