“Do not give in to pessimism and discouragement. We have the firm certainty that the Holy Spirit gives the Church with His mighty breath the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
I was recently on the receiving end of a pastor’s bad week and while I don’t work with his diocese, he wanted to enumerate all of the disparate initiatives and invitations his bishop wanted him to pass along in the bulletin. “It’s too much and I don’t have time for it all,” he said in an exasperated voice. Though I wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted me to do about it hundreds of miles away and with no official role in his local church, I decided just to listen. “I’m too old to read all this stuff, I’ve got enough going on in my own life, and God-willing I am going to retire in five years.” As I asked him to tell me about a few of things, he mentioned an outreach initiative to young professionals, the opportunity to host a local faith sharing experience for the synod, and an annual diocesan men’s conference. As I gently probed as to the concern with each one, my priest friend didn’t refute the value of any one thing in particular. I also inquired as to what personally he was being asked to do for these projects. “Well the bishop wants me to promote them, but you know people can only handle so much.” I decided to take a little risk. “Father, people or you?” I asked. “You just don’t get it,” he said and hung up.
The reality is that I do get it, not just in understanding the incredible demands on our priests but also as a leader myself. As I reflected on the conversation and wondered if my risk was productive, I couldn’t help but be reminded of all the times in my leadership where I made decisions not based on what the organization could handle, but on what I could handle. How often do I unnecessarily constrain the good work of others because of the lack of space in my own head or heart? The reality of my frustrated priest’s litany of diocesan initiatives was that they were initiatives targeted for different groups – young professionals, men, people who live in that part of the diocese, and yet the outreach to them (at least in his parish) would start and stop with one man who is five years away from retirement. As a leader, can I seek to understand the potential and possibility of something first, without asking the natural human question of “what does it mean for me?” Can I instead start with asking, “what does it take to accomplish this?” versus projecting the demands it might have on me? How do I remind myself that the Spirit of God moves in ways I can’t understand, can’t control, can’t constrain? As we enter into this new week, let’s pray for the openness to see not what we can handle but the awesome power of how God works through many hands.