How to Make an Emotional Connection as a Leader

a woman holds a microphone while speaking from her heart

By John Millen

As a keynote speaker and trainer, I tell a lot of stories.

I often share a powerful experience I had 25 years ago when I was leading media relations for an insurance company in California.

Part of my role was to go to the scene of disasters and work with the media, which over the years took me to hurricanes, fires, earthquakes and other tragedies.
Hell on Earth
My first major disaster was a scorched-earth fire that destroyed more than 400 homes in the beautiful seaside town of Santa Barbara. It’s usually heaven on earth, but this day it looked like hell on earth – as if a meteor had struck the side of the mountain.
To learn the business, I accompanied a claims representative to the completely destroyed home of one of our customers. He was an elderly widower who had lost everything – all of his family photos and other possessions – in the devastating fire.
During a recent in-person talk, I choked up and had to pause while telling this story. I still feel his loss. Because of the lights in my eyes, I couldn’t see all of the nearly 300 people in the audience, but I saw glistening eyes in the rows nearby, and a woman in the front row was dabbing tears.
I realized we had connected. My heart had spoken to hers.

Winning Hearts and Minds
We often use terms related to body organs to describe how we communicate with other human beings. We are of like minds, we trust our guts, our hearts go out to people.
Of all of those, I believe our hearts are most powerful in making a connection with another human being. That’s why, for leaders, we talk about winning peoples’ hearts and minds, not their minds and hearts.

Now more than ever, we need to be real with people. With this in mind, here are five practical tips for speaking from your heart to make a deeper connection with people:

1. Share yourself

We have to be open and risk vulnerability in order to receive the same from others. People want to know who you really are. What experiences shaped you? What brought you here? What motivates you? In sales, we talk about the development of trust as “know, like and trust.” “Know” starts with sharing yourself.

2. Be personal 

Talk like a normal human being. So often during talks leaders will shift into “presentation mode,” being formal and stiff. Kill the jargon and relate to people in a way that shows you are real and open. In a world where so much is contrived, people appreciate sincerity and authenticity.

3. Show your passion 

What do you love in your life or your work? Sharing that and displaying your enthusiasm will go a long way toward showing people your humanity. We can sense when people are excited about something and we get excited, too.

In high school in California, I had a history teacher who was an aviation enthusiast, with a focus on WWII. He had small model planes hanging throughout the room. Though it was the last thing my friends and I would typically care about, by the end of the semester we were going to aviation shows.
Our teacher’s passion and stories won us over. I still love planes today. (He followed his passion and left teaching years ago. He hunts for historical planes that were lost and has made significant discoveries.)

4. Listen to people 

When we are present in the moment, when we listen fully to others, our words will flow more naturally.

For some reason, maybe because our subconscious takes over, it’s much easier to speak freely and fully when we’ve listened to what people want and need in the moment.

I’ve found this to be true across the board – from large audiences to one-on-one conversations.

5. Tell your story 

Perhaps the easiest and most effective way to speak from your heart is to tell your story. As humans, we are hardwired for telling and hearing stories. They convey who we are, they teach us lessons and they build trust. Stories connect us as people.

Sharing your story will build a bridge with the people who are most important to you and your success.
It’s not easy to risk vulnerability, to speak from your heart. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the point. Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone takes courage.
Or as they say, it takes heart.

Guarding Against Discrimination

The best way to promote fairness and equality at work, and to uphold the law, is to be proactive against unfair discrimination. This involves creating an environment in which mutual respect is prioritized, the benefits of diversity are recognized, and there’s zero tolerance for bullying and bad behavior of any kind. Everyone should be made feel safe to raise a concern, and confident that any issues will be addressed sensitively and effectively.

There are many ways to embrace and accommodate people’s differences – helping to ensure that there’s little place for unfair treatment. For example, making appropriate adjustments for people’s disabilities is a very visible way to show that you give everyone the same chance to thrive. These measures could include providing application forms in Braille or audio formats, or making all parts of your building wheelchair-accessible.

For everyone, good communication, trusted relationships

, and high ethical standards are key. In addition, people at every level should know exactly what unfair discrimination is, and how it’s dealt with.

