Recently as I’ve been looking back at my writings and reflecting on my ministry activities in general, and furthermore looking at current events in ministry, I’m taking more notice of the lure of pride in those who hold a role in public ministry. The Catholic youth minister, blogger, musician, liturgical minister, lay and ordained can these days easily see themselves as being personally important in the faith of their community. Although this is probably true in many cases, the ease with which we take credit is a source of danger. The fall of Fr. Corapi is a poignant illustration of this. Even today as the events surrounding the recall of Fr. Pavone unfold, we realize that no matter how much good one does, no leader can consider themselves immune from these attacks of pride.
How readily we bask in the compliments of a good homily or testimony, how much stock we put in comments of how emotional and moving a song we wrote or performed, and how quickly we get defensive upon criticism or even censure. I remember how hurt I was when an essay about the Eucharist that I wrote a while back was dismissed as “unoriginal”. I also find many apologists on both sides of an argument get quite nasty with each other in a very personal way. When we find ourselves becoming deluded with visions of growing the flock exponentially, or envisioning our own canonization proceedings as if we were the best thing since Thomas Aquinas, it’s best to step back and put things in perspective. We should remind ourselves that Socrates was wise only because in his humility, he knew that he did not know.
Today is the Feast of St. Padre Pio, a humble priest who did draw great numbers to his church in Italy. (Even a young Karol Wojtyla made a pilgrimage to meet him.) His sanctity was unmistakable, but he did not allow himself to be puffed up with pride at the success of his ministry. His success was never his own, and he happily offered it back to the true source of his talents – the Lord God who works through us as his instruments.
St. Pio was a humble priest to all who knew him, dutifully saying mass and hearing confessions for the faithful. He emptied himself of any pride and was always obedient to his superiors. Empty of self, he was suited to experience miracles such as levitation, bilocation and prophecy. He willingly suffered spiritual attacks and experienced the stigmata. For ourselves, our desires as ministers are not for personal greatness, supernatural occurrences, or even success – God desires us to be servants, imitating Christ, being his hands and feet for His greater glory. In order to avoid scandal, the challenge for the ordained and lay ministers alike is to continuously remind ourselves with the words of John: “He must increase, I must decrease”. St. Padre Pio, pray for us!
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