Summary: It is important that those involved in pastoral ministry be focused on their goal, not on their comfort.

Thursday of the third Week in Lent

Joy of the Gospel

Jesus shares with us today an unforgettable phrase: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” The image this summons up is of a shepherd and His flock. Jesus came to gather together the scattered tribes of Israel, and of the Gentiles. His mission is to bring together humankind that has been scattered by sin and human lies. The Jews of Jesus’s time had an interesting theory: Jesus uses the power of the devil to cast out demons. Others asked for a sign from heaven, which sounds more like some magic display than a healing. In another place, Jesus implies that assigning to Satan the works of the Holy Spirit is the worst of sins. Jesus resists all such impulses. He has come to heal, to teach, to gather. Every action of Christ’s is directed toward those ends. Every action of the Church should be as well.

The Pope turns his attention to the needs of those who do the principal works of Christ in the world: healing, saving from addiction, education, tending the dying. He says, ‘we need to create spaces where pastoral workers can be helped and healed, “places where faith itself in the crucified and risen Jesus is renewed, where the most profound questions and daily concerns are shared, where deeper discernment about our experiences and life itself is undertaken in the light of the Gospel, for the purpose of directing individual and social decisions towards the good and beautiful.”’

He sees some problems with these pastoral workers: ‘Today we are seeing in many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life, as if it were not part of their very identity. At the same time, the spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world or a passion for evangelization. As a result, one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour. These are three evils which fuel one another.

‘At times our media culture and some intellectual circles convey a marked scepticism with regard to the Church’s message, along with a certain cynicism. As a consequence, many pastoral workers, although they pray, develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions. This produces a vicious circle. They end up being unhappy with who they are and what they do; they do not identify with their mission of evangelization and this weakens their commitment. They end up stifling the joy of mission with a kind of obsession about being like everyone else and possessing what everyone else possesses. Their work of evangelization thus becomes forced, and they devote little energy and very limited time to it.

‘Pastoral workers can thus fall into a relativism which, whatever their particular style of spirituality or way of thinking, proves even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism. It has to do with the deepest and inmost decisions that shape their way of life. This practical relativism consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist. It is striking that even some who clearly have solid doctrinal and spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all cost, rather than giving their lives to others in mission. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm!’

This life, and our comfort in this life, are always to be considered as secondary goals. The purpose of recreation is to re-create us for our mission. Let’s pray for priests and deacons and all the laity who work so hard, that they may rededicate themselves to that mission in the spirit of Jesus and Mary, who always laid down their lives, and gave up their comfort, to help the rest of us.

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