Criticisms and Complaints

How to maintain peace of mind and not succumb to our passions

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Ackerman“My child, when you come to serve the Lord, / prepare yourself for trials” (Sir 2:1). This Scripture passage was presented to me once by my spiritual director for meditation, and I have pondered it greatly since becoming a pastor. Trials certainly can take many forms. They may present themselves as a financial crisis, a reorganization of the Mass schedule or by changing flowers without consulting the altar lady society. No matter how a crisis may present, there is no doubt that our patience, charity and equanimity will be challenged.

My home pastor used to have a sign in his office that said: “I have a responsible position around here. Whenever something bad happens, I am responsible.” The difficult thing is to keep Christ at the center of our dealings without becoming agitated.

A priest friend of mine used to call his parish Mount Vesuvius because he never knew when his pastor was going to explode. He screamed at the UPS driver, the secretary, the money counters and even a Girl Scouts troop because they were not acting as he desired. Not surprisingly, the pastor had a mild heart attack, yet still did not alter his behavior. My friend even jokingly asked the vicar general for combat pay since he had to work in a war zone. Although this pastor’s antics could be amusing, it also caused great consternation. His situation is not unique though; it can happen to anyone who faces hardship on their own merits.

Not all that long ago, I wrote an article in our bulletin reflecting upon the mystery of the Trinity as part of a continuing education piece. I wrote that “the Trinity is a very difficult concept for our minds to understand,” and then subsequently talked about the Church’s understanding of the Trinity.

A week later, I received a scathing email from a parishioner reprimanding me. This gentleman was angry, believing that I had trivialized the Trinity and this dogma of the Faith. He then proceeded to complain that the Church was falling apart, that I should be out in public more evangelizing, that sermons needed to be more condemnatory, and that we needed to be more political. His reflection/rant was funny at points, but mainly it made me quite angry and bitter. My “peaceful easy feeling,” as the Eagles would sing, was beginning to leave me, and I knew I needed some divine help.

Thankfully, I received the peace I needed from one of our students who was working at the parish for the summer. One day, he and I were talking about school, and he was lamenting the fact that he had to do a book report over his vacation. “What book?” I remember asking him.

“Moby Dick,” he replied. “My report is focusing on how his anger destroyed him.”

That hit me like a ton of bricks and made me reflect upon my own anger. Just in case I missed that lesson, God sent me another one in a reflection I happened to come across later in the day by the abbot St. Dorotheus. He wrote: “The man who thinks that he is quiet and peaceful has within him a passion that he does not see. A brother comes up, utters some unkind word and immediately all the venom and mire that lie hidden within him are spewed out. If he wishes mercy, he must do penance, purify himself and strive to become perfect.” That certainly gave me pause and an opportunity to reflect on my own pride and the need to endure with joy and prayer the difficult moments of life.

If I am honest, criticism and dealing with complaints is generally the least satisfying aspect of ministry. It is like facing a firing squad without the blindfold. We often pour so much of ourselves into our ministry that it is very hard to not take things personally. However, the Lord offers us a wonderful example of how to not succumb to our passions. We must be prepared to encounter opposition in our role as servant leaders and to maintain our peace of mind, especially when we would like to offer a piece of our mind. We must truly be willing to be soldiers for the Lord, even if we do not qualify for combat pay!

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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