Deciding to work in a parish is often more of a calling than choosing a job. It means giving up a higher salary, sacrificing evenings and weekends, and often dealing with having to juggle multiple responsibilities at the same time. But it is awesome. It is awesome because we get to two great things at once.
First, we are able to think about the most important things in this world: who God is in himself, who God is in relationship with us, and who we are in relationship with God and each other. There is nothing more important we will think about, worry about, or dwell on in our life. Jesus tells his disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God,” knowing that if we get the understanding of who God is right, so many other things fall into place.
Second, we help people get to heaven. If this is not our goal – our macro-goal – we should go home. Everything – EVERY SINGLE THING – a parish, Catholic school, or other Catholic institution does should have this in mind as Goal #1. The work of registering a family for religious education, taking a funeral inventory form, decorating the church, or practicing this week’s responsorial psalm must have the same telos: helping people encounter Jesus, grow as his disciples, and witness to the power of his mercy and love.
But we are human. And being human means that we get sloppy, lazy, or distracted. We put tasks – often “our tasks” – ahead of Goal #1. This is why Jesus’ words “repent and believe in the Gospel” are not a one-and-done command. We have to regularly repent from what today gets in the way of Goal #1. We have to regularly recommit ourselves to believing in the Gospel. Jesus’ words, in Scripture, in the Church, and in prayer, have eternal life. To this end, it is good for us to look at some common pitfalls that come from working for the Church.
We don’t pray.
The biggest mistake we can make is losing our prayer life. Prayer is a humbling experience. When we honestly pray, we become vulnerable and have to wait on the Lord to act. This posture of dependence and humility is crucial for anyone working in ministry. If I am not praying, I am serving people out of my own strength. No one wants that. No one needs that. They don’t come to us for us. They come to us for Jesus. Pray. And then give them Jesus.
We don’t treasure the sacraments.
Another key mistake is not living a rich sacramental life. Anyone who works for the Church needs to be regularly attending Mass (Sunday of course but weekday Mass at times, too). While it was not possible for months to receive the Eucharist, our hunger for the Bread of Life should not wane. Attending Mass also means realizing the awesomeness of the Eucharist. If you are too casual in receiving Jesus, spend some time kneeling before Him in the Blessed Sacrament to reinvigorate your love for Him.
We should also be frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While there is no hard and fast rule, I would suggest going to confession every month for every person in ministry. We need to be regularly examining our lives, humbly repenting of and confessing our sins, and receiving the grace of absolution which not only forgives our sins but gives us the power to conquer sin in the future.
We become jaded.
Working for the Church gives us a backstage pass to how decisions are made and priorities are set. It also gives us a backstage pass to the dysfunctions that are present in any organization. We see the faults of leaders – pastors, in this setting, the disagreements among staffs which can lead to petty bickering or even grudges, and often the worst side of some people in the pews. We hear complaints and gripes no matter what course of action we take. All of this is to say, it is easy and understandable for one to become jaded. But it is not the will of God. He supplies you and me with the grace daily – even hourly when we need it! – to resist becoming jaded and bitter. Jesus doesn’t need jaded disciples and the Church doesn’t need jaded representatives.
If you have become jaded, it is time to either look to work elsewhere or fall to your knees and beg Jesus for a renewed spirit. No amount of experience or talent can overcome a jaded heart.
We see people as objects and not subjects.
We use objects; we love subjects. A common pitfall can be subordinating people to my events or projects. But people should take precedence over my projects. Unleash the Gospel reminds us of the primacy of the One Sheep in Marker 8.2. In the end, we will be judged by how we have loved people, not by how great our plans are. And the people we have to love are not some imaginary group of people to come, but rather those who are right in front of us. Especially the ones we don’t like.
God is working in their souls to make them saints and he wants to use you. And he wants to make you a saint by bringing them into your life.
We don’t continue to learn.
This is a particular danger for priests but is true for all in ministry. We can be so busy with the grind of day-to-day work that we neglect to invest in our long-term success. Reading Scripture is always fruitful but we should be spending some regular time in learning about our faith. Personally, I love reading Cardinal Ratzinger. He is the most brilliant theologian of the 20th century and he helps me to understand more deeply why I love Christ and his Church. You can read encyclicals, lives of the saints, or Thomas Aquinas’ Summa , watch videos by Formed , Word on Fire , or Dynamic Catholic . We are in the heyday of great Catholic resources and we need to make an effort to explore at least some of them so that while we are building others up, we are growing as well.
Jesus gives some sobering words towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount. He warns of those who desire to enter the kingdom of heaven saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?” Jesus responds to them “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers” ( Mt 7:21-23 ). We are reminded that we can work in Jesus’ name without ever really knowing him.
My hope is for you and me to be in heaven together. If we pray, love his sacraments, resist the temptation to bitterness, remember the awesome role Christ invites us to play in helping others to know him, and continue to grow in our own faith, we are not far from the Kingdom of God.