Leadership is Both Steel and Velvet – Hard as a Rock and Soft as Drifting Fog

I read this morning on Father John Zuhlsdorf’s blog a tribute of sorts, regarding an old friend and mentor of Fr. Z, Father Reginald Foster, who died Christmas day 2020. Father “Z” went on to share some insight into what kind of a man and what kind of a Priest Father Foster had been in this life. Here are a few excerpts:

“He was a rara avis if ever there was one, simultaneously jovial and irascible… If he got on your case about something, holy angels help you. However, he was astonishingly kind… Fr. Foster could veer from curmudgeon to Samaritan in an instant, and he could both at the same time… Affable and gruff. Chipper and brusque.”

February 2, 1959 Poet Carl Sandburg gave a speech before the joint session of Congress, honoring Abraham Lincoln. Here is a pertinent excerpt from that speech:

“Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is hard as a rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect. Here and there across centuries come reports of men alleged to have these contrasts. And the incomparable Abraham Lincoln, born 150 years ago this day, is an approach if not a perfect realization of this character.”

Carl Sandburg

Authentic love is strong. Authentic love is willing to pick up a heavy Cross and carry that Cross up a steep hill. Authentic love is steel and hard as a rock! Likewise authentic love is velvet and soft as a drifting fog. Love is a decision – not merely some sentimental emotion! Passions rise and fall quickly. Decisions can be burnt in. Decisions can – endure. Love – is – a – decision. Love is in the “will.” Love is both strong (justice) and merciful. God is Love.

“And I saw the River over which every soul must pass to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, and the name of the River was SUFFERING… and I saw the Boat which carries souls across the River, and the name of that Boat was… LOVE.”

St John of the Cross

Abraham Lincoln’s leadership was but a dim intimation of He Who IS the perfect realization of this paradox – Jesus. In an infinite way Jesus is Leadership. He doesn’t merely have a finite share in good leadership like we might have through grace. He is Good Leadership – infinitely! Jesus Who’s birthday we celebrate today, has many titles. Two titles that illustrate this paradox are: Lamb of God and Lion of the tribe of Judah.

In my classes I begin with the principle of leadership. Why? Leadership is a matter of spiritual and physical life or death. It is a matter of freedom or incarceration. It is a matter of financial stability or bankruptcy. Leadership is a matter of employment or beginning anew. Today due to a crisis in leadership we often must make exchanges in risk between higher things and lower things.

Leadership is about doing right things, at the right time, for right reason, and in the right Way. Jesus is that Way. Knowing when to be steel and when to be velvet has much to do with timing. The word paradox as partially defined by an older Merriam Websters dictionary says: something with seemingly contradictory qualitiesSeemingly being the qualifying term.

Happy birthday Jesus.

Merry Christmas my brothers and sisters, may God give all of us the grace to go the right Way.