He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. 17 He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:16-17 CSB
“Fear not,” the Angel said to Mary in the announcement of the incarnation of the Word. “Do not be afraid,”
Jesus repeated so many times to the disciples. It is an invitation that opens a new, refreshing space in the soul,
giving security and engendering hope. (1)
During the last eight or nine years of her life, her temptations became still more violent. Mother de Chatel said that her saintly Mother de Chantal suffered a continual interior martyrdom night and day, at prayer, at work, and even during sleep; so that she felt the deepest compassion for her. The saint endured assaults against every virtue (except chastity), and had likewise to contend with doubts, darkness, and disgusts. Sometimes God would withdraw all lights from her, and seem indignant with her, and just on the point of expelling her from him; so that terror drove her to look in some other direction for relief: but failing to find any, she was obliged to return to look on God, and to abandon herself to his mercy. She seemed each moment ready to yield to the violence of her temptations. The divine assistance did not indeed forsake her; but it seemed to her to have done so, since, instead of finding satisfaction in anything, she found only weariness and anguish in prayer, in reading spiritual books, in Communion, and in all other exercises of piety. Her sole resource in this state of dereliction was to look upon God, and to let him do his will. (2)
The way [faith] works in experience is something like this: The believing man is overwhelmed suddenly by a powerful feeling that only God matters; soon this works itself out into his mental life and conditions all his judgments and all his values. (3)
Return, o wander, return and seek an injured Father’s face; those warm desires that in thee burn were kindled by redeclaiming grace! (4)
As I read the section in green this morning, it resonated with me. That dread feeling that God has abandoned me, that even in prayer or devotion or at the altar there is an emptinesss. It seems a burden, and de Ligouri’s use of the word anguish is not… unknown
It takes some time usually, before I realize the joy that seems gone is not. The burdens and pains are, oddly enough, gifts from God given to re-focus me from the means by whcih God comforts me, to God himself.
The nun looks upon God finally, Tozer says we get overwhelmed with the idea that only God matters, we hear God’s call on our lives to not be afraid, to not be anxious…
And we find deeper hope, we find security, we find again the the peace which we proclaim.
We find ourselves in the presence of God, who has never really left us, we’ve not been forsaken, or abandoned.
We just needed to realize that we are not alone.
It is then, just in the presence of God, just as the Holy Spirit defibillates our faith, which was wavering… it is then that all our disciplinesbecome desirable again. It is then we see the blessing of the struggle, that God is using it for good, as He has promised to us. The pain and tears are blessings, the dryness is a sign of God’s care… to get us to see HIm… and Him alone.
Everything we do, will at some point fail. But He never will, and as we realize it is all about Him… everything else will come alive as well.
Relax, know that God is with you – and let His peace wash over you!
He loves you… He is with you!
(1) Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 324.
(2) Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 467.
(3) A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
(4) Collyer, Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book, #54 (Concordia Publishing House 1927)
Devotional Thought for this Day:
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the LORD your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” 11 And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, “Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.” 12 So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them. Nehemiah 8:9-12 (NLT2)
“Unless those who are in the office of preacher find joy in him who sent them, they will have much trouble. Our Lord God had to ask Moses as many as six times.24 He also led me into the office in the same way. Had I known had to take more pains to get me in. Be that as it may, now that I have begun, I intend to perform the duties of the office with his help. On account of the exceedingly great and heavy cares and worries connected with it, I would not take the whole world to enter upon this work now. On the other hand, when I regard him who called me, I would not take the whole world not to have begun it.
Reflect that God is our sovereign benefactor, who has bestowed upon us innumerable benefits, both general and particular. He has drawn us out of nothing, and formed us to his own image and likeness, without having any need at all of us: we are continually dependent upon him for our preservation.
Yesterday, preachers around the world preached on the topic of Joy.
It is not easy an easy task when over one-half of your church regulars are not there, needing to stay safe at home.
It is not easy when your people are in the midst of the holidays, many of them celebrating for the first time, alone.
