How to Start a Movement

The psychology of leadership and followership, explained here in just three minutes, rings true. As I watched this, I thought about great movements, started by a lone man or woman, that have accomplished great good for many people. Examples that come to mind are St. Ignatius of Loyola — the Society of Jesus, Blessed Mother Teresa — the Missionaries of Charity, and St. Benedict of Nursia — the Benedictine Order. Of course, there are many other great founders of Catholic religious orders who are rightly included in this category (St. Francis, St. Dominic, etc.).

But it’s also true that “lone nuts,” as the video presenter Derek Sivers says, can effectively start movements, too, by getting enough people to follow them until a tipping point occurs and the “movement” gains enough momentum to become a force. Sometimes, they are bad and destructive and, amazingly, sometimes they can be good and beneficial. A notable example of a leader who left a path of some good but also a great deal of destruction and misery in his wake would be Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Pope Benedict recently branded Maciel a “false prophet,” which seems to be an apt description of his devious, squandered life. As for the religious order he founded and the lay movement associated with it, we’ve seen many of his former followers walk away from them, shaking their heads in bewilderment, sadness, and disgust. Many more who feel that way, from what I’ve been hearing lately, are poised to walk away soon. Personally, I think they should, given what we now know about what Fr. Macial hath wrought and how he went about wroughting (and rotting) it.

Anyway, it seems to me that the moral of this little video is that each of us should be consciously aware of at least three things:

1) Just because someone is out there doing something attractive, daring, and noteworthy is not in itself sufficient evidence that he or she is worthy of being followed by you or anyone else. Yes, it’s certainly possible that he is worthy of a following, of course, and it’s true that what he is beckoning others to join in with him to accomplish may also be an excellent and worthy cause. But it’s just as possible that he isn’t and neither is his cause. It’s usually more prudent to take a wait-and-see approach, especially when it’s the Church’s wait-and-see approach. In due time, the truth or error or admixture of both will come to light, sometimes shocking those who thought they had it pegged, only to discover that they were wrong. (“Signs-and-wonders” enthusiasts and devotées of unapproved alleged Marian apparitions should take special note of this. Just ask those unfortunates who avidly fell in with Veronica Lueken and fell for her false but widely believed [for a time] “apparitions” at Bayside, NY.)

2) Just because others — even many others — are flocking to a movement or an alleged apparition is not in itself evidence that the movement or alleged apparition is worthy of being followed. Even if everyone in the Catholic “in crowd” is jumping into the conga line behind some charismatic leader or alleged apparition “seer,” don’t let that suffice as proof that you should jump in too. It’s not. That tendency to follow the crowd is known as falling for the fallacy of argumentum ad populum, and a lot of people get suckered into bad situations because they don’t recognize that. In other words, fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong.

And 3) If you are Catholic, don’t forget that you already are a duly registered member of the One True Movement established by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: the Catholic Church. The older I get, the more I’ve come to see that while sub-movements such as religious orders, lay apostolates, an
d other worthy groups are surely necessary, important, and helpful to the life of the Church, they should never become substitutes for the Church. They should never be allowed to morph into, as sometimes happens, a religion within a religion. Good, wise, and holy founders like St. Benedict and St. Ignatius would have been horrified at the thought of their movement becoming for some a substitute for the Church.The danger, it seems to me, is that we can forget, slowly and imperceptibly, that Jesus Christ is our leader and the “movement” He has called us into is the Catholic Church. The more consciously determined we can become to be spiritually and materially active there, in the Church — in our parishes and dioceses, united with the pastor and the bishop, most importantly — the better. Anything else, however good it may be, is purely secondary.


  1. Tim Norton

    People joining a movement that's approved by the Catholic Church (like the Regnum Christi) follow Jesus Christ, not any other person. That's true for me, it's true for many I know who have no plans to leave the Regnum Christi unless the Church closes the doors on it, and it sure does not look like the Church is planning on doing anything of the sort. In fact, the Church has been very encouraging regarding the movement. I too am a sinner. Christ has been so good to me, far beyond what I deserve. This is how Christ works.

  2. Nick

    Good point, Patrick! I actually wrote something like this on the Catholic Answers Forum when I was still a member, but I like the way you put it: It's much more precise and informative.And I would add one more point: Research the movement before you join it. Take into consideration what members and ex-members say about it, read the literature it uses in light of the Catholic Faith, and above all pray and depend on God the Holy Spirit.

  3. Never Was An Arrow II

    CERTAINLY POINTS to consider.Now, if someone could just answer the million dollar leadership question, I could probably sleep again at night.What the fadoo happened to that once bright, shining, star of Catholic evangelization, known as Gerry Matatics?That, I would like to know…

  4. scotju

    If you haven't read it yet, read Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer". Other than the Bible and other good Catholic literature, it's the best preventative or antidote to the fanaticism that leads to involvement with quacks like Maciel.

  5. Deirdre Mundy

    Peer pressure can be a kicker– I mean, even if you have reservations, if all the OTHER catholics you know are joining and seem happy and assure you that everything is A-OK…..I think, as a Church, one thing we can do is to make sure the new, untried stuff isn't the only game in town. Are people in your parish flocking to a movement just because it offers nights of recollection and confession? Then maybe you need to have a PAROCHIAL night of recollection!Is the movement providing the only morally acceptable alternative to the Girls Scouts? Start an American heritage girls troop!I think this will be a side benefit of the newly approved apparition in Wisconsin– why go chasing after random, unproven visionaries, when there's a real, honest to goodness, approved apparition with a great message (Catechize the children!) in your back yard?

