Toil, gentle persuasion spreads Gospel
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 30, 2005
Malachai 1: 14b-2: 2b, 8-10
Psalms 131: 1-3
1 Thessalonians 2: 7b-9, 13
Matthew 23: 1-12
People like being in charge, but not everyone likes doing work. Some people rise to positions of authority because of their past record, but once they attain a high rank they become masters more than servants. They rest on their laurels.
The temptation for pastors to grow idle was even stronger in the past than it is today. In recent decades the leadership paradigm for priests has shifted. Formerly, several priests worked in a large parish. After several assignments as an associate, a priest worked his way up to becoming a pastor. It used to take 25 years. Then, in his older years, he enjoyed the admiration of the many while associate pastors did most of the work.
Today, as a priest grows older, he may advance into positions of greater responsibility, but he no longer has associate pastors to help out. Today a pastor may do more work than a priest who occupied his office in the past. He also does the work of the missing associate pastors, and he does not have the energy he once possessed as a younger cleric.
Our own diocese passed a milestone this summer. For the first time in modern history, we have no diocesan priests serving as full-time associate pastors. The workload in parishes has shifted completely onto the pastor, priests with shared responsibilities, deacons and lay leaders.
Some of our parishes staffed by priests belonging to religious orders have associate pastors from their community. But at the moment, no diocesan priest is an associate pastor. Help is on the way: The number of diocesan seminarians doubled this year.
Many of our appeals for vocations to the diocesan priesthood emphasize that priests are ordinary people, that seminarians have fun, and that habits of private prayer will be rewarded. All this is true, but vocation recruitment should say something else: Priesthood is hard work these days. That slogan alone isn't likely to draw more candidates, but it would be honest.
Lay employees in our parishes also work long, hard hours. They are not the center of attention that priests tend to be, but their work is sincere, skilled and spirit-filled. They enjoy doing the work. They do not rest on their laurels.
Ultimately, this is what spreads the Gospel: Not just that the message has quality, but that its ministers have quality. When clergy and lay leaders are prayerful, committed to service, knowledgeable about the church and society, and lovers of the community, the Gospel takes flesh, and its message gains power.
Paul the Apostle experienced this in his missionary journey to Thessalonica. We hear about it in this weekend's second reading (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13). Paul speaks about the work he and his companions accomplished. "We were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well." They came not just to be in charge, but to do the work.
In this unusual passage, Paul talks about his method as an evangelist. "We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children." He started with relationship, not with message. He invested his heart with his people, "so dearly beloved had you become to us."
Paul stresses how the missionaries pulled their own weight in the community. "You recall our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." They came not as masters, but as servants. They helped the day-to-day work of the community. They preached, but they also worked the hard toil of daily labor.
This was Paul's method: gentle persuasion and hard work. He didn't especially want the people to remember him; he wanted them to remember the gospel. Paul didn't care what people thought of him; he wanted them to love the word. Yet, because he was a hard-working person of integrity, they gave more attention to his message. Paul gave thanks "that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe."
Those who dedicate their lives to the church in parishes or institutions, as clergy or lay, paid or volunteer, will benefit from the same method. No matter our age, no matter our skills, we are called to work hard, and to persuade gently. If we have embodied the gospel in the way we live, others will come to believe.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.