This week a friend and I were talking about all of the priests we know who have left ordained ministry or who have misbehaved so badly that they have been removed by their bishops. There are quite a number of them, and I find it very sad and very scary.
While there are those who go into ministry, whether ordained or lay, for the perceived power of leadership, and those who abuse their position to take advantage of others, I think that most people who decide to work for the church feel they are called, and they want to make a difference. I'm sure the people that my friend and I discussed had gone into ordained ministry with the best of intentions, probably never dreaming that they would leave defeated and disillusioned. We had to ask ourselves, "What happened?"
As I continued to ponder this question, I came across an article about Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit who founded Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles based gang member rehabilitation program. The article reminded me of a few ministry fundamentals. I share them with you.
"Ministry's not meant to be like a gas tank, where you begin the day with a full tank and by theend of the day your tank is on E. Something's wrong if that's the way it works.
"If the intent is to save people, or even to help people, then it works that way. You're going to be depleted. But if the task is allowing yourself to be reached by people, can you receive people? Can you be anchored in the here and now and practice the sacrament of the present moment? If you can do that, then it's all delight and it's all amazement and it's all awe. We're only saved in the present moment. If we're not saved in the present moment, we're not saved at all.
"For me, it's never about depletion. It used to be, when I used to think my job was saving lives. But now I think saving lives is for the Coast Guard. Our choice always is the same: save the world or savor it. And I vote for savoring it. And, just because everything is about something else, if you savor the world, somehow -- go figure -- it's getting saved.
We get so stumped by "I'm going to save the world" or "I'm going to build an orphanage." All those things are good; I don't mean to disparage activity. But we get tripped up, and this is why people burn out and there's compassion fatigue or whatever the hell you want to call it. But I learned a long time ago that no amount of me wanting that guy to have a life is the same as that guy wanting to have a life. So in the meantime, what do you do? You wait and you love and you cherish and you know that all mature spirituality is about tenderness. That's the mark of mature spirituality, because tenderness is the connective tissue. It's the only thing that joins us together."