Father Stefan reflects on Pope Francis ‘Joy of the Gospel’ Yes to the challenge of a missionary spirituality

Pope Francis writes, “Today we are seeing in many pastoral workers. including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life, as if it were a part of their very identity. At the same time, the spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort but which do not encourage encounters with others, engagement with the world, or a passion for evangelization.”

I remember one priest saying to another priest that, “he was burned out.” The other priest responded, “I didn’t even know you were on fire.” Priests often say, “priests are as busy as they want to be.” This means that priests have a great deal of latitude to accept or avoid commitments. 

One of the reason why some priests have, “an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation” is because there is a high value in not rocking the boat. If the bishop never hears about you then you are doing a good job. The problem with this philosophy is that the reason the bishop may never have heard about you is because the priest does as little as possible. 

There are things that we can do to avoid this trap. One is to encourage priests to remember that they belong to the entire diocese. While they are assigned to a particular parish our view has to be more universal than our particular parish. There are parishes in my diocese that have 125 people in their parish, and there are parishes like my own that have 15,198 people. If a priest is assigned to a small parish he might be tempted to feel like the needs of the larger dioceses are another person problem, or a priest at a parish with 5000 families might be tempted to think I can’t even get my head above water here much less think of the larger diocese. 

The answer is for all priests to have a common vision of their work in the larger church. Or as Pope Francis says, “we are all in the boat together.” We need to encourage each other to say,”Yes to the challenge of a missionary spirituality.” 

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