By Chad Brown
On June 24, 2023, seventy-five lay Catholic professionals graduated from the Tepeyac Leadership Initiative (TLI), the flagship civic leadership development program for Tepeyac Leadership, Inc. I had the honor of serving as the TLI Class President for the 2023 cohort, the 6th graduating class to date. With this milestone, TLI alumni now number over 300 and span across the entire globe. I have been blown away by the caliber of the participants in this program, it has been a deeply meaningful experience for me, and I would like to share some reflections on this laudable undertaking.
Over the course of the five months of the program my participation in TLI was an enriching, invigorating journey. Prior to the program, in the summer of 2021, I was feeling very disheartened and sorrowful about the state of the world. I felt like I needed to do something, like I was personally being called to action. It was at this time that Cristofer Pereyra reached out to me on LinkedIn and invited me to a Zoom coffee to learn about TLI. When I learned that there was a program for faithful lay Catholic professionals to discuss the challenges facing our world and to join in faith and action it resonated with me on a deep level.
As I began to investigate TLI, I read Catholic Leadership for Civil Society, co-authored by Cristofer and Erin Monnin and I found it to be a clear, powerful, and practical response to the challenges of our day. As Christians, we are called to live purposeful lives of virtue. We are facing a cultural crisis today, and as lay Catholic leaders, we are called to play a very crucial role as defenders and promoters of the faith in all corners of our society. We were each born for this time and thank God for that! We have been given the opportunity to participate in the saving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ! What an honor that is! What is difficult now, we will celebrate for all eternity.
TLI has felt like a new Pentecost to me, like an outpouring of the holy spirit. It has felt like spiritual rocket fuel being poured into my soul. Spending time with likeminded individuals and learning from the most amazing, accomplished group of Catholic subject matter experts has been a refreshing experience and has energized me for mission.
As the program was drawing to completion, I took the opportunity to speak to several other participants about their experiences, and I was inspired by their reflections. One participant expressed how we have come together as companions, building up one another on this journey as we seek the presence of God in our daily lives and strive together towards heaven. Another spoke of how TLI has reignited her zeal for her Catholic faith and expressed gratitude for the friendships formed in the program. Another said she approached TLI with an open mind, ready to receive the gifts God had in store for her, and she has already seen opportunities emerging from this. Still another leader shared with me how he had recently come back to the faith and appreciates how TLI handled each topic with clarity and truth. He said to live heroically we need to know what we are aiming for. He commented how he sees an outpouring of grace into the world, and that we are called to be the people through which others encounter that grace; to witness that the Catholic Church has something to teach us on our journey about what it means to be in marriage, to live in community, and to act in civil society. He longs to see a robust church that turns the destructive weapons of society into plowshares that are restorative to our true nature.
Most TLI participants agree that the Virtuous Leadership retreat is the highlight of the program. This event is scheduled towards the end of the five months and is a welcome opportunity to meet fellow cohort members in person, after months of forming friendships virtually. The spiritual and personal development provided by the Virtuous Leadership Institute facilitator is invaluable. At our Nashville retreat, our facilitator, Dr. Ryan Hanning, co-author of The Willpower Advantage, Building Habits for Lasting Happiness, challenged us to identify our personal purpose and mission. My personal purpose is to serve my God, my family, and my neighbor, with fidelity to the truth, excellence, love, patriotism, and integrity of heart, mind, and action; with respect and gratitude for all of creation, and reverence for the sanctity, dignity, and beauty of every human life, from the moment of conception until natural death. I believe that each one of us has been created by our Divine Father out of love, and given a mission, a definite purpose, an opportunity to participate in the life of Christ so that we may rejoice with him for the eternity to come. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope (Jeremiah 29:11).”
Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, said that “if you find a why, then you can bear any how”. The reward is immense when we take the time to do the interior work of distilling our personal purpose into words so that it may serve as a guidepost for our daily walk with Christ. We read in John 15: 7-12 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete’. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” We know that we are each called to follow Christ, to abide in him, to pick up our crosses and offer our struggles to him, and to keep his commandments, especially to love one another. The way we demonstrate love, the way we live out our baptismal calling, will look as different for each of us as the myriad diverse lives of all the saints, as the pure light of Christ, shining through a prism, casts about a beautiful display of brilliant dancing colors. My hope is that every TLI graduate will walk away from their experience with a clearer understanding of their purpose, their “why?.”
It was profound and fitting that the 2023 Tepeyac Leadership Initiative graduation was held on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The birth of John is the only birthday our Church celebrates outside of our Lord and our Lady. Jesus said, “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist”. With such an endorsement it is worth reflecting on this model of virtuous leadership (John would make a great TLI speaker!).
John is a great example of humility. He lived a humble life, a life dependent on God. He always pointed towards Jesus. John said, “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet” and “he must increase; I must decrease”. John possessed both fundamental humility, in his knowledge of himself, and fraternal humility in his service to lead others to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Scripture says John was “sent from God”; he embodied magnanimity in his sense of mission; to prepare the way for the Messiah.
John wore camel’s hair and lived off of locusts and wild honey, practicing great temperance and self-mastery. He was prudent in the advice he offered to others who came to him seeking his guidance. His message to the people of that day was to repent and to bear good fruits, to be truthful and honest in our dealings with others, to give to those in need, to act rightly and justly in our everyday jobs and careers.
John never shied away from speaking the Truth; he demonstrated incredible courage when he spoke up about the sanctity of marriage and sexual morality to Herod, and ultimately, he paid with his life for that. The 24th of June also marked the one-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision, moving the issue of abortion back to individual states to legislate. I pray that as Catholics we will use our voices in the public square to speak up for life and that we will speak for the sanctity of marriage and the family, which is central to our integral human development.
Something is happening, I can just feel it, and I think a lot of people are noticing the same thing. It seems like we, as people of faith, have been silent for too long. We have been told the lie that it is not appropriate to talk about our faith outside of Church. In the United States, our leaders still take the oath of office with their hand on the Bible. We still pledge our allegiance to the flag “under God”. Our currency still states “in God we trust”. Yet, we are admonished not to talk about religion. We are chastised about a wall of separation while we are constantly bombarded with the zealous fervor of a new radical ideology. We have bought into that lie, but now we realize that the reward for silence is the tyranny of secularism. As it has been said, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
Augustine, one of my favorite saints, said “the truth is like a lion, you don’t have to defend it; let it loose and it will defend itself.” It’s time to let the lion out. It is time to emerge from underneath our bushel baskets as agents of divine mercy and to bring the truth of the Gospel to every field of social, professional, cultural, and political life. May God richly bless our Tepeyac Leaders in their pursuit of this noble purpose!
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