Pope Francis addresses the challenge of “selfishness and spiritual sloth.” He suggests it happens among both lay ministers and the clergy:
81. At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time. For example, it has become very difficult today to find trained parish catechists willing to persevere in this work for some years. Something similar is also happening with priests who are obsessed with protecting their free time. This is frequently due to the fact that people feel an overbearing need to guard their personal freedom, as though the task of evangelization was a dangerous poison rather than a joyful response to God’s love which summons us to mission and makes us fulfilled and productive. Some resist giving themselves over completely to mission and thus end up in a state of paralysis and acedia.
Two things strike me in this. Again the inner drive to serve is important. Far better for a person to permit others in one’s community (trusted advisors, spouses, spiritual directors, brother priests, pastors, etc.) to see, judge, and suggest limits.
Avoiding the work of evangelization suggests an inner resistance that invites examination. No question that people serving in ministry really need a spiritual director. It seems like that’s the duty of the pastor to ensure for younger workers–to have ready persons available to suggest.
I can’t help but feel a bit uneasy when someone like Pope Francis SEEMS to be suggesting that it is never legitimate to say no, to keep some personal boundaries, or put limits to what a minister, lay or clerical, can be expected to give, in terms of time, energy, etc.
I assume it’s not what he means; he has too much pastoral experience not to know that the demands of parish work can become insatiable, and people can put unreasonable demands on their clergy or other ministers. But I can also envision this passage becoming a club with which to beat up on people.
Some people in our parish are planning a series of adult-ed discussion sessions on this text, for Lent. Seeing the lack of discussion here, I wonder if it is liable to fall flat. Thoughts?
At first glance, this passage appears difficult. Remember the Jesuits are pretty driven. But that’s also the experience of parents of young children. The demands there can be crushing, especially when a parent is without support. That’s why the only suggestion I can make is the implication that we need to be supportive of spouses, colleagues, sisters and brothers.
And I do think we have the freedom to say no to unreasonable demands.