TEMPTATIONS FACED BY PASTORAL WORKERS
The Wall of Life
A few years ago, my husband, Mark, and I ran a marathon together. If you’re ever looking for a bonding experience with your spouse, this may be your answer. We’ve always been recreational runners, but training for a marathon was something new for us, and probably the ultimate test of stamina within our marriage. A marathon digs deep within a soul, requiring immense discipline. A marathon with your spouse requires a certain moral, spiritual and physical support for each other. In a sense we become each other’s hands and feet throughout the race.
As first-time marathoners, we were told about the proverbial “wall” that one reaches at mile 20. The “wall” represents a blockage – a complete and utter physical inability to carry on. It’s the test of all tests in a race. The wall requires one to plunge into the inner depths of one’s physical strength to muster even a tiny ounce of energy to place just one foot in front of the other. Climbing the wall also represents something spiritual, no doubt – a feat that can only be explained by supernatural intervention.
Truthfully, we didn’t think too much about that wall…until reaching mile 12 in our training. One day, we found ourselves imploring Mary’s help just to make it home. The wall then became something tangible, and perhaps, something dreaded at the mere thought of running more than double that in a few short weeks.
As I read paragraphs [76-109] Temptations Faced by Pastoral Workers from Evangelii Gaudium, I’m reminded of this wall. Here, our Holy Father says in paragraph 85:
“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents.”
Oh, how that resonates as I reflect on mile 22 – the wall Mark and I hit in Chicago 2008! If we had hit the wall with a sense of defeatism, I’m certain we would have never crossed the finished line.
But isn’t it true, no matter where we are carrying out pastoral work, we all hit the proverbial wall?
- In our families, we are called to be self-giving with our spouse; to tirelessly form our children in the ways of God so that someday they may enter heaven; to teach the virtues of charity and self-sacrifice by our word, but importantly, by our example.
- In our parishes, we are called to “share our gifts”; to be generous with our time, talents and treasures; to bring the Good News to all who may not know the Lord; to be charitable in our ministry work; to love our neighbor, even when it’s not easy to love.
- In our places of work, we are called to be the faces of Christ because we may be the only “Christ” to our co-workers; to be humble in the midst of a “me-centric” culture where, at times, it feels the only thing that matters is how to get ahead.
- In our communities, we are called to reach out to those in need: the poor, the lost and the lonely; we are called to be the voice of God, pointing out the truths of our Catholic teachings in a world where it seems anything goes nowadays.
Yet, as pastoral workers, we do hit the “wall.” When I look at my own life – in my family, my work or ministry – I find myself commiserating now and then, “Lord, I have no more to give! What more do You want from me?” Perhaps I’m not alone in these sentiments. But you see it’s never enough. It will never be enough on this earth. It is, however, only through His strength that we are able to carry on. The minute we try to take on the work, as if God didn’t exist, we begin to ask these types of questions:
- Does any of this matter?
- How do I continue?
- When will I see the fruits?
- When will God answer my prayers?
- Why this? Why that?
Our Holy Father gives us some words to reflect on:
“While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which, is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centered lack of trust.”
During this Advent season, I propose 4Ps: pray, persevere, patience and pain.
1. Pray for fortitude in all your pastoral work. Because it does matter. All of it. God has given each of us special gifts to carry out His work. But it is only through dedicated prayer time and courage that we can carry out His work. Pray especially for our priests. They’re in high demand, and they tire just as we do, and perhaps face greater spiritual battle. Without them, we cannot be nourished for the race. It is through the priest we receive strength offered through the Eucharist! Recall these words in scripture, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:15.
2. Persevere. This Advent, persevere in your pastoral work – for your families and for the people for whom you serve at work or in ministry. When you feel you’re hitting the “wall” of life, it’s probably when you need to recall words from Luke 21:19 "By your endurance you will gain your lives...”
3. Be Patient. As my spiritual director tells me often, “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Think big picture; and don’t get caught up in the small stuff. You may never see all the fruits of your labor, but you may receive affirmations along the way. Be patient with the people God has placed in your life; and be patient with God. Know that he is in control for he says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
4. Embrace pain. In a runner’s world, we often say, “No pain. No gain.” In Church world, the same holds true. At times, the pain will be unbearable. Whether it’s suffering in a marriage, in a family or the scrutiny you and the Church receive for doing the work of Christ, know that with suffering God’s grace is offered. Pope Francis affirms that suffering is necessary, “…and learning to suffer in the embrace of the crucified Jesus whenever we are unjustly attacked or meet with ingratitude, never tiring of our decision to live in fraternity.”
As we approach the mid-way point in Advent, let us not be discouraged or be tempted by “defeatism” [paragraph 85] in our work to build His kingdom; let us not allow or be tempted by a “stifling [of] the joy of mission [paragraph 79],” rather let us rejoice in being the hands and feet for others in this race we call life, so that someday we may be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
Margie Mandli is principal and owner of GEM Communications and Consulting, LLC. – a business dedicated to serving corporate and non-profit clients through marketing, communications and social media strategies. She serves her parish, St. Anne Catholic Church in Pleasant Prairie, Wisc., as Evangelization Commission Chair. She is a member of the Synod Preparatory Commission for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee where she leads the communications process. She has authored many blogs, co-produced a number of videos for her parish and the archdiocese, most recently, “The Beauty of the Catholic Church”, and has led several parish new evangelization efforts in the areas of marriage, stewardship and worship. She is a 2011 Vatican II Award recipient for Communications in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. She resides in Kenosha, Wisc. with her husband Mark, and their three children.