March 8, 2010

The Distracted Negativity

The Catholic faith and its institutions are in trouble, at least at the particular historical time and place where I minister. This is no secret, after all; the institutional crises have already begun and hardly need rehearsing.

This situation introduces the temptation to distracted negativity. As I sit down to pray in the morning, my distraction offers me thoughts of anxiety over sponsor forms and loss of control over funeral liturgies, sacrileges against the sacred species and the cultures of irreverence. I have to let go of such things, both in prayer and in the course of my daily work. I am so grateful for a meditative prayer practice in this regard, as a school of letting go and dis-identifying myself with my patterns and trains of thought.

Sometimes I even find myself writing posts to this blog that come out of the distracted negativity. I think I am ranting, but I'm really whining. Thanks be to God I've learned not to publish immediately.

The temptation must be fought in favor of two goals, one personal and the other ministerial. On the personal level, it is my dream to live an intense life of Catholic Christianity; that's why I joined religious life after all. If I let the anxieties and disappointments of ministering in a rough historical moment drive my personal prayer life in a negative way, then I will only emerge from my own prayer frustrated in what I want out of my own life.

On the ministerial level, I can't let the anxious negativity get to me. If I am to be a steward of the mysteries of God, I must not be in a state of distracted disappointment and frustration when I meet the average Catholic on the phone or in the office. The average Catholic is not met at Mass, and this in itself is the trouble. Nevertheless, even though the average Catholic has ceased to practice in the faith in a measurable way, and insists that he is your parishioner even though he moved far away many years ago, he still wants to be certified as a godparent, still wants to have his baby baptized, and still wants a proper funeral Mass for his mother, even though he might not be willing to give her (cremated) remains a proper burial, as the faith demands.

My encounter with this person--which is a daily work--demands from me an extreme delicacy, and in order to accomplish anything close to it I must be free of internal distractions, angers, and resentments, or at least be aware of the temptations they cause. I must be pastorally sensitive, but not 'pastoral' in the negative sense of dispensing with Church teaching. I must look after souls and not my own desire to be needed or thought to be a good priest. I must seek strategies that help set souls on fire with the love of God and the desire for prayer. This might be the only few minutes of contact that the person has had with a priest in years, and this makes my responsibility grave.

I was more or less unprepared for the internal intensity of the life of priestly ministry. The joys are almost overwhelming sometimes, but so are the frustrations. It makes me realize how quiet a life I have lived up to now. The gravity and delicacy of my pastoral encounters make me realize more and more how jealous I have to be for my own prayer and spiritual condition. I must make these an absolute priority, even if and when it might make me seem aloof or fanatical, because this is the only way I have any hope of not sinning against the people of God with my distracted negativity.


ben in denver said...

I wonder what would happen if you began every meeting with an "average catholic" by asking them to pray an act of faith with you before you get down to the matter at hand (baptism, wedding, annointing, funeral). Maybe you could even print some little cards up for this purpose. I can't see a catholic, even one who has been away for a long time, being put off by praying with a priest for a minute before getting to the busines at hand. It might set a better tone for the rest of your meeting.

Brother Charles said...

When I first started in the parish, I was shy to do this sort of thing. Now I almost always start wedding or baptism prep meetings with a prayer.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, while I am in anguish over the turmoil you seem to be experiencing on this matter, I am confident you will eventually find a workable solution (even just "getting it off your chest" works soemtimes). All I can say is for ME, you have a GOOD problem. People are coming to YOU (apparently even those who have moved far away).

Rachel Gray said...

Great post. That sounds shallow, but really, those are good points and I completely agree with the conclusion. It reminds me once again to pray for our priests!

Barb, sfo said...

Adding my prayers! It must be difficult to strike that balance between offering pastoral care and staying within the requirements of the Faith. I don't think you're whining...those of us who are not priests do not realize what you are often called upon to do.

Brother Charles said...

Thank you, Barb. Pax et bonum!