After several conversations I have had with fellow colleagues of various ministries, I have been called to reflect once again on the ‘Catholic Call to Serve.’ The promptings that instilled in me to write the following comes from a series of scenarios that I was previously unaware of happening in a Catholic ministry that I was and still, close to me heart. What was worrisome, even I would say heartbreaking for me was that tensions continue to persist within this ministry. I write this as a response to that and similar ongoing situations, but also for our readers’ reflection.
Whenever someone comes in with an open heart to join a Catholic ministry either within the parish or university campus, I am happy and assured that there are people who still want to take part in the Life of the Church. However, like any organization in society, Catholic ministries have within them more or less politics associated with it. The problem with these “politics” is that it disrupts the mission of a ministry and the Church as a whole.
From experiences of my own and reflection on various scenarios that have happened in the past, I point out eight things that disrupts authentic Catholic ministry that I believe should be addressed, so to maximize a ministry’s potential.
1. Not being a team player – In Catholic or secular ministry, when there is someone not invested in the mission, focus and/or vision of a group, it becomes very difficult to move the ship forward. Some join ministries with the sole hope of forging friendships, wanting to have a social life, or worse, to have their egoistic voices amplified. Failing to be a team player is to be source of division that leads to tension among team members.
2. Not saying ‘no’ – I think to be a good team player, you need to understand your restrictions. What do I mean by this? You need to first know what your responsibilities of your role are. You can certainly go above and beyond what is expected of you but do keep in mind your limits. Sometimes, parish and ministries are in need of man-power to perform certain functions and reach out to individuals who have the skills and passionate in their roles to take on even more roles. However, you need to realize that you cannot say “yes” to everything and that you can say “no.” Saying “no” does not indicate that you are lazy, scared, or incapable. Rather, I think it is precisely the opposite. To say “no” when you already have responsibilities on your plate means that you are a discerning individual who knows that they can only commit themselves to a certain extent. There is nothing worse than committing to too much that you either not excel in any of your committed work, or become stressed, tired, unmotivated to serve… in some cases, both.
3. Once you let go, then let go totally – One of the pet peeves expressed to me by young people in various ministries is that when called upon by a predecessor of a previous position to take on their role, they find themselves being a ‘puppet’ of their predecessor. In other words, the person assuming a new role is being told and influenced heavily by someone who once held the role. The predecessor tries to influence their successor to abide by what they left back to the point that the successor has no room to implement new ideas, or worse, feels obligated to go with their predecessor’s plan. A ministry cannot advance in this way. If your term is up for a ministry position, you let go for the good of the ministry. You can provide advice when called upon, but other than that, be hands off and let go. It’s not abandoning the ship, it’s called good stewardship.
4. Joining for the wrong reasons – Perhaps some might think that this is a duplicate of reason 1, but not necessarily so. This reason captures a different group. Some people in ministry might be team players, but ‘fake it till they make it.’ They might not want to participate in the ministry, but they participate for the wrong reasons. As Catholics, we are called to serve God and Him alone. Yet, some participate to implicitly push out their own agendas, ideology (and in some scenarios, do not align with that of the Church), for a sense of fame or popularity, or just some individualistic ideal. Sometimes, especially among young people, it is simply to please their parents. Yet, all of these cases fail to place Jesus at the centre of their ministry. This requires a sense of conversion of the heart and reorienting ourselves to Jesus.
5. Not consulting a team (or a suitable team), not asking for help – You are a leader, have a team of consultors, a board of executives, yet you make decisions for a whole group without consulting them. Or, you are a leader but appoint an inadequate team of advisors. Worse, you need help, but think “I can do it myself!” These are mentalities that exert a sense of dictatorship and create a tense atmosphere in a ministry. Sometimes, not asking for help (even external help when necessary) puts the weight on core-team members. This destroys a sense of fraternity meant to be present among members of Catholic ministries.
6. The presence of favouritism – This connects with the last point. At times, favouritism gets in the way of ministry. A leader chooses consultors that are inadequate simply because they are favoured. It is so important to look at reality, and favouritism blinds us from reality. Someone might excel in another role, and not another and that needs to be addressed for the common good of the team. This is escalated when favouritism and paid positions are mingled together. Just no, please, no favouritism. Let’s look at reality and address incapabilities of someone in spirit of charity and fraternity.
7. Lack of a good spiritual life and sincere discernment – Those involved in parish ministry are serving the wider community, but I think there is a temptation among ministers that “my ministry is enough for my spiritual life.” It should be the opposite – the more I minister to the people, the more I should be well-grounded in my own spiritual life, with the reception of the sacraments and structured prayer life. By receiving the sacraments and living a prayerful life, we become will become better conformed to God’s will for us and therefore, decisions that require discernment will be made not on a foundation of our own agendas, but rather, those that align with that of God’s will and plan. Lack of spiritual life and spiritual growth is a hypocritical life because then, our work of ministry if more for show, rather than helping other to grow into a deeper relationship with God. You cannot give to others what you do not have.
8. Not growing in relationship with Jesus, or rather, no desire to know Him more – This follows from my point above: In order to serve well in your Catholic ministry, you need to want to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ because he is the ultimate model of service. His whole life of selflessness, even unto death on the cross. In growing in your relationship with Jesus, you will learn from Him His ways of leadership and service. That is why, besides the reception of the sacraments and prayer, reading the Scriptures, especially the Gospels is highly, highly recommended (I am reminded of this constantly in many of Thomas Cardinal Collins’ homily). One your relationship with Jesus is stunted by the fact that you do not wish to know Him more in Word and Sacrament, and through daily prayer, you cannot be an effective minister. Rather, you run into the risk of an “immature spiritual life” which causes more harm than good in a ministry. You might think you are fooling others by masking your lack of spiritual depth in your spiritual life, but through time it starts to show. So please, the number one thing you should do is to desire a good and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus before you start any of your ministry. That way, your ministry will be focused on Jesus, and on Him alone.
The key to answering and addressing these concerns is truly understanding the ‘Catholic Call to Serve,” which I referred to again and again, is modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”Matthew 25:28
This past month of September has seen people returning to a more regular life as classrooms are filled with students, many workplaces have seen a return of employees in physical office spaces, public transit busier than usual, and parish ministries “resurrected.” It is a time of reunion, revival and renewal in many aspects of life. Normal? Maybe.
However, it is precisely because of this reunion, revival and renewal in our lives that I think we need to set our priorities straight. We say we want to go back to normal, but I don’t necessarily think so. If normal entails that we go back to our old habits, then I think we shouldn’t be going back to normal in any way or form.
Lord Jesus, help us to imitate You in our service of You and the Church. May the work that we do point to You, and never on ourselves because ultimately, to serve You is our greatest desire.
Holy Mary, handmaid of the Lord, pray for us.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, teach us your ‘little way’ of service, and pray for us.
Bl. Carlo Acutis, young model of service who pointed others to none other than God, pray for us.