Here are four things you, as a manager or co-worker, can do to help to build a workplace culture that actively guards against discrimination:

​1. Be Alert to Discrimination

However much you trust or like the people you work with, and however strong your company’s stated values are, never assume that unfair discrimination can’t or won’t happen in your organization.

If you’re a manager, don’t be afraid to deal with concerns or complaints, if they arise, as they can often be resolved informally, or through well-established processes.

2. Understand the Anti-Discrimination Laws that Apply to You

While the core principles of fairness may be easy enough to guess, the details of legislation can be complex and varied.

For example, in some places, age discrimination is defined within particular age ranges. And some territories give protection to applicants for employment as well as to those already on the team – while others don’t. [1] [2]

So, familiarize yourself with the relevant legal rights for both employers and employees, and check that your information is up to date.


Government websites are often a good place to start your research, such as those provided by the U.S. and U.K. governments.

Unions, local authorities, professional bodies, and legal organizations can also help you to understand all the rules and regulations that apply to you and your organization.

3. Use Organizational Policies and Procedures to Combat Discrimination

To uphold legislation, and to maintain high ethical standards, it may be appropriate to create an overall policy for your organization – perhaps a “non-discrimination,” “equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I),” or “dignity at work” policy.

This document should outline exactly why equal treatment is necessary and how you go about achieving it – including the process for dealing with any discrimination complaints. It should also identify individual responsibilities and points of contact.

Remember to review and update your policy document, regularly, and give everyone access to it. And check that potential discrimination is covered in all other relevant policies, too – such as those for recruitment, pay and conditions, and entitlement to take leave. Make sure that all the rules and procedures you have in place treat everyone fairly.

For example, in your recruitment policy, stipulate that you don’t use descriptors like “highly experienced” or “man/woman” unless those really are requirements for the role. And explain how you advertise jobs in a fair way – for example, by advertising across a range of different online and offline channels that engage diverse audiences.

In addition, if you’re providing extra support to people with certain characteristics – for instance, prioritizing people from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds during a recruitment drive – spell out your legitimate reasons for doing so.

Managing During a Downturn

Keeping Morale up When the Economy Is Down

During times when the economy reaches a low point, many businesses may have to rationalize and downsize their operations to survive.

The impact of these changes is likely to affect you as a manager.

People may be uncertain about what might happen, and managing the mood and morale of your team – and perhaps the ups and downs in people’s productivity – may sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride.

You’re probably expected to keep your team members motivated, just when you have little to motivate them with – and keep morale up, when there’s little good news to spread around.

Communicate clearly, boost morale and provide focus for your team. Click here

to see a transcript of this video.

Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to handle the tricky task of managing your team in a down economy. In this article, we cover key areas like communication, morale, and focus, and offer up some ways you can keep your team going in the midst of this chilly economic climate. And, of course, these strategies for motivating your team can also be used when the economy is more buoyant.


One of the first things to happen when economic conditions are difficult is that the rumor mill starts turning. When things are so uncertain, fears and rumors can ignite with a spark, and, if not contained and dealt with, can spread through an organization quickly.

While you may need to talk with your bosses about how to manage the situation, try to keep any ‘closed-door sessions’ and private conference calls to a minimum during this time. Why? Well, because all the cloak-and-dagger secrecy is likely to incite fear, spark rumors, and lower morale. Your team may assume the worst if they suspect something’s up. It’s therefore often a wiser strategy, where possible, to keep them in the loop.

Can We Argue that the Virgin Mary Never Died?

Don’t they celebrate the Dormition instead of the Assumption in the East? And doesn’t “dormition” just mean sleeping? So Mary didn’t die! Right?

Michael Lofton 8/17/2022

This past Monday, Latin-Rite Catholics and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches celebrated the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. In the West, the feast is called the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast came to the West from the East in the seventh century but had already been celebrated in the East for over a century under the name of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. In the Eastern tradition, the emphasis of the feast is on her dormition, or falling asleep, which is a euphemism for her death. This was the original focus of the feast until it came to the West, where the emphasis shifted to the Virgin’s assumption into heaven.