It is not easy when others are caught up in sin, some whose hearts are crushed because someone sinned against them, others crushed by the weight of their own sin.
Preach on Joy! That was our call…
Every pastor knows the heartache that Luther addresses. OUr tasks are hard, they can suck the life right out of you. If only we knew what God called us to, we would willingly join Jonah in the belly of the big fish, or the boys sent into the furnace, or Elijah in his cave. NO one could talk us into this…ministry.
That isn’t just true for pastors. Parents know it s well, as do small business owner, teachers, nurses and doctors. Anyone who has to minister to care for someone else. Physically, mentally, spiritually. Those who care for others wear down, burn out, and experience despair.
The only answer I have found over the years is worship, to find yourself contemplating the love and mercy of God so intimately that your heart just wants to sing, it just wants to praise Him. Worship that isn’t forced or planned, worship that isn’t done out of a sense of duty.
Worship that comes from thinking about what God is doing in our lives. Experiencng the love, witnessing the removal of the burdens that plague us, and the millions of blessings that grace our daily lives, His presence in our lives, not just the pastors, but in the lives of the people entrusted into the pastor’s care.
THat is the moment that you understand what Luther said as well – that once in the ministry, there is nothing that the world could give you that would cause you to willingly give it up…
My prayer for you, as you are burdened, as you are distressed, is the same as Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus, for this will lead you (and me) into that joy,
16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen! Ephesians 3:16-21 (NLT2)
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 12–13.
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 64.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 Our glittering gold has grown dull; the stones of the Temple lie scattered in the streets. 2 Zion’s young people were as precious to us as gold, but now they are treated like common clay pots. 3 Even a mother wolf will nurse her cubs, but my people are like ostriches, cruel to their young. 4 They let their babies die of hunger and thirst; children are begging for food that no one will give them. 5 People who once ate the finest foods die starving in the streets; those raised in luxury are pawing through garbage for food. 6 My people have been punished even more than the inhabitants of Sodom, which met a sudden downfall at the hands of God.
Lamentations 4:1-6 (TEV)
Our inner life should not be less important to us than outward performance, than sports, or technical ability. The “growth of the interior person” is deserving of our whole commitment: the world needs those who have become interiorly mature and rich.
There are a lot of people “remembering” today. A lot of people saying “never forget”.
But what have they remembered? The heroes, of whom we have so little information and background? Are they remembering the pain, the shock, the hurt, and dare I say the hatred towards those that look like, or sound like those who hijacked planes?
Or are they fondly looking back at 9/12 and the “revival” of patriotism that swept America?
As I came across these two readings this morning, I wondered the unthinkable. How many of those people in the twin towers walked with God that day? How many of them didn’t?
As I read Jeremiah’s lament, I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to lament of the present, and only remember the past? Do we see the trauma today, as we look out on the homeless, those who are abused, those who are traumatized by their health, their finances, the relationships that are shadows, dark shadows of what they should be, that they are in? Do we see those who might let their babies die. Do we see those who are suffering the punishment due for their sin… or sadly… ours?
We need to lament of the present! We need to be able to see the brokenness that surrounds us, and be there, bringing the comfort that only God can give them, but gives to them through His people.
Many of those situations don’t have easy fixes. But lament, in the presence of God, reminds us that He is with us, that has a plan, His presence brings a peace that is beyond understanding, which is why a Christian makes a difference when they bear Jesus into that room, into that situation. Into that moment of despair.
But to do that, we have to be connected to God ourselves. We have to have the awareness of His presence that comes from wrestling with our own lament, and being comforted by Him. It comes from spending time communing with God, and finding the rich strength that comes to us as we take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord. As we cry out with our heart, and know His response. As we find rest at the end of our tears, knowing He is our fortress and sanctuary, that He is our “safe place”
God is with us, and will be.
Not just as we remember on 9/11, but as we struggle every day amid trauma and strife, amid anxiety and pain, for He has sent us into these places, to reflect His light in darkness.
