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.