At this point, some may be confused: how can we say the Virgin Mary died if she did not have original sin? This is certainly understandable given that human death was introduced into the world through Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12). However, the Virgin Mary’s exemption from original sin did not necessarily exempt her from all the effects of Adam’s sin. She was always in a state of sanctity, innocence, and justice, and she never experienced disordered passions (concupiscence), but she was not exempt from all temporal penalties.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that Mary “was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam—from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death.” This was written after Pope Pius IX defined the Immaculate conception in 1854, so the encyclopedia certainly did not see any conflict between the claims that Mary was free from original sin and yet capable of dying. Others disagree with this view and argue the Virgin Mary died simply because she chose to, as a way to imitate her son.

In other words, the question of why she died is debatable, but is the question that she died debatable?

Some argue that the Virgin Mary’s death is still open for debate. For instance, some claim that Pope Pius XII did not say whether Mary died when he defined the dogma of the Assumption in his apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus. The pope’s definition says:

We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Note that the pope refers to the end of her earthly life, but this could be interpreted in ways that would not require death. For instance, we could speak of the end of the prophet Elijah’s earthy life, even though according to Scripture he didn’t die (2 Kings 2:11).

Thus, it is technically true that the Church has not defined in its extraordinary Magisterium whether the Virgin Mary died. However, does that mean the case is still open?

In the same apostolic constitution, Pius XII says the liturgy does not give rise to what we believe, but rather reflects what we already believe. Since the original intention of the Feast of the Assumption was the Virgin’s dormition, and her dormition is celebrated in a Catholic rite, it would follow that the Church already believes she died before her assumption. Furthermore, he says the fathers of the church preached about the dormition of the Virgin because it was something already accepted by Christ’s faithful. He then speaks frankly about the Virgin Mary having died, saying:

They offered more profound explanations of its meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten son, Jesus Christ—truths that the liturgical books had frequently touched upon concisely and briefly.

In other words, the Virgin Mary did die, but her body did not undergo corruption in the grave.

So it is true that the pope did not solemnly define in his extraordinary magisterium whether the Virgin Mary died, but he also says Christ’s faithful had already accepted that she died, which is why the Fathers of the Church preached about it on the feast of the dormition.

Some may insist that this part of the apostolic constitution is not part of the definition, so the case is still open for debate. I will concede that it’s is not part of the definition, but it is part of the authentic Magisterium, which has a high degree of authority, especially since it is in an apostolic constitution. This means, at the very least, the claim the Virgin Mary died requires religious submission of intellect and will.

Moreover, the bigger problem with this argument is that it fails to take into account the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church, which is the constant preaching of the bishops throughout the world. Consider the case of the deity of Christ for a moment. Prior to the definition of the First Council of Nicaea, could someone have denied that Jesus was one in nature with the Father? According to the argument above, yes, because that dogma had not yet been solemnly defined by the extraordinary Magisterium of the church. However, this would be mistaken, because it too would not take into account the ordinary and universal Magisterium on the matter.

Some might offer further pushback and ask whether the bishops throughout the world have actually preached the truthfulness of the claim that the Virgin Mary died. In response, I would note that the liturgy is one of the sources that testifies to Sacred Tradition, which would also tell us what the bishops consistently teach in their ordinary and universal Magisterium, since the ordinary and universal Magisterium will always maintain Sacred Tradition. In other words, one of the ways to identify the ordinary and universal Magisterium is through the liturgy, which testifies to the dormition of the Virgin Mary. For this reason, anyone who would deny that the Virgin Mary died before the assumption would have to explain how error has seemingly crept into our liturgy, into the authentic Magisterium, and into the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium.

Trump Attorney Confirmed FBI Raided Melania Trump’s Closet, Couldn’t ‘Observe’ Them

By Jack Phillips August 17, 2022

Former President Donald Trump’s attorney, Christina Bobb, said that FBI agents searched former First Lady Melania Trump’s closet during its raid of Mar-a-Lago last week.

Bobb told Newsmax that she “wasn’t allowed to observe what they were doing or see really any part of the raid” when the agents went into her close.

The agents “told me I have no legal standing to be there,” Bobb said. “Those were the words they gave to me. We argued over whether that was true or not, and I explained to them … it’s better for you to allow me to observe because then I can’t say, ‘They kept me out and wouldn’t let me observe.’”