Lord, help us see that in our lives which we need to lament. Help us be there for those who do not know they can, help us hold the hands, dry the tears, weeop and laugh. Lord, help us to realize your presence, and do those things, not for their own sake, or even ours, but to walk with you. In Jesus name, AMEN!
Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 292.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Lk 21:36 — Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”
Ro 12:12 — Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
Eph 6:18 — Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
Col 4:2 — Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.
1Th 5:17 — Never stop praying.
Lk 11:5-9 — Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
“To be with him”—this “with him” is needed not just for a certain initial period so that it can be drawn upon later. It must always be at the heart of the priestly ministry. But it has to be used, it has to be learned so that eventually it will have acquired a certain ease and we can take for granted that it will not fail us in times of trial. It is important that we do not cultivate prayer only when we find joy in it. Just as nothing important can be attained in this life without discipline and method, so, too, our inner life has need of both of these
The quote from Pope Ratzinger above comes out of a quote that starts with a serious question. Back when he was a bishop, he was trying to determine why those who enter the ministry with zealous, that many had high expectations of, why would these potential superstars in ministry collapse, burn out, losing the zeal, only to replace it with emptiness.
It is a good question for us, not just for those in “ministry”, but for all who are in the priesthood of all believers.
And I think the answer is the same.
it is the lack of prayer, the lack of fellowship time with God.
We have to get away from the idea that prayer is something we have to do, or that prayer time should be a time of great joy and being uplifted. We have to realize that the times where prayer is a lament, the attempt to vent and leave God with all our burdens. To pray with the tears running full, even to the point where our prayer ends in exhaustion and a release into sleep.
That is why Jesus and the apostles kept encouraging people to pray, to speak, to listen, to communicate with God. You see it over and over, through the psalms, throughout the New Testament, there are invitations to walk in the presence of God. There are the invitations to give Him all of our burdens, to find peace in His presence, and to know we are safe there.
And if the lack of pray results in burnout and loneliness, then prayer, these times of fellowship with God, allow us to see how He sustains us. To know He is there, to know He is listening, to know we can enter into those hard times of prayer with ease, confident of His love. This is what we need, this is what keeps us going, even in the darkness.
This is our guard against burnout, against losing our zeal, against the feelings of emptiness and loneliness in the storm.
Prayer helps you to know this… God is with you!
So keep praying my friends!
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 291). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the day:
14 May the day I was born be cursed. May the day my mother bore me never be blessed. 15 May the man be cursed who brought the news to my father, saying, “A male child is born to you,” bringing him great joy. 16 Let that man be like the cities the LORD demolished without compassion. Let him hear an outcry in the morning and a war cry at noontime 17 because he didn’t kill me in the womb so that my mother might have been my grave, her womb eternally pregnant. 18 Why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame? Jeremiah 20:14-18 HCSB
14. In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.
I always worry when in my devotions I read passages like those above.
No, this confession isn’t mine, it is Jeremiah’s.
But it could be, as it could be the confession of so many pastors and priests and others who work in the church. It doesn’t matter whether they are volunteers, or whether this is a paid vocation.
Burnout is inevitable.
There are days serving the church where it seems we would be better off dead. (And we even think maybe those we serve would be as well!) There will be days where the demands of our duties and the problems they bring will overwhelm us. Where we would rather lock ourselves in our offices, and simply write. Or find some passing big fish and dive into it, ala Jonah!
And Vatican II points out that devotion alone isn’t the answer, it also notes that just going through the motions of ministry doesn’t solve the problem as well. We can do the job, it can bless others, but it is just as empty as becoming a monastic and retreating from the world which needs us, simply because we know we need God.
We can minister more effectively, and help others, even in the midst of burnout and brokenness, when we accept that the weariness is sometimes necessary. That God is with us, even there. That the Holy Spirit, the great Comforter, the Lord of life will lift us up, and empower us, and work through our lives to call others to depend on the God who is there.
