These sections are an important introduction to Pope Francis’ thinking on the problems with pastoral workers, bishops to lay people and in between. One thing I read is that the widespread dissatisfaction in church ministry is partly due (perhaps mainly) to a struggle against the Holy Spirit in the proper missionary thrust of the Church. This missionary effort is absolutely primary for our work–any of us. I suspect that if the Vatican II documents were released today that Ad Gentes would likely be in the top echelon with the four largely placed there.
Anyway, let’s get to the Holy Father’s specific thoughts, and his assessment of “three evils” we must all consider, and be on guard against:
78. 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 not 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 encounter with others, engagement with the world or a passion for evangelization. As a result, one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervor. These are three evils which fuel one another.
There’s a lot packed into this section. Lots of questions raised. I’d like to peel a few things out:
- Is our ministry really “part of our very identity”? One of the values of the modern age is that we are not defined by our work. After reflection on this, I think we can say that the missionary impulse is indeed part of the identity of the Christian. Are workers prepared to place this at the forefront of their lives?
- Are the spiritual lives of workers geared to “comfort” or to the impulse to expand one’s preferences? My sense is that comfort is better ministered by one’s community. The inner life is the place for rigor.
- Note that threefold evil: individualism, identity crisis, cooling of fervor. Parish priests isolating can be vulnerable to these. I know I felt more of this as a single man in ministry. But these are things those of us in marriages and religious communities still have vulnerabilities.