Focus on What Is Essential

Live as servant leaders and follow the model of Jesus

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Bonnar (new)I remember having a trying day many years ago when I worked in the chancery in a leadership position. I shared my frustrations with a seasoned co-worker nearing the sunset of her career. She listened attentively to my angst. Then she said, “Dave, just try and focus on that which is essential.” Her words were short but long in wisdom. When I find myself overwhelmed and filled with stress, I go back to that encounter and remind myself of this sound advice.

After further review, I discovered that the wisdom my co-worker shared with me was not necessarily new. Many, many years before, St. Paul offered similar words to the faith community in Philippi. These words became a prayer. He said, “And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9-11). St. Paul wants the people of that time and place to focus on what is of value. In other words, he wants them to place their attention solely on what matters.

I don’t know about you, but I look at this as great advice. However, I must confess that in the spirit of the Lenten season, which begins this month and invites us to be more intentional in examining our conscience, this is easier said than done. Sometimes, I allow the minutiae of things to pull me away from the substance of what matters or what is of value. The dictionary defines minutiae as “the small, precise, or trivial details of something.” These realities may at first appear to be important since they can engender all kinds of emotions. But when taken to prayer, these small things really do not matter. They are not essential. If anything, they become obstacles in living out the Gospel.

Looking back on that encounter with my co-worker, I think it was God’s way of challenging me to let go of pettiness and self-absorbed sensitivities and just focus on what matters. It was as if she was saying to me, “Dave, the things you are fretting about, do they really matter?”

As we embark upon this penitential season, I invite you to ask yourself what matters. What are the essentials you need to focus on? What are the things of value that you need to discern? These could be questions to take to daily prayer.

Please allow me to share what matters to me, especially during what can be for us priests a stressful time. First, having an open and honest relationship with Jesus lived out in prayer matters. I am reminded of that beautiful passage in John’s Gospel when Jesus identifies himself as the vine and we are the branches. Then he says, “Without me you can do nothing” (15:5).

We are empty and lost when we do not pray. I am reminded of the adage, “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.” Prayer connects us to the vine and makes us realize that we are not alone. Jesus walks with us. This notion of being with Jesus in prayer is so important because so many of us live alone. In addition, our communal prayer at holy Mass unites us with the faithful. Amid the toils and rigors of ministry, it matters that we pray and that we know we are not alone.

Second, intentionally living our lives for Jesus and the mission of the Church matters. Otherwise, we are not living a true priestly life; we cannot permit ourselves to get caught up in an agenda or ideology that deviates from the Gospel. More importantly, we cannot fall prey to a sense of selectivity that picks and chooses the ministerial tasks or people we serve. What matters is that we live as servant leaders and follow the model of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve, even at the cost of suffering and death. In this Lenten season, strive to focus on the essentials and all that really matters.

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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