Max Kolbe, the Catholic priest who died in a concentration camp, probably knew this weariness more than any pastor in the USA today. Imagine, working with the guards, who denied their actions were evil. He served the Christians who were in despair, Fr. Max served and died for those who didn’t know Jesus as well.
How did he do such a thing?
Maximilian Kolbe was an individual deeply marked by Christ, wholly ordered to Christ. When he immersed himself anew in the witness of Holy Scripture, he was not searching for theories, not on a voyage into the past. It is impossible to live with a mummy—with a merely historical Jesus; nor can we live with mere words and programs—with a “thing”. But Kolbe lived from and for Jesus. He could do this because he heard in Scripture the voice of a living Person. He heard Jesus as a living Person because he experienced him as a living Person; he could touch him in the Blessed Sacrament in which he forms a Church and is present for us.
The only way to minister through the hardest times and despair in ministry is to hang on to what we’ve been entrusted with as ministers. Not word and sacrament, but what they are conduits of, the experience of encountering Jesus in both word and sacrament. Of knowing God loves you, because of that encounter, of knowing His care because it too is encountered in the sacraments.
As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus
14 When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)
Knowing about God’s love won’t sustain you in the darkness, it won’t keep you moving through the despair. It won’t help you see God at work in the midst of the pain. But knowing you are known, finding hope in the fact you are loved, being refreshed through the grace and mercy poured out upon you. Being filled through all your being with God Himself.
That is what we need, and that is what He provides… so relax, hear God! Hear God! And find rest for your weary soul! AMEN!
Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 281). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the day:
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. 4 Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
5 Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” 6 He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again. 1 Kings 19:3-5
Therefore St. Bonaventure says that sinners must not keep away from Communion because they have been sinners; on the contrary, for this very reason they ought to receive it more frequently; because “the more infirm a person feels himself, the more he is in want of a physician.”
880 Don’t let your defects and imperfections nor even your more serious falls, take you away from God. A weak child, if he is wise, tries to keep near his Father.
There he was. seemingly victorious, and yet, he was devastated. He longed to die and saw no hope in continuing to live. He wasn’t suicidal, but he was so broken he couldn’t go on anymore. He was overwhelmed by sin, his own and that which he observed.
Even though I am a simple pastor, I’ve seen that frustration in lay people and pastors, as despair and frustration just tire us out so much we cannot even see the progress we have made. If I am honest, I’ve felt that way more than once.
Instinct in those times drives us toward isolation, but there is no solace there. In fact, isolation only leaves us more time to contemplate our despair, to feel more overwhelmed, more alone, more… abandoned…not just broken, but shattered.
Elijah wakes up to a meal prepared for him, a meal prepared by one sent by God to encourage him, to lift him up, to restore his vitality so he can journey a little farther down the road. Eventually the journey, through storm and fire, through his spiritual and mental fatigue will bring him to the place where he will hear God. Where Elijah will be ready to hear God.
For me, in those moments of brokenness, my one lifeline is being cared for and fed by God. It is as Bonaventure notes, it is in these times we need to receive it more frequently. It is the feast set out for those who are broken and weary. Not just bread from angels, but the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. The feast where He gives us His own body and blood.
It is our feast.
The feast for the Broken
A time when I can realize God is restoring what is broken, where He heals that which has been ravaged by sin. A time just like Elijah, yet shared with friends and the family of God. A time of great peace, and healing, and rest.
As I still have moments where brokenness is profound, where I still want to run away, where I wonder if my life will ever bee less broken and make a difference, I have learned something. To wait it out, to look forward to the next time we gather together and are provided bread from heaven.
The nourishment we need for the journey, the blessed feast for those of us broken and shattered.
This feast, whether we call it communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, it is the feast for the broken, the turning point where we find such grace and peace that the journey itself changes. He will provide it, and the Spirit will draw us to it.
This is the hope we need, this is what will satisfy our hunger.