“I don’t think anybody just takes the word of the FBI anymore,” she continued. “But they seem to be OK with that risk.”

Last week, former President Trump wrote on Truth Social that agents entered and rummaged through Melania’s closet, appearing to confirm prior reports from the New York Post.

The FBI and Department of Justice have not issued public statements on the claims that agents went into her closet. The Epoch Times has contacted the FBI and a Justice Department spokesperson for comment.

The FBI told Bobb “that they did take some attorney-client privileged information and possibly other privileged documents,” she claimed to Newsmax on Tuesday. Regarding those documents, Bobb said she is still “waiting for an explanation.”

“If [the federal government] actually had something, at the very least, they would have held a press conference resolving a lot of these questions in Americans’ minds, and they haven’t even done that,” Bobb said. “I don’t think they have anything.”

Battle Over Affidavit

On Monday, the Department of Justice issued a motion that sought to block the affidavit in the case from being released to the public—even in its redacted form. Lawyers for the department said that releasing those documents to the public would harm the agency’s investigation.

A judge in the case, Bruce Reinhart, set a Thursday at 1 p.m. hearing on whether the affidavit should be released. Several third-party groups, watchdogs, and media outlets have made court filings asking for the affidavit to be unsealed, while Trump and other Republicans have called on the government to release it.

The affidavit could potentially reveal what the FBI is trying to investigate and would provide a reason why the Department of Justice sought an FBI search warrant targeting Mar-a-Lago.

“We need the affidavit, show your cards, Merrick Garland can’t have it both ways, he can’t give us the inventory of the warrant without telling us why it was necessary … without the affidavit, we’re flying blind in the dark,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News before adding, “The American people are going through too much pain, too much heartache on this endless effort to destroy Donald Trump.”

Reinhart last week issued an order unsealing the warrant and property receipt, suggesting Trump could be under investigation for possible Espionage Act and obstruction of justice violations.

Several boxes of allegedly classified and top secret documents were taken from the Florida residence, although Trump and his team argued that while he was president, he had a standing order to declassify materials leaving the Oval Office.

FBI unit in Mar-a-Lago probe ran Russia hoax

Crossfire Hurricane team under active investigation by John Durham

Art Moore By Art Moore August 18, 2022

Their lead investigator, Peter Strzok, was famously fired for his blatant animus against President Trump, but the FBI division that conducted the bogus Russia collusion probe is still at work, this time at the center of the investigation of Trump’s handling of classified material at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Paul Sperry reports for Real Clear Investigations that the division is also a focus of special counsel John Durham’s probe of the FBI’s alleged abuses of power in the Russia investigation, known as Operation Crossfire Hurricane.

As Sperry previously reported, a key member of the Crossfire team, Supervisory Intelligence Analyst Brian Auten, was involved in the probe of the abandoned laptop of President Biden’s son Hunter Biden. FBI whistleblowers, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee, alleged Auten helped quash the probe by labeling derogatory information as Russian “disinformation.”

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz referred Auten in 2019 for disciplinary review for cutting corners in the vetting of the dubious Steele dossier commissioned by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, which was used to obtain warrants to spy on the Trump campaign. Auten, Sperry reported, allegedly allowed information he knew to be false to slip into warrant affidavits and mislead the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed in congressional testimony this month that “a number of” former Crossfire Hurricane team members are still employed at the bureau amid a disciplinary review.

Sperry noted that some former FBI officials worry Auten, regarded as a top bureau expert on Russia and nuclear warfare, will be part of the analysis of the boxes of documents agents seized from Trump’s home on Aug. 8. The agents’ task is to help determine if any of the alleged classified material might have been compromised, posing a national security risk.

According to sources, Jay Bratt, the top counterintelligence official in the Justice Department’s national security division has been coordinating the Mar-a-Lago investigation, Sperry reported. Bratt is a Democratic National Committee donor. He’s working with Alan Kohler, who replaced Bill Priestap as head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division. Priestap resigned amid criticism of his role in the Russia probe. Kohler, according to sources, was close to Stefan Halper, the academic and longtime FBI contractor who served as a bureau informant in a failed effort to suborn Trump campaign officials.

