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Asking the Clergy: Who is your role model as a spiritual leader?

From left, Rabbi Joel M. Levenson of Midway

From left, Rabbi Joel M. Levenson of Midway Jewish Center, the Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr. of Church-in-the-Garden, and the Rev. Joseph Schlafer, of St. John Nepomucene Roman Catholic Church. Credit: Alex M. Wolff; Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.; Diocese of Rockville Centre

Most of us have someone we look up to and try to emulate — a parent, a mentor, a living hero or a revered historical figure. This week’s clergy discuss the person whose example guides them most often in their ministry and daily life.

The Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.

Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden, Garden City

With all due respect to my pastor, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, and the many esteemed pastors who have guided me through the years and continue to counsel me as a pastor today, my role model has always been — and forever will be — Jesus Christ.

The high calling of Christ to his followers, and particularly those called to shepherd God’s people, challenges me as a spiritual leader to steward and lead the Church-in-the-Garden, not merely preaching and teaching God’s Word, but embodying it in my daily life. From a theological standpoint, Christ’s love, exemplifying God’s love for humanity, was the basis of his extraordinary earthly mission and ministry.

Christ’s life and love commandment is the most challenging directive, and spiritual paradigm, created. It forces me, as an individual and as a pastor, to deal with the reality that we as followers of Christ must daily engage in the complicated and often messy work of loving God, loving oneself and loving humanity while confronting our own and humankind’s sins and shortcomings. Christ lived a life as a model for all of us. He inspires and empowers me to lead as a spiritual leader in the same manner.

Rabbi Joel M. Levenson

Midway Jewish Center, Syosset

The best way to understand a people — a nation — is to examine their heroes, their great men and women. Then you will know the kind of people they value.

Jews have called Moses our hero exactly because he embodied the ideals we Jews believe in — hatred of oppression and love of justice, compassion and commitment. But there is one other thing Moses was known for. The Rabbis call him Moshe, or Rabbenu, which means Moses, our teacher. He's not Moshe the liberator, Moshe the warrior, Moshe the prophet; he is Moshe, our teacher. He had learning, and Jews have always respected learning.

At Midway Jewish Center, we like to ask "WWMD: What would Moses do?" What teaching may we apply to a moment, a situation or decision? We study Torah to teach it to the next generation. We believe that without teachers, there is no future, no hope. Knowledge and learning have been and remain the key to living a good life, the key to the survival of the community.

Our greatest heroes are our spiritual leaders, and our leaders are our teachers. We value Torah, the teaching that illuminates a path of holiness.

The Rev. Joseph Schlafer

Pastor, St. John Nepomucene Roman Catholic Church, Bohemia

Of the many qualities of Pope Francis that make him a role model, two come to mind. The first is his authenticity. In other words, he knows who he is and what he believes, and he proclaims it fearlessly to anyone who will listen. The second is his absolute respect for the value and goodness of every human being no matter what their background or religious tradition. In other words, everyone matters. Everyone deserves to be listened to. Everyone deserves God’s mercy and forgiveness, and the neediest among us deserve our special concern.

The pope’s two gifts of authentic honesty and universal love are at the heart and mission of Christ. They are also qualities that are desperately needed in today’s hurting world. Francis is a role model because we instinctively recognize that honesty and love are the surest way to peace in our world.

I have been privileged as a priest to have known and worked with parishioners, nuns, bishops, deacons, priests and people of other faiths who powerfully embody and live out the same qualities of honesty and love, and I constantly learn from all of them. They are all role models for me.

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