Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pastoral Ministry in a "Time of Testing"

Dr. Wunibald Muller
Benedictine Father Anthony Ruff, at the PrayTell blog, recently offered a translation of a talk given by psychologist Wunibald Muller at a recent conference at the University of Graz in Austria.  Fr. Ruff's post may be read in its entirety here.  The talk gives some fascinating insights into the mind of the pastoral ministers who have consulted Dr. Muller, including the following:

1) He speaks "a growing chasm between personal convictions and what is expected by church employers, between personal dialogue and a 'clericalist manner'. . . .  Many pastoral workers suffer from being overburdened, oftentimes along with health problems such as burn-out."

2)  He describes church ministers who “went into ministry under completely different conditions, with completely different expectations.” Church workers report with ever greater frequency that they strive to be loyal to the church, but this makes them feel “disloyal to their own soul.”

3) Muller reports that many of the church workers he works with (including members of the clergy) expend much of their energy “maintaining the external facade and hiding what they really think and live.”

4)  Dr. Muller concludes that the Church's ministers today need an ability to cope with conflict and resilience.  “If we as church coworkers do not wish to become resigned, we must be ready to take up the balancing act of dealing with the concrete situation in the church on the one hand, without selling our heart and soul on the other hand.”

I think many of us in ministry can find much value and resonance in what Dr. Muller has found in his work with other pastoral ministers. He refers to a need for ministers to find "crisis energy" in dealing with this "chasm."  I also think all of us can benefit from a serious reflection on where we find ourselves in this issue.  The results of dealing with such a crisis on a personal level can lead to ministerial burnout and worse.  In keeping with my last posting, regarding the balance between contemplation and action, much of our prayerful contemplation must include an honest assessment of where we find ourselves in terms of personal conviction and public responsibilities.

What do you think?


  1. I had read that post and I tend to agree with it. There is more that I would like to add, but I am time challenged right now. This much I will say - I read it, and the post and its sentiment have stayed upon my heart.

  2. I’m no PhD and I don’t spend my life writing about socio-economic, religious or vocation issues... but I will share a couple of thoughts...

    To speculate a bit, is not the “growing chasm” one result of our society’s ‘modern recipe’ with such primary ingredients as part poor catechesis, part ‘tyranny of relativism’, part cultural tendency to aggressively label anyone who professes the Truth of Christ a ‘bigot, hater and enemy of civilized society’, and part lack of time spent in prayer, combined with ‘too many demands’ for ‘too few shepherds’?

    It must be extraordinarily difficult to be an ordained cleric of the Roman Catholic Church and see homosexual couples sitting in Mass and coming forward to receive the Eucharist on Sunday while they belligerently rally for marriage and adoption rights during the week. How confusing must it be for their hearts to preach the ‘gospel of life’ and then read that a majority of Catholic ‘faithful’ practice birth control, support abortion, and remain ambivalent about ‘end of life’ issues? Is it possible for them to reconcile their vocation against the deafening onslaught of HHS mandates, court decisions and legal wrangling that make the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah look like ‘beginners’?

    Many of our national, state and local leaders are Catholics, but do they practice the most fundamental tenets of their faith in those leadership positions? It sure doesn’t feel like it.

    What are the consequences of their standing up, living their faith, and unwavering following Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Magisterium? Breathless hysteria by the media that would cause even the most ardent of the faithful to believe there must be something wrong with their vocation. And, by virtue of their collar or habit or dalmatic, they simply cannot run away and hide. Scandal is just one poorly understood word away from their front door.

    And these ‘screaming headline issues’ don’t even touch on what these blessed servants see in their every day lives: parishioners driving incredibly expensive automobiles, living in posh ‘McMansions’, buying, intentionally or not, into a media that bombards us all with the message that ‘you have to have more or you’re a loser’, while their parish schools, church facilities, services to the poor and need face dramatically uncertain financial situations.
    I personally don’t think our clerics, or even the most dedicated lay faithful, can be overly concerned with the kind of ‘gloom’ that the world proposes about our vocation and our commitment to Jesus Christ. We must take that time and energy to prayer, to service, to evangelization.

    Like Saint Stephen, we must live out a life of faith, not according to the rules proposed by our culture, but by the direct call of Christ. We know this is not going to be easy. Christ told us as much. And there may be stones thrown our way as a result.