De Liguori, A. (1887). The Holy Eucharist. (E. Grimm, Ed.) (pp. 224–225). New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2025-2027). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15 Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:12b-16 (NLT)
207 An indispensable requirement in the apostolate is faith, which is often shown by constancy in speaking about God, even though the fruits are slow to appear. If we persevere and carry on in the firm conviction that the Lord wills it, signs of a Christian revolution will appear around you, everywhere. Some will follow the call, others will take their interior life seriously, and others—the weakest—will at least be forewarned.
It doesn’t matter whether I am a 52-year-old pastor, or a 19-year-old teaching Sunday School to a class of 25 2nd=8th graders. There is a point when you approach burnout.
Been there, done that, and it seems taken out on a lease on an apartment at that address at times. I’ve seen others there as well, and some crash and burn, and others persevere, not by the strength of character, or a stubborn will. For those things cannot last through burnout. There is something more, something internal, yet foreign. Something, dare I say it, supernatural, that sustains them.
It’s not just a matter of personal faith, but rather, the reason that we can have faith, that we can trust, that we can depend on the Lord.
Paul tells his young apprentice to keep focused on reading scriptures, using the word of God to encourage and teach them. As odd as this seems, it is a prescription for dealing with burnout. For there is something empowering when we see people receive that strength. Paul urges this young man to throw himself even more into the ministry, which seems counter-intuitive. Yet, if we focus on the work of God, we encounter Him, we find the Holy Spirit who strengthens and preserves us.
We see God is faithful, and because of His promises, we see people’s lives changed, as they are delivered from darkness into light, as we see their burdens lifted, and as we do, not only are we amazed, we find the perspective that enables us to endure.
St Josemaria speaks of the same thing as he talks of a faith that speaks with constancy about God. Sure, it isn’t as dramatic a change as some would prefer to see, but the change is far deeper, as people will come alongside in service. Others will grow deep in their appreciation of God’s love. Witnessing these things assures us that our burnout is not in vain and that we can endure, for the cost is worth it.
Assured of that, the burnout loses its grip on us. We still may be tired and weary, we may wonder if the trials will ever end, but that is not comparable to knowing this….
The Lord is with You!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1073-1077). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,his mercy endures forever.
2 Let Israel say: his mercy endures forever.
3 Let the house of Aaron say, his mercy endures forever.
4 Let those who fear the LORD say,his mercy endures forever. Ps 118:1–4 NABRE
1 Church leaders, I am writing to encourage you. I too am a leader, as well as a witness to Christ’s suffering, and I will share in his glory when it is shown to us. 2 Just as shepherds watch over their sheep, you must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. Do it willingly in order to please God, and not simply because you think you must. Let it be something you want to do, instead of something you do merely to make money. 3 Don’t be bossy to those people who are in your care, but set an example for them. 4 Then when Christ the Chief Shepherd returns, you will be given a crown that will never lose its glory. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (CEV)
And a minister who turns away from the inner source of his ministry can neither serve other people nor find fulfillment in his own life. There are many reasons why the reality that is the Church, which in the 1920s seemed to awaken so much expectation in souls, is regarded today as an alien and alienating mega-institution. But the most crucial reason is always the defection of a priest who ought to personify the institution and make her present in his own person, but who becomes instead, not a window, but a wall; who turns against his ministry instead of letting it become a trusted witness of the suffering and struggling of his own faith. (1)
Most pastors don’t want to admit it, but when people think of a church, or a ministry, they are the face of the ministry. Not the physical face, but the reaction to the church itself is tied to the persona of its pastor, of the man who stands up, and has the responsibility of speaking for God.
It’s a heavy responsibility, a burden that easily tires out those who accept it. Often, it tires them out too soon, and they determine that being a pastor is something else. Instead of shepherding, they see themselves as communicators (preachers) or leaders, or authors/bloggers, podcasters, who can remain at a distance, say what needs to be said, and walk away. A couple of years ago I even heard one indicate that it wasn’t about pastoral care, because the ministry had changed, and we were no longer pastors, but ranchers. He expected “real pastors” to leave pastoral care to lay servant ministers.