‘The biggest hoax in election history’
Kash Patel, a former federal prosecutor and Trump administration official, believes the FBI may have a personal interest in seizing the records stored by Trump.

In October 2020, he pointed out, Trump authorized the declassification of all of the records of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane and Clinton email investigations.

The FBI may have confiscated some of those records in its raid to make sure they don’t become public, he said. And the bureau may be seeking other documents to justify the opening of failed Trump-Russia collusion case.

“Tragically, the same FBI characters that were involved in Russiagate are the same counterintel guys running this ‘national security investigation’ against Trump,” said Patel.

As a House Intelligence Committee investigator, Patel interviewed Crossfire Hurricane team members. He pointed to Inspector General Horowitz’s report indicating FBI analyst Auten hid exculpatory information about Trump adviser Carter Page from other investigators and the FISA court.

“And to top it all off, this guy admits [to Horowitz’s investigators] he’s unrepentant about his role in making up the biggest hoax in election history, and Wray still lets him be a supervisor at the FBI,” Patel said. “It’s just insane.”

The Hidden Power of Workplace Rituals

by Erica Keswin August 17, 2022

Fuse/Getty Images

Summary.   Employees rightly expect to be able to bring their feelings — big and small — to work. One important way to provide that support is through rituals. The author defines rituals using two important benchmarks. First, rituals go beyond their practical purpose,…

Leaders are under enormous pressure to address societal issues, maintain an active DEI strategy, and keep employees connected to each other and to the company’s mission. And since employees rightly expect to be able to bring their feelings — big and small — to work, supporting employees during cultural trauma and strife is every leader’s job. It’s not always obvious how to address these issues at work, especially when leaders aren’t necessarily trained or experienced in navigating such sensitive, emotional topics. One important way to provide the support employees expect is through rituals.

I’ve studied the impact of workplace rituals on individuals, teams, and the bottom line for many years for my book, Rituals Roadmap. This research has helped me define rituals using two important benchmarks. First, rituals go beyond their practical purpose, moving participants beyond transaction and into meaning. For instance, lighting a candle when the lights go out isn’t a ritual, but turning off the lights and lighting a candle at sundown is. Second, rituals are sorely missed when they’re taken away.

What follows is one case study from a company that took a risk in real time and created a successful response to a tragedy, and over time, that response became a ritual. Here’s how they did it, and how rituals can improve psychological safety, purpose, and ultimately performance.

Time to Connect

In 2022, I met Judith Harrison, EVP, global diversity, equity & inclusion at global communications firm Weber Shandwick. After George Floyd’s murder, Harrison offered a time for employees to come together to process their grief. Ever since, the company has held the gathering once a month, and sometimes more often in response to traumatic events. Harrison calls this simple circle “Time to Connect.”

Time to Connect is considered a ritual for two reasons. First, the gatherings aren’t directly related to the company’s stated mission — their professional communications work. When I asked Harrison what inspired her to bring people together, she told me, “I thought having cadenced opportunities to talk through these events, all of which have mental health impacts on many people, made sense.”

Second, as the company’s EVP head of brand impact, Lewis Williams, told me, “I’m a fan [of Time to Connect] and I think it can’t go away now…even if we come back into the office. Especially with the young employees coming in, it’s just a new world when it comes to the employee relationship and what we expect from our employers.” In other words, the employees at Weber Shandwick have come to depend on these regular gatherings and would miss them if they stopped.

The Three P’s of Supportive Company Rituals

Through my research, I’ve also discovered why rituals mean so much to us. Time and time again, when it wasn’t clear to me why a group or team was so determined to maintain a shared behavior, I discovered that rituals support psychological safety and purpose, which leads to increased performance. I describe this simple formulation as the “Three P’s of rituals.”

By applying the Three P’s to Time to Connect, leaders can better understand their own rituals — both current ones and those that have yet to be discovered.

Psychological Safety

When employees come together for Time to Connect, Harrison begins with some prepared remarks about the world event and then asks the same question each time: “So, how are you doing?”

