More borrowed wisdom to share today, cobbled together as I was prayerfully reflecting on a past encounter.
A time ago I was speaking with a retired priest who shared with me an interesting insight into the sometimes painful tensions that are often found in American parishes between what he referred to as the priest’s “spiritual” and “business” identity. “The American Catholic Church does parishes really well, and parishes have been more or less deeply shaped by contemporary business models of organization.
As he shared the story of his many decades of priestly service, he said,
“But in many ways it wasn’t until I retired that I truly felt I could really be fully freed to be a spiritual father. The administrative demands of parish life weighed heavily – committee meetings, development, check-signing, church building, renovations, maintenance, staff supervision – and it all tended to tempt me to think of myself as a CEO and administrator of temporal goods more than as a ‘steward of the mysteries of God.’
“That said,” he continued, “I discovered, thanks to a holy old priest who mentored me early on, the key to transforming this tension into a creative and fruitful tension: In one word, the antidote to this problem was simple: prayer. As long as I remained in close communion with Christ, even the most tedious and mundane tasks became the work of the Shepherd laboring in and through me. We priests are ordained to act in Persona Christi [in the person of Christ] in our role as celebrants of the Sacraments and Liturgy, as teachers and proclaimers of the Gospel and as shepherds who preside over Jesus’ Body, the Church, ensuring the temporal and spiritual needs of the community of the faithful are amply provided for so that they might be well-able to carry out their mission to be salt and light and leaven in the world. And just as with my own mother and father who sacrificed many of their own personal interests, time and enjoyments to provide for the greater welfare of their children, so that’s our role as parish priests. My parents never thought of themselves as CEOs of our family, and that’s because everything they did was for love and out of a belief that raising us well was a solemn duty they had agreed to fulfill before God. For us priests, we are fathers of a family, and for us holiness is found mostly in what we give up, and what we give of ourselves, for the good of our spiritual children; for the People of God entrusted to our care. That said, priests who don’t nourish a strong prayer life and remain in intimate communion with Jesus are in a dangerous place, and risk of burnout, alienation from who they are and what people want them to be, and of turning into business managers. The fact is, without Jesus we look silly; I mean, why else do we exist? People come to us and say, ’Give me Jesus!’ And if all we have to give them is a balanced budget, Robert’s Rules of Order or a new roof, they’ll look elsewhere for Him. So, prayer makes spirituality and business two dimension of one calling: to shepherd the flock with the Heart of Jesus.
“That allowed me to see that mastering good business skills, and working hard at mastering best management practices, was not just a dry duty or necessary evil that comes with modern parish priesthood in America, but rather I could see it as a form of asceticism by which I could show my love and great care for Jesus and His Church.
This marvelously rich view of priestly ministry and identity applies to Christians in any and every state in life. A solid and consistent life of prayer, defined especially here as a living and ongoing intimacy with Jesus and the Father in the Holy Spirit, allows us to view of all of life’s many and varied obligations and activities as opportunities to express love for God and others is the key to transforming life from an onerous burden into a living sacrifice. Tedium is the fulcrum of sanctifying love.
As an Evangelical Christian janitor I knew said so well, “Jesus makes my dirty mop into a glorious scepter, cuz in Him who loved me I’m victorious in all things!”