You see this in the modern drive to abandon the pastoral office to run para-church organizations, to be consultants or coaches, or to direct bureaucracies What this does, far too often is that it distances them further from the people God called them to serve. It becomes too easy to become the wall that Pope Benedict describes, and their own spiritual life becomes dry and lifeless, institutionalized and alienated.
But, theoretically, safe.
Safe from people realizing how broken we are, how desperate we are, Safe from failing in the expectations we have, or that others place upon us. Safe from our doubts, our fears, our anxieties. In doing so, we also become safe from the needing the faith, the dependence on God to survive.
You see, the more we are distanced from the pain our people endure, the anxiety that keeps them awake at night, the heartache that causes them to doubt God’s presence, the easier it is to become numb to our need to depend on God. When we weep and laugh, cry and rejoice with them, they see we struggle as well, that we share in this brokenness of life….
And hopefully, they see us run to the cross, to give thanks over and over for this mercy, this incredible loving kindness, this presence of God which comforts us when there is nothing left. For that psalm to hit home, we need to know that mercy, we need to realize the power in it, the comfort, and for our people to “get it” they need to see this in us, a natural reaction. Then the psalm above wouldn’t just seem repetitive, but it would be a joy to hear, and it would undergird our meditations.
The mercy of God is the inner source of our ministry, it is the strength that sustains us when we are at our weakest, it is what enables us to have a sure and confident hope in God. When we are in awe of His mercy, our people become in awe of it, and they depend upon it!
If only seeking and find that mercy revealed could become what we are addicted to, that which we crave more than life itself. If that was what we tweeted and posted about, even more, what we shared with our neighbors, co-workers, families and friends.
If only they saw God comfort us in our weakness, forgive us in our brokenness, if they saw us count on His mercy and grace. How wonderful that we would know this intimacy this well, and no longer hide! How wonderful that would be, for then, this would be real, not an academic exercise, and our souls would be the windows through which they would know God’s desire to work in their lives.
Lord, Have mercy on us! AMEN.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 150). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
23 “A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”). Matthew 1:23 (TEV)
“… And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (TEV)
159 In my wretchedness I complained to a friend of mine, saying that it seemed as if Jesus were passing me by… and leaving me on my own. But immediately I thought better of it and was sorry. Full of confidence, I said: It is not true, my Love. Quite clearly it is I who have gone away from you. Never again! (1)
Yesterday’s church service was phenomenal. Even overwhelming as we considered the difference between life with and without the presence of God. To think of the difference of going from life being in ruins, to being delivered, redeemed, welcomed into the presence of God Almighty.
But today is Monday, and it started out as a Monday on steroids. I am not sure which is the dominant feeling right now, anxiety, frustration, grief, sadness. It is Monday, which perhaps should be renamed moanday.
I so resonate with St. Josemaria’s words this morning, I feel like Christ has come, spent some incredible time with my people and me/. But then, He has moved on now, leaving us on our own, leaving us to deal with life, its problems, its brokenness, its frustrations and that which causes us to grieve.
It seems that all the rest, all the spiritual nourishment that should have lasted me well into the week, that nourishment is gone before 9 a.m.
So what is next? How do I get my work done. How do I focus, how do I think outside my tiny section fo the world to see who needs to be pointed to the hope Christ gives, hope that I’ve seemed to misplace, myself.
Scripture helps, the words of a consummate pastor and shepherd help, the hug of a four-year-old, who came in the church/preschool office, and offered one helps.
What I have to realize is that this is a passing moment, and my heart is deceived. God is here; Christ is still the Lord and the one who shepherds our souls. He is here, revealing Himself, if I can but be patience, breathe, and shift my focus onto Him.
There is what I need on Monday…. to be still, to know He is God, my God, and I am one of His people. Therefore, I can be sure of His promise… sure of His presence, and mercy.
He is here! As the Son breaks through the moanday gloom, we find His peace…
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 754-757). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Discussion of the Day..
