Saint Paul reveals his great zeal for the Gospel as well as his personal disappointments when he says in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Please put up with a little foolishness on my part…For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothal you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Him…but I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve, someone has deceived you” (1Cor 11:1-4).
Brothers, as pastors we too carry in our bosom a similar zeal as well our own personal disappointments. We love those entrusted to us and yet grieve their sins and faults. We sometimes feel betrayed by their weakness and misdeeds. It is not easy to love, pastor, care and lead. It is even harder when one encounters contempt, dislike, or lack of respect.
Saint Paul felt betrayed; and, therefore, needed to “boast” of the many sacrifices and hardships he endured to bring to “full stature every person in Christ.”(Col 1:28) He needed to boast because he felt belittled by his peers – the very people he was called to serve. Sounds familiar? Nothing hurts more than harmful words, deeds or lack of support from those we trust and love.
However, just criticism can help us improve our Christian witness and unjust criticism can help us be conformed more to Christ. But it still hurts.
Saint John the Baptist gives us some perspective in our need to be built up and not torn down. Although he says very little in the Gospel, his simple words have made him a great consolation to all priests and consecrated persons in the Lord’s Service: “I am the voice crying out in the desert: make straight the way of the Lord.” (Jn 1:23)
Brothers, we do not preach our own sanctity, our own virtues, or our own reputation. We preach Christ, and as Saint Paul says “Him Crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). It is not in our name that we baptize, but Christ’s. It is not our churches that we build, but His. It is not our sufferings that we bear, but His. It is not all about us – this ministry entrusted to our care – but about Him: “Whoever receives the one I send, receives me.” (Jn 13:20)
There will always be times when we as priests will be shaken, grieved and personally hurt and disappointed by our peers, our superiors, or by the people we love and serve. Nonetheless, the zealous Saint Paul, and the clear-minded Saint John the Baptist would tell us simply and passionately “He must increase, but I decrease (Jn 3:30).
Bishop Gregory J. Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)