In order to give employees permission to answer this question honestly, she opens the conversation with her own perspective on the issue at hand. Leading by example provides people an opportunity to be real themselves. As a result, employees feel safe to respond to the conversations in whatever way works for them — live, in the chat, or via email after the fact.

For instance, after the shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, earlier this year, Angela Salerno-Robin, SVP media relations, responded with “I am not okay”:

These sessions are a time for us to support one another and talk in a safe space. This time was different. This time, I was the one who personally needed the support. Highland Park is my home. We moved our family here from Chicago to give our children a “safer” place to grow up. It’s hard for me to put into words how we are feeling, but I can tell you that as a family, as a community, and as a nation — we are not okay!

It’s not uncommon for participants to cry and share out loud or via the chat function. They engage in whatever way is comfortable for them. Not only do they appear to feel psychologically safe enough to do so, but their raw participation creates more safety for others. As chief of staff Jill Tannenbaum put it:

I didn’t expect to get emotional on that call, but I was so moved by the humanity and the openness. With a topic that is debated with so much passion and vitriol outside our walls, inside our walls feels safe, enabling a conversation in a way that is immensely supported and always kind.

Ultimately, creating psychological safety starts with leaders’ willingness to model it.


Helping employees find purpose in an organization is critical to engagement and innovation. One way to do this is to ensure that a company’s values are clear, actionable, and widely distributed. Tying those values to key rituals is the perfect way to incorporate purpose into employees’ shared experiences.

Weber Shandwick’s values of courage, inclusion, curiosity, and impact lend themselves particularly well to making this connection. The ritual of Time to Connect is the ideal way to bring personal and professional purpose together in one very powerful, shared experience based on the company’s values. The creation and endurance of this ritual speaks to the courage and curiosity of the employees and company leadership. To be brave enough to take the leap into the unknown and open up these challenging conversations is by definition courageous. And to create a forum for people to listen to one another is an expression of curiosity.

Employees have expressed gratitude that Time to Connect creates a safe, inclusive space for everyone to share, not only those most obviously affected by the events discussed.


When I asked Harrison about the business results of Time to Connect, she told me, “Based on people’s comments about how much they look forward to the calls and how ‘therapeutic’ they are, I think the business impact is in engagement, with belonging and trust being subsets of this category.” What’s more, studies show that community co-creation, a feeling of genuine care, and solidarity have been found to be closely tied to retention.

The numbers speak for themselves. Each month, over 200 people show up, and keep showing up — as themselves, bringing their whole selves to work. Daryl Drabinsky, EVP head of digital health, North America, was so inspired that she initiated “Time to Connect: West” for West Coast employees to connect after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Time to Connect is a powerful example of a simple way leaders can provide the kind of response and support employees are expecting from their companies. Enlisting regular rituals helps leaders offer healing from specific traumas and disturbances while at the same time aligning their workforce with their values and increasing psychological safety and belonging. At a time when the call for authenticity has moved way beyond any brand buzzword, rituals are good for people and for business.

Why Did God Almost Kill Moses?

By Dr. Eli

One of the most enigmatic Torah events (that, frankly, runs contrary to our modern logic) is found in Exodus 4:24-26. There, after commissioning Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God came to kill him (Ex.4:24-26).  What follows is the NASB translation along with several of my own modifications as supported by the Hebrew text. I am indebted to Michael Heiser for the core idea discussed in this article.

It happened on the way to the lodging place that the LORD met him [Moses] and sought his death (וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הֲמִיתוֹ). Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched his feet (וַתַּגַּע לְרַגְלָיו), and she said, “This is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me” (כִּי חֲתַן-דָּמִים אַתָּה לִי). So He let him alone. At that time, she said, “You – a bridegroom of blood” – because of the circumcision.

The key to this passage lies in realizing that Moses was not properly circumcised. Growing up in the Egypt, Moses and the rest of Israelites did not fully remove the male’s foreskin (growing up in the Egyptian Royal home, it could not have been otherwise). In the time of Joshua, Israelites went through a second, proper circumcision, where foreskin was fully removed (Josh. 5:2-3). All of this sounds trivial, gross, and strange to the ears of modern Christian believers, but clearly it was not how YHWH saw this situation. In other words, Israelites could be delivered while still being uncircumcised, but the leader of the Exodus would be held to a higher standard.

