Minister to Yourself

To better live our vocations, we must indulge our own passions

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Going through the motions can be helpful at times, such as when you’re on overload and the muscle memory clicks in as you celebrate a ritual. The repetitive nature of ritual allows us not to have to think too much about what needs to happen next, allowing us to pour our energies into what is important for the moment. Going through the motions can be harmful as well, if apathy and indifference take over.

As midyear approaches and the new fiscal year is beginning and budgets drafted, where is it helpful to go through the motions, and where are the apathetic moments that need attention?

Going through the motions might be helpful in the areas where we don’t have much of a choice in the matter. Most parishes have little or no control of what the health insurance premium will be, or the percent increase in the utilities bill. A reasonable figure is placed in the utility line item by multiplying the expense for utilities this year by the projected percent change for next year.

But what about line items that express the very mission of the parish? If no thought is given and you are just going through the apathetic motions, it might be time to step back and re-energize yourself. As the years go by, it is so easy to have one year look like the previous year — and probably the years before that. It is easy (but sad) to fall into the same-old, same-old pattern. If it worked last year, it can work this year. When success is measured solely by the fact that bills are paid and payroll is met, it might be time to re-evaluate some things.

I have been (and still am), at times, guilty of this. These moments make me pause to ascertain how much am I the problem for not being more innovative and pro-active with creativity and how much of this is the nature of parish life and balancing budgets.

The transition of one fiscal year to the next, like the movement of one calendar year to the next, is an opportunity to take inventory of the parish and one’s life. What needs to change in the parish and within myself? To what should I give attention in the parish and within myself? Look back over the year and pat yourself on the back for the accomplishments in the parish and the improvement in yourself. Also, look back and give a good swift kick for the lack of attentiveness to the places in the parish and in your own life that were neglected.

It can be debated where to start if your list of accomplishments is shorter than your list of disappointments. Do you start with the parish or yourself? Though harder to start with yourself, it probably is better to start there, as the parish will only improve if the leader is improving. No institution can rise above its leader. If the leader is apathetic, despairing and tired, then the institution will reflect the same. Now, there are standard lists to review to take your own temperature, but if the review is too standardized, that could be part of the problem. Stop settling for the standard, the same-old, same-old. Maybe it is time to shift from “same-old” to “different new.” It is time for a change — do something innovative; do something fun for yourself; just do something. Create new energy and then pour that new energy into the parish.

Instead of starting with something sacred and priestly such as a retreat — which, if the priest is not in the right frame of mind, could just be avoidance or a delay of what is needed — start with something human, something personal. When was the last time you signed yourself up for something fun that gives excitement to your week? If you were not a priest, what might be your career? The answer might help identify something to do. Think back to a hobby in which you were once active; is it time to resurrect the hobby in order to rekindle the passions of your life?

I always have loved to travel and feel fortunate that opportunities arise to do so. One year I took a travel agency course at a local community college. Those in the class planned to make a career of it. I went each week for the sheer fun of “traveling” without going anywhere. I also enjoy baking and cooking, so I enrolled in a cake-decorating course, and then a few years later took a course in creating icing flowers. Taking the travel agency course or attending the weekly decorating course with my tackle box full of pastry bags and icing tips was just plain fun. There was no need to go away for a two-week cruise to try to relax, only to come back exhausted from traveling and even more exhausted as I caught up on the work that accumulated while away. Each week was an escape for a few hours of “me” time. Energy and productivity were up in the parish for those months.

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The course I’m considering now is a technology course. There is such a feeling of helplessness in this realm that it would be useful — something different to exercise the other side of my brain for a while.

Another adventure — this one was required due to being a police chaplain — was the Citizen Policy Academy. The classes were interesting, but the real thrill was the field trip to the firing range and the strategic-car-maneuvering course on the closed airport runway. There is a lot of adrenaline in those activities. So, do something fun and different for you; if you don’t take care of you, you cannot take care of anyone else. Like anything, it has to be intentional and ongoing for a few months, not just a one-time event. Put aside the present routine; put aside the same-old, same-old and create a new normal for you.

The four pillars of ongoing priestly formation need to be audited for each of us regularly. The human dimension has been discussed thoroughly so far. The other dimensions (spiritual, intellectual and pastoral) equally can be nuanced and given new life. It can follow the same pattern as above. What might you like to do? If you are a diocesan priest and ever considered entering a religious community, what community might that be? If you wanted to be a Franciscan friar or Dominican monk, seek out a local friary or monastery or Catholic university and study the works of the founder. Another idea that might be anathema to some would be to attend Mass somewhere you are not known — dress in casual clothes, sit in a pew incognito and just allow yourself to be ministered to instead of being the minister. Be a person in the pew instead of a priest in the pulpit for a Mass every now and then. Each of us was first just a person in the pew before becoming priest in the pulpit. It is from the pew our vocation came, so go back to where it began and rekindle it. The Risen Christ on that first day of Easter told the disciples to go back to Galilee where it all started.

The advice we give to others quite frequently in reconciliation and spiritual direction might be the advice you need for yourself. If a parishioner came to you and said, “Father, I feel like I am just going through the motions for Mass, my faith, my life,” the wisdom you share with that person might be what you need to hear as well.

FATHER PATRICK M. CARRION is pastor of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore and the director of the Baltimore Archdiocesan Office of Cemetery Management.

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