Excerpted from:

The Pope and the CEO: John Paul IIʹs Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard

Foreword by George Weigel

Opening the NBC News coverage of Pope John Paul II’s funeral Mass on April 8, 2005, anchor Brian Williams welcomed his audience to “the human event of a generation.” It was an apt phrase, not only because of the vast throngs that
had flocked to Rome to say goodbye to John Paul, but because the late pope had touched human lives across a remarkable spectrum of humanity during his twenty‐six and a half years as Bishop of Rome.

Andreas Widmer’s was one of the lives John Paul II touched.

Andreas’s own story is a compelling one of faith, success, failure, redirection, and the discovery of what is truly important in a genuinely human life. But I’ll let him tell that story in the fine book you’re about to read. As John Paul II’s biographer, I’d like to highlight several key ideas taught by the late pope: ideas that Andreas Widmer learned (sometimes the hard way) and ideas that he now wants to share with others.

The first of these Big Ideas is that life is vocational. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin verb vocare, “to call,” such that a vocation is a calling. It’s not a career, in the conventional sense of that word. It’s a matter of listening to the promptings of God in our lives, and then discerning what the unique thing that God has in mind for my life might be. John Paul II was convinced that every human life is a drama, a vocational play in multiple acts, which is playing within the larger cosmic drama of God’s creative, redemptive, and sanctifying purposes. To live life as a vocational drama is to live a bracingly human life – it’s the greatest of human adventures. And, as John Paul taught and Andreas Widmer learned, business can be a real vocation.

The second of these Big Ideas is that things have a purpose, even things that seem random or accidental. Nothing in our lives, John Paul used to say, is a “coincidence.” What seems to us “coincidence” is really an aspect of divine providence that we don’t understand yet. If we can learn to look at our lives in those terms, we’ll never succumb to the most deadening of human temptations – the temptation to boredom.

The third of these Big Ideas involves expectations. From the mid‐1990s on, I was constantly asked why Pope John Paul II was such a magnet for young people. One reason, I’m convinced, is that he didn’t pander to the young; rather, he challenged them. In multiple variations on the same great theme, the pope would say, again and again, “Don’t ever settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral greatness the grace of God makes possible in your life. You’ll fail; we all do. But that’s no reason to lower the bar of expectation. Get up, dust yourself off, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and then keep trying. But don’t ever settle for being less than noble human being – the leader and exemplar ‐‐ you can be.”

Christians call that nobility “sanctity,” and the challenge to nobility and sanctity that John Paul II offered was Not‐For‐Young‐People‐Only. Why? Because being a saint is every baptized person’s human, as well as Christian, destiny.

When the Catholic Church beatified John Paul II on May 1, 2011, the Church was bearing public witness to its conviction that this was a life of heroic virtue, a life that could be held up to other to emulate. At the same time, the extraordinary response John Paul II drew from men and women who were neither Catholics nor Christians nor even religious believers bore testimony to the fact that a saintly life is a compelling human life. The saints are not men and women who have somehow leapt above the human condition; the saints are men and women who have lived fully human lives through the power of grace.

Andreas Widmer is an honest man, a good man, and an insightful man. His reflections on what he learned from perhaps the greatest Christian of our time offer all of us a powerful example of leadership at work.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His two‐volume biography of Pope John Paul II includes Witness to Hope (1999) and The End and the Beginning (2010).

 

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