Monday, June 19, 2006

Blessed Burnout

Hi Folks

Today I'm setting out on a little mental ramble around ministry, committment, and burnout.

It's that time of the year. People are looking at what sort of responsibilities they want to place on themselves or divest themselves of for the coming year.

At least that's how it is in a parish.

Our parish is small and highly mobile. Every Fall there is a scramble to fill those last remaining vacancies in ministry positions which weren't filled in the Spring when people who had held them started to move away.

And every year there are the guilty feelings that come when you realize that there are some people you only WISH would move away. But that's another thing entirely.

So often within a parish (and I can't think of a single one, in my experience, which has been different) many jobs fall on few shoulders.

Some people are just better at assessing their own circumstances and knowing when to say 'no'. Some people just don't wish to be involved...sigh.

And some people just love what they do so much that it overwhelms them and they say yes to everything and everyone...sigh.

Some people might be able to handle this. Retired people...single people...sometimes. But most of us cannot although we may try!

It is so hard to say 'no' to a good cause.

But even work for Christ will be too much if it's not where God really wants you to be. If it IS where God wants you to be, He'll give you what you need to make it happen. Maybe superhuman strength and endurance. Maybe great delegating skills. It's His call.

Discernment is something many of us are not very good at. Discernment is the ability (in this context anyway) to decide with God's guidance, which step we are to take next.

If that should sound easy, I assure you it is not. How do you know when God has spoken? You don't, ultimately. You may actually 'hear' a voice. You may 'feel' an answer. Someone may come to you with a proposition that just screams out that it's your answer. Your answer may come in the form of spiritual direction. You may not feel or experience anything at all. God might just be leaving the decision entirely to you.

If things seem to work out fairly well, that might be confirmation you've made the correct choice. But having things become difficult can be a sign you're on the right path too...If a parish has been used to doing something incorrectly for a long time, there WILL be resistance to change, even if that change is, ultimately, good. If you are following Church directions, you are almost certainly on the right track.

One thing I have seen happen is when things always seem to go VERY well, all the time. This can be a sign that something is very wrong. Fulton Sheen, quoting someone named Finney Peter Dunne said that religion should "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". If that be the case, it would seem that someone will always be in some amount of distress on account of ones efforts in ministry.

It's dealing with this that can contribute to burnout.

A wise priest I once knew told me, shortly after I began my liturgy studies, that as I was learning, I would seek change...and that I would encounter resistance. He was surely correct on both accounts. At times I even challenged him, respectfully of course.

Sometimes, at this time of the year, the wisest thing for a person to do is to take time off...This gives one a chance to rest and review ones accomplishments. It also gives others a chance to develop and hone their skills as they replace you.

One of the hardest things to do is to watch something you've worked hard to accomplish fade away, because no one, or maybe no one with your particular skill set, steps in to fill a leadership void.

Ah, humility. Things come and go. God alone is eternal. Our efforts will not last forever. Sometimes they don't even last a year.

Such is life in ministry in a highly mobile parish. Discern your call anyway!

God Bless

Friday, June 02, 2006

I Love Liturgy

Happy Monday!

Recently, it was confirmed that I am going to be heading up the Liturgy Committee for our little chapel. This position normally lasts two years, although so far we've had one person hold it for three years, and another for one year.

I guess we'll see what happens.

I have a background in Liturgy, as I took a course in Pastoral Liturgy at an almost local university.

The course, although rather more creative in some areas than would seem appropriate if one is familiar with the documents of the Church, reinforced my love for liturgy.

So, just what is liturgy? Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia and I hope I spelled that correctly. This word means something like 'public work'. Liturgy is our public form of for God. Peter Kreeft, a Catholic writer also points out that it is God's public work for us, too. Funny no one mentioned this even once in my hearing when I was taking the course, but it makes a lot of sense.

During the Liturgy, and here I"m primarily speaking of the Mass, our "work" is the praise and worship of God. God's work, is acting during the Consecration to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

It was stressed, when I was studying and in everything related that I've read, except for Kreeft, that liturgy is OUR public work. That is fine. But when the added dimension of God's work is considered, it makes the guidelines the Church gives us for liturgy a lot more palatable. This work is a shared effort. We the people cannot call all the shots.

The Sacramentary, which is the big red book the priest uses during the Mass, has instructions throughout it written in red (Latin: rubrus). From this we get the word 'rubrics'. The rubrics are like stage directions. They remind the priest what is to happen next. When do we stand, when do we kneel?

Rubrics can be used as a club...but they can also be used in love. They are there to be followed if at all possible. This gives a conformity to the Mass that allows the people a level of comfort which makes possible the experience of Mass as prayer, which is what it most certainly is!

If Mass were to change frequently at the whim of a Bishop, Priest, or dare I say Liturgy Director, one would be so busy trying to figure out what was coming next that the possibility of Mass as prayer would be lost. Rubrics exist also to ensure that the faithful receive and participate in a valid Mass.

Within the framework presented by the rubrics is much room for creativity. The Homily, Music choices, choices of certain prayers (where options exist), decoration for the sanctuary and the rest of the church building, all add a particular flavour to a Mass. Of course there is also the cycle of readings. This is not a choice of the priest, but fixed by the Church. Different readings are read each Sunday in a three year cycle. Most of the Bible is covered in this time. Having this lectionary cycle prevents the priest or deacon reading and re-reading passages which are personal favourites.

In the early 1970s, just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, liturgy nearly disappeared in some places. "The Spirit of Vatican II" as it was called by many who found 'rules' restricting and inhibiting, found licence for such travesties as Clown Masses, where ministers were dressed as clowns and processed in accompanied by balloons and bubbles, and 'Liturgies of the Eucharist' where the 'matter' presented for consecration was the likes of potato chips and soda pop (which I will add would have rendered the sacrament invalid).

Although we can be thankful that such ridiculous practice has ALMOST died out (I did hear of a clown mass about three years ago...sigh), vestiges remain. I cringe when I hear of lay people giving 'homilies', or wearing stoles (both practices are the domain of priests and deacons) and when I hear of people trying to make the Mass 'relevent' to a particular group.

In my experience, seeking relevence discovers a path to extinction, where religious practice is concerned.

Liberal institutions of education often present options for liturgy that do not seem to reflect the mind of the Church. This is seen in much of the 'liturgical' music that is published in North America. It is also seen in books and periodicals for liturgy that seem to disregard liturgical direction as it comes from Magisterial (teaching) bodies within the Church itself.

This can be intensely frustrating and divisive. Some believe that if it's in print it must be so...

I am sure I will have more to say on all this another time. This has been long enough for now!

God Bless