“Don’t push where the Holy Spirit is leading.”
Fr. Charles Lachowitzer
On Monday and Tuesday the Bishop, the Chancery staff, most of our priests and many of those who work in parishes were here at Terra Sancta for Pastoral Ministry Days. Our speaker, Fr. Charles Lachowitzer is the Vicar General for the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis. He is a man of great wisdom and many of the things he said have me thinking. There were several times over the course of the two days when I thought to myself, “This echoes our Stewardship initiative!” For example, Fr. Charles often spoke of the importance of face-to-face invitations in the life of the parish. In today’s world, the amount of messages we receive can be overwhelming and the face-to-face communications with others becomes even more important (and harder to come by!). He also spoke highly of our Diocesan pastoral plan and of pastoral planning in general. He said that parish leadership should have meaningful work that leads toward a vision that has been laid out in a pastoral plan and that a plan can be viewed like a “job listing”; a means by which we can call the gifts of the people forward and facilitate their participation in the mission of Jesus. But there are two comments he made that stand out to me particularly:
“The people of God have the right to participate in the mission of Jesus and the structures of the church should serve that purpose.”
Most often I hear pastors and parish leaders express a desire for more “volunteers”, more help in doing the work of the Church. Often times we lament the lack of catechists in a parish, the reality that “too few people are doing too much of the work”. But never have I heard someone speak of the right to participate. What would happen in a parish or school if people stopped viewing requests from others in the parish as unpleasant obligations and instead began asking for the opportunity to exercise a right to participate? That would be quite a paradigm shift. And as Fr. Charles said, if all the people in a parish did that, would we be able to handle it? I don’t know about you, but I would love to see us try!
Fr. Charles also said several times, “Don’t push where the Holy Spirit is leading.” Hmmm. Patience, I suppose, is what he is calling for here. It reminds me of Jesus admonishing St. Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”. I have often found myself in Peter’s position — I have grasped some truth, glimpsed clearly some part of Jesus’ mission. Excitedly, I run full speed ahead with my new found knowledge or insight, only to be brought up short when Jesus gently reminds me that I have “run” right past Him and am no longer following the One for whom I am supposed to be working for. More often than not, this happens when I become too focused on “doing something” to the neglect of loving and serving others. Fr. Charles very wisely reminded us that often to slow down, to plan well, to take the time to make sure our plans are well communicated with everyone involved, saves a lot of conflict, tension, and chaos later. It was a good reminder to me that love should always be our primary motivation in all of our actions. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be found in being efficient, in checking tasks off of a list; but if in the process we step on toes, ignore people, or exclude those who God may be calling to help, we have not served the mission of Jesus. The most important “work” that is done in the midst of our “work” is to give and receive the love of God. St. Teresa of Calcutta used to challenge her sisters to make sure that every person they encountered in the course of their day was better off for having seen or talked with them. If we were able to do this well, we would surely be serving in the Lord’s vineyard no matter what other tasks and projects were filling up our time. This seems to me to be the main thing. And as Stephen Covey says, “the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” That is my challenge. Perhaps it is yours as well.