Sunday, June 16, 2019


Life tends to become a quest for titles, an accumulation of representations of a person's occupation, social status, or accomplishments. Within each individual there may be a conscious effort to attain these titles, or this could simply be a by-product of a person living life to the fullest. 

We all begin some form of this quest when we are young. We may have been a letterman or a team captain, a 4-H president or an Eagle Scout, a homeroom representative or a prom queen. Dig into your memory box to find the titles you held. Eventually we identify by professional titles like doctor, teacher, chef, mother, father, accountant, or sales clerk. Many people receive accolades an organization or a person bestows in form of titles: MVP, medal winner, Coach of the Year, Employee of the Month, Nobel Prize Recipient. Unfortunately at times society sees each of us as the embodiment of a résumé, a list of who we are, what we have accomplished, and the time it has taken us to achieve all of the titles on the list.

In William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet states, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” She speaks of Romeo, a young man with whom she has fallen in love, a young man who also happens to be the son of her family's enemies. Juliet makes the point that despite Romeo's name, the title by which he is recognized, his importance to her is not changed. Juliet loves him for what he means to her, for the positive impact Romeo has on her life.

"What's in a name?" Juliet asks. In today's world we are also asking a similar question of individuals who hold titles. Sadly we are being forced to ask ourselves if the standards and expectations for those titles are being reflected in the words and actions of those who lay claim to the titles.

Fear, passion, hateful rhetoric, confusion, and hopelessness have permeated the fabric of society in recent years. Many people struggle with watching the news, reading the paper, or checking social media for fear of discovering the next disappointment.

Political news inundates our lives constantly. If you set aside your own political views for a moment, can anyone truly say that you feel confident in the members of our government? Perhaps you feel the president does not demonstrate the behavior and leadership we expect from someone who holds this title. Or maybe our congress and senate do not represent their constituents as well as they do their lobbyists? How can you not relate to the absolute passion and frustration in the voice of Jon Stewart as he chastises the House Judicial Subcommittee for not continuing the funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund? I am unsettled about all of this as I simply want to believe in the people who bear the titles of leaders of this country, but my disillusionment bars this from happening.

Members of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston have been experiencing a loss of faith in the leaders of the Catholic Church for well over a year. The events in this state mirror a continued international frustration with the sexual abuse scandals, financial improprieties, and disconnect between church leaders and their congregations. Michael Bransfield held the title of bishop in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for thirteen years. In my heart and mind I know that the role of anyone carrying the title of bishop is to oversee the nurturing of faith within the numerous congregations, to guide the resources of the church to grow the church, to lend assistance to the poor, and, most importantly, to lead by example, to be the person who embodies our faith in the public eye. 

Bransfield has fallen drastically short of these expectations, eroding the confidence of the people in the pews with scandals of sexual harassment, nepotism, financial abuse, and self-serving adulation. He is gone now, leaving the flock once in his charge grasping for answers, picking up the remains, and wandering amid the chaotic confusion. Even at a recent church service I attended, the priest conceded that he was not sure where to go from here. 

So what does a person do in a climate where we continually lose our faith and trust in those who have been identified to lead us? 

I like Mr. Roger's quotation which reminds us about titles: "It's not the honors and not the titles and not the power that is of ultimate importance. It's what resides inside." Many of us were taught to give deference to people who are our leaders, to respect the title, the position, or the office. We may need to concede that we are no longer able to be as trusting anymore. Perhaps this is part of growing up, gaining wisdom, and battling cynicism. I guess we need to look closer at what "resides inside" the people in leadership positions, those with the titles. 

Actually I think most people do look closer though. We see beyond the titles, we see past the superficial facades in front of us, and we will continue to look closely for evidence of that which we know to be right and true. We will await a reflection of our beliefs and expectations in those who surround us and those who lead us. 

In the meantime, we can continue to be humble, faithful, loving, hard-working, generous, kind, respectful, and noble. We can live our lives while striving to develop these qualities and so many more, for these character traits are the ones we value and expect to see in others, particularly in those who lead us.

Photos Top to Bottom
The Jerusalem Post