15 But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:15 (TEV)
At the same time, Evangelical Catholicism recognizes that, in offering everyone the possibility of friendship with the Lord Jesus, it is offering the postmodern world something postmodernity badly needs: an encounter with the divine mercy. As the God of the Bible came into the ancient world as One who liberates humanity from the whims and fancies of the Olympian gods or the terrors of fearsome Moloch, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and friendship with him liberate postmodern humanity from its burden of guilt, born of a tacit (if often intuitive and inarticulate) understanding of the awfulness that humanity visited upon itself throughout the twentieth century. By whom can that burden of guilt be expiated? To whom can that wickedness be confessed, and from whom can forgiveness be received? In offering friendship with Jesus Christ, Evangelical Catholicism offers postmodern humanity a path to a more humane future, absolved of the guilt of the recent past. 12 And where is this friendship with Jesus to be found? According to the evangelical Catholic proposal, this friendship is found in the Church, in the Word of God recognized as such by the Church in the Bible, in the sacraments celebrated by the Church, in the works of charity and service, and in the fellowship of those who have been “born of water and the Spirit” [John 3.5]. Despite the sinfulness of its members and their failure to live fully the meaning of friendship with the Lord Jesus, the Church is always the privileged place of encounter with the living God, who continually forms his people into the community in which the full truth about humanity is grasped.
In the last few days, I have had to deal with an increasing number of people who have struggled to have hope, to find hope. There have been a large variety of reasons, with a multitude of causes. Some are young with everything going right, some are more my age – and partially wonder about what is right still, still others, older and wondering if their life has any meaning, and if it ever did. The weight they bear – each again different, seems crushing. So crushing is the weight upon them, so much so that I struggle with just watching their struggle. As I returned to my office, to complete my sermon, I have to write this – as much as for those around those who are struggling, as those who are.
You see – when someone is severely anxious, severely stressed, when they can’t find the answers – they don’t need to know about Jesus – they need, desperately need to know Him.
All of the sound bite apologetics sound nice, and they may even give assent to them After all – we’ve heard them before – we’ve seen them posted on FB, they’ve made the rounds. They may have read the books where the quotes we all love come from. and actually know the context of the quotes!
Whether they do or don’t, they need to know the God who is there with them – they need to connect to Who they feel disconnected to, or from whom they disconnected themselves. They need a tangible and real connection to divine mercy, to the love of God that keeps them, literally guards them. They need to know the reason we have hope – and that is far more than knowing about Christ – it is about knowing Him deep enough sure enough, that we don’t just hope in Him the way we hope the tax bill won’t be enormous – but we expect Him, we trust Him to keep everything He has promised. That our trust in Him, based in knowing even the beginning of the depth, height, breadth and width of His love, because we know HIm, brings comfort to our hearts.
Simple because we know – He is with us! He is our Shepherd, our caring and providing and merciful Master.
I love how the quote from Weigel’s book identifies the source of that hope – is to be found in the Body of Christ – in the community He established, where He reveals His presence through His word, where He pours out that DIvine mercy in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and yes Confession and Absolution. (and I would include prayer – as the Apology of the Augsburg confession most assuredly tells us is sacramental)
You see, in word and sacrament ministry, we don’t just learn about Christ, we don’t just take notes on how God is promising to work, but we see HIm at work, we experience His grace, the miracle of the reconciliation that comes as God bring us to faith, as we begin to truly see what it is like to live – as we encounter His life, His mercy…
That Encounter – one which lasts all our lives, overwhelms any modern or post-modern theory. It crushes the idea that we are alone, that there is no meaning to life – no constant to hold on to, to base our lives upon.
That is what is needed…. and that is what we bring to the picture – and what we desperately need to be reminded of, even as we do….
Lord, show us the mercy you have and have had on us!
(1) Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (p. 59). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
- Will Jesus find us trusting Him? (Evangelical Catholic Evaluation V) (justifiedandsinner.com)
- The Church’s Answer to Post-modern thought…. Word and Sacrament (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Speaking of Evangelical Catholicism (nationalreview.com)