Moses was about to embark on “Operation Exodus” without the sign of the Abrahamic covenant on him or his son Gershom. When God came to seek his life, Moses’ Medianite wife Zipporah intervened to save him. God’s wrath was turned away by the blood of the son and decisive redemptive action of a Midianite woman. 

This explains God’s seemingly strange behavior. But how can we understand the words of Zipporah (“You are bridegroom of blood to me”)?

Circumcision was not only a sign to the man of his entrance into the Abrahamic covenant.  It also served as a sign to his bride that the man she was marrying was, in fact, a worshiper of the Most High God.  A man who was properly circumcised was a “bridegroom of blood” to her.

But why did Zipporah touch the foreskin of Gershom to the “feet” of Moses? The most likely scenario is that the “feet” of Moses refers to Moses’ procreative organ (a common euphemism in the Hebrew Bible).

At the time, Moses’ procreative organ was not properly marked with the sign of Abrahamic covenant. After (properly) circumcising Gershom, Zipporah touched Moses’ procreative organ as if he was already properly circumcised. When this great woman of faith did that, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob spared the life of Moses, making him ready to deliver God’s Ancient people

Enter the Narrow Gate

August 19, 2022 Gayle Somers

Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Someone in a crowd called out to Jesus, “Will only a few people be saved?”  Why was this the wrong question to ask?

Gospel (Read Lk 13:22-30)

St. Luke tells us that as Jesus “passed through towns and villages, teaching as He went,” someone called out a question to Him:  “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  This is a curious question, isn’t it?  Why would anyone be interested in knowing the number of people saved?  The idea that there are those who will be saved and those who will be lost in God’s final judgment was a constant theme in the Old Testament Scriptures.  Moses laid it out before all the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land:  “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day… you shall live and multiply and the Lord your God shall bless you.  But if your hearts turn away, and you will not hear … you shall perish” (see Deut. 30:16-18a).  The wisdom literature, in particular, is full of exhortations to choose life by living righteously and to avoid the destruction that comes with foolish disobedience and wickedness (see Ps 1; Wis 5:1-16).  So, interest in salvation by a Jew listening to Jesus isn’t surprising.

What is surprising, however, is the question this man asks:  “Will only a few be saved?”   What question should he have asked?  We can get a clue from Jesus’ reply:  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”  The man who questioned Jesus was interested in the “few”; Jesus was interested in the “many.”  Why?

Jesus continues to make His point by using a parable.  He speaks of the “master of the house” who has “arisen and locked the door.”  In this, He is describing Himself and the end of His time of visitation in Israel.  He was with His own people, His “house,” for three years, teaching and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and calling the Jews to believe in Him as their promised Messiah, the Son of God.  He was rejected by the religious leaders and put to death, from which He “arose” and then departed, bringing to an end the opportunity for the Jews to acknowledge Him as their true King.  He then describes Jews standing “outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door to us.”  Jesus, the “master,” sends them away because although they had proximity to Him (“we ate and drank in Your company and you taught in our streets”), He doesn’t know who they are; they did not become His friends when He was with them.  Theirs is a terrible fate.  They will see “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.”  Here, of course, Jesus is describing Jews who rejected Him, refusing to believe Him when He said things like, “I am the door; if any one enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9).  However, although some of His own people will be outside, they will see people from all four corners of the earth reclining “at table in the kingdom of God.”  This is not a description of “few” but “many.”  It becomes clear, then, what question the man should have asked.

How different would Jesus’ reply to this man have been if he’d asked, “Lord, how can I be saved?”  By the way Jesus addresses his question about “only a few,” we can surmise that this man thought of himself as being in that small number, safe, and not needing to ask this question.  Many Jews of Jesus’ day, especially the religious leaders, presumed that because they were descendants of Abraham and God’s chosen people, they were the few who would be saved.  This was a dangerous way to think, as John the Baptist made clear in his preaching at the Jordan River:  “But when [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham’” (Mt 3:7-9).  