  6. Deirdre Mundy

    BTW– Thank you for continuing to comment on this issue, and for openly suggesting that current RC members detach from the movement.I think having 'Big Name' Catholics who once supported RC speak out is important, and I'm thankful that you have the courage to make your opinions known, and to attach your name to them!Too many of the comments about avoiding RC have come 'off the record'– which is not helpful when there are still people who are joining and sending them their sons!

  7. aka Cassandra

    Regnum Christi is not currently endorsed by the Church, but is under a visitation, because it is based on the teachings of a false prophet devoid of religion. A visitation is not a "renewal" like Vatican II, but is an extreme measure taken only when there are serious problems.

  8. David Marciniak

    The cult of personality can be a great draw, and I admit to being a victim…for a time. But as in all things God allowed this as a time of growth and discernment. For me Mother Church is my guide and my movement. I do not pay heed to those who claim to improve her, fulfill her mission, or personify her perfection. I have seen many movements grow, flower, and fade like the grass of the field, leaving disillusionment and bitterness in it's wake.

  9. Jack Keogh

    Christ was considered a "lone nut." Peter was brave enough to follow, taking his shirt off and dancing along to help start the one true movement. He got into a lot of trouble too.Of course we should have enough discernment to learn from the experiences of the past 2017 years. Granted. But let's not kill the passion and become fence sitters… Christ asked to be followed. Metaphorically, if the Bishops and Vatican were more willing to take their shirts off and dance along (see the TED video) with our leader, a humble, itinerant preacher with some carpentry skills, they could help dismantle the very real contributing problem which is rampant clericalism.Maybe the real moral of the little video is that sometimes we need to take a chance… and just get up and dance.With regard to the LC/RC, the leader turned out to be a very bad dancer. We know that for sure, now. But, I hope, he attracted enough good followers who will be the true leaders in the group, working with the Pope to dance back to more orthodox moves. The charism is not all about the "founder."

  10. Paul Siena

    Jack states: The charism is not all about the "founder." Sorry to say Jack, understood properly, it is. (Better put would be an order is not all about the charism alone given the fact that the vows derive from the Holiness of the Church itself- but their interpretation comes from the founder/Charism) I read a citation on the blogs from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, in speaking of St Francis, describes in a few words how the founder relates to charism and spirituality of the institute he founds: "When Francis looked back, he saw Christ; when we look back, we see Francis. The difference between him and us is all there, and it is enormous. Question: In what, then, does the Franciscan charism consist? Answer: Looking at Christ with the eyes of Francis! We do not cultivate the Franciscan charism by looking at Francis, but by looking at Christ through Francis’ eyes." Remember Maciel is still the founder and that means they must dance his dance albeit with a few still to be known modifications. If those men you refer to begin a new dance, they indeed are beginning a new foundation. That this should happen and others should follow and it is proven authentic is a true and very special grace – not merely an a few leaders finding a human mechanism or two of corporate well-being.I personally would not summarize the Maciel affair under the title of rampant clericalism, because I think most felt the tragedy under the the guise of abuse of spiritual influence per se to control and darken minds to the objective truth of things and remove personal freedoms for self /or group aggrandizement. Most have tried to see through the prism of cult power that gave MM license to carry out his manipulative schemes. Remember charism is what is specific to the institute beyond the dynamics proper to any Catholic loving Christ, and the sources for what is specific must be worthy of veneration (n.b. not worship) . Unfortunately sources for the LC/RC world have dives into the abyss of profanity. Maybe they can be somehow cleaned up by committee- but will they ever really convince? Once again if Franciscan discover their charism by looking at Christ through Francis's eyes- through whose eyes will the LC discover that specific way of seeing Christ?

  11. Paul Siena

    Tim Norton said… "People joining a movement that's approved by the Catholic Church (like the Regnum Christi) follow Jesus Christ, not any other person."This statement oversimplifies 3 things: 1) The drama of charism of the LC is far more serious and grave a matter for them as a religious institute. As such, it is not permitted to exist under the guise of just following Christ, nor take vows under the same pretext. It must be done with a very healthy framework of a specific spirituality and mission rooted in sources that uplifts and projects the order in every age. Founder and Foundation. From here what the RC is projected to be as a charism is derived. So marching off in the name of Jesus is not by itself enough.2) It is true many RC are attached to living a commitment to RC in varying degrees and show little sensitivity to the crisis over sources of the group's charism and the systemic flaws. They simply see it through the means they use to live their faith, and as long as that works for them, the debate over the clarity and attraction of its charism with those sources specific to the LC/RC is a waste of time. But many have left because they were sensitive to these truths, and wanted a pure witness and model in the spiritual father they chose to guide them. A spiritual father is precisely what has been lost. Imagine how useless is the definition of a lay movement given by JPII: "A member of a lay movement is one who shares in the spiritual experiences of their founder" Hence RC members have every right to expect that and seek it. If charism is a grace given then our hope comes confirmed in the real holiness of those God sends to first witness to that charism. So those who have left know there are many other rooms in the Father's house to seek out those true models of faith and spirituality. They know God does not use deceit to bring them to that ultimate dwelling place of grace and holiness. 3. Vatican approval cannot replace personal discernment. Behind the Holy See's approval is also a pastoral duty to help these men find a future. Approval does not mean all is well or that the landscape is the same as when one first joined- afterall corrections must be made- a future with a false prophet for founder is still to be digested fully. All are on a very different playing field and it will require individual consciences to call different plays.

  12. Susan

    People who are in RC are attached to RC. Period. You won't even realize it until you step away for awhile. Anyone in RC should take 6 months and serve their own parish for that period of time. Give your pastor the time you give to RC. Sit before the Tabernacle THERE. We have a duty to participate in the Sacramental life of our parish. No duty to RC. No "vocation" to RC. Until those in RC begin to question this, they will continue to be brainwashed. RC is not in service to the Church. It is still in service to itself.

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