Perhaps Jesus sensed this kind of presumption in the man who questioned Him.  Instead of discussing numbers, He speaks directly to the man himself:  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”  In other words, you have work to do!  In addition, He warns the man that only those who are “strong enough” will make it through the “narrow gate.”  What did He mean?  As Jesus regularly taught, only those willing to lose their lives, to take up their crosses, to die to themselves in order to be His disciples will be able to pass through the “narrow” gate of Jesus Himself.  Salvation will not be achieved by entering the wide gate of Jewish ethnicity.  It will not come through proximity to Jesus—being a Catholic, getting all the sacraments, never missing Mass.  It will only come through knowing Jesus and believing in Him, obeying Him as the Messiah, God’s own Son, and our only hope of redemption.

Jesus ends His conversation with a conundrum:  “Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”  The Jews considered the Gentiles to certainly be those who aren’t saved, yet Jesus’ description of people from all over the world (not just Jews from Israel) proved that “the last,” the Gentiles, would precede many Jews (“the first” to be called) into the kingdom.  Interestingly, St. Paul confirms this when he explained that “a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25-26).  This describes what happened when the Jews rejected the Gospel; it was then preached to the Gentiles, who received it with joy.  However, after this period of hardening (and no one knows how long this will last), St. Paul sees the hope of Israel finally recognizing her Messiah and finding salvation (see CCC 674).  “Some are first who will be last.”

Had the man in this story asked the right question, the one all of us should ask—“Lord, how can I be saved?”—Jesus’ answer would have been simple:  “Follow Me.”

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me guard against presumption.  I know it’s the door to pride, judgment, and complacency.

First Reading (Read Isa 66:18-21)

This is one of the Old Testament prophecies of the gathering of “nations of every language” into God’s kingdom to which Jesus referred in our Gospel.  God announces, through the prophet, Isaiah, that someday people far beyond the boundaries of Israel will see His glory.  This prophecy began to be fulfilled in the Incarnation.  Jesus came to be a revelation of God’s merciful love, first to the house of Israel, and then to all people.  Recall that even in His own day, Gentiles were attracted to Him (see Mt 15:21-28; Jn 12:20-23).    On the Day of Pentecost, the Church began her preaching mission as Jesus had instructed the apostles:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

Isaiah’s prophecy envisions a glorious reconstitution of the new Israel, the people of God, which is the Church.  It includes both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus.  Its dwelling place will be “Jerusalem, My holy mountain,” which we understand to be heaven.  This is the future reality that Jesus did not want His questioner in our Gospel to miss out on.  Neither do we.

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing this promise to fulfillment in Your worldwide Church.  Keep alive a missionary spirit in all of us to take the Gospel to all people everywhere.

Psalm (Read Ps 117:1-2)

We should now be seeing how far off the mark our Gospel’s questioner was when he was thinking about “only a few” to be saved.  It was always God’s intention that Israel, His chosen people, would “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”  Here, the psalmist exhorts all the nations to “praise the Lord,” the God of the Jews first, then of everyone. Because of “His kindness towards us,” God wants all, not a few, to be saved (see 1 Tim 2:4).

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read Heb 12:5-7, 11-13)

Remember that Jesus said in our Gospel some would “attempt to enter [the narrow gate that leads to salvation] but will not be strong enough.”  Our epistle helps us better understand what is required of us if we are to persevere as children in God’s kingdom.  It is only by His grace that we are born again as His sons and daughters in baptism.  We can’t do this for ourselves.  Yet we need to know that “whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges.”  In other words, we will face trials that will require the death to self that Jesus preached in the Gospel.  We need strength for this!  We have “drooping hands” and “weak knees.”  The author of Hebrews, however, gives us wonderful encouragement:  “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons.”  We know earthly fathers discipline their children out of love; it is the same with our heavenly Father.

The discipline of the Lord that comes through our various trials “seems a cause not for joy but for pain.”  How realistic this is.  Yet, over time, this discipline, if we meet it with faith, hope, and love, will yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”  The goal of this discipline is to heal our weaknesses, and, as a verse not included in our reading says, “… [the Lord] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (see vs 10).

Make us strong, Lord, to enter the narrow gate for the joy on the other side.