One of the books I’m reading in my “down time” right now is The Soul of the Apostolate, by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard. The book has been bedside reading for popes and saints, and was recommended on Jason and Chrystalina Evert’s Chastity Project website as a critical step second only to prayer for anyone aspiring to active ministry. Fr. Chautard was a 19th- and early 20th- century Cistercian abbot in France, who saw a proliferation of active Catholic ministries around him, led by priests, religious, and lay people. Some prospered; others did not. Some were fruitful, and some weren’t. Some prospered in a worldly sense, but bore little spiritual fruit.
He saw the reason for this as a neglect of the interior life: seemingly good people became so busy doing seemingly good works they no longer had time to spend in intimate relationship with God. They neglected prayer, scripture, the rosary, even communion—forgetting that God is the only source of goodness for the works they are attempting.
That’s a summary of the book, so far at least—I’m only a third of the way through. I share it now because it has led me to a new reflection on these past two months of joblessness.
During this entire stressful time, the one constant refrain—the one unwavering consolation in my heart—is that I did the right thing stepping away from the faith formation job at our parish.
Why should I feel that way? I have a wife and children, a mortgage and too much debt. What sane man steps away from a comfortable livelihood, a job he is regarded as good at, a great boss, into…nothing?
Well, Peter and Andrew, James and John dropped their nets, left their boats (what sane man leaves a boat?), and followed Jesus. Perhaps I had illusions of doing something similar.
But those men were called by Christ Himself. If I, too, was called, wouldn’t the Lord have put me to work by now?
Fr. Chautard writes about the real spiritual dangers of embarking on active ministry, including the pleasures of activity, positive feedback, growth, and self-satisfaction. He warns that the Enemy is willing to tolerate any number of sapphires to avoid a single perfect diamond—the Devil doesn’t begrudge “good people” success, because it is a doorway to pride and complacency.
As I read and reflected, my first thought was that this period of joblessness has given me a great opportunity to grow interiorly, preparing me for whatever God has in mind next for me. That thought made me smile: isn’t that just like our God, knowing what we need before we do.
My second thought, though, brought tears: this period of joblessness, prayer, and reflection isn’t just to prepare me for the future. He called me out of ministry because I was in jeopardy. He’s saving me.
I jumped from the University of Minnesota into a faith formation job with little to no preparation. I jumped in with both feet, got my hands dirty, dug in, made changes, got BUSY. And things happened. Good things. My boss and colleagues were happy. Parishioners were happy. I got good feedback. I felt satisfied in my work like I hadn’t in years.
And I prayed: Mass on Sundays, staff rosary on Tuesdays, a Holy Hour on Thursdays, and with my family most meals and many evenings…plus on and off throughout the day, too.
Some days were better than others, of course. Sometimes you just get a little behind, and something’s gotta give, right? I mean, I’m a good person—I work for the church, for crying out loud!
So did the Pharisees.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. — Matthew 23:27
He’s not shooting for semiprecious stones. He’s calling us to perfection.
Fr. Chautard also reminds us that Jesus Himself lived thirty years in poverty and obscurity, working and praying—and then retreated to the desert to fast and pray another 40 days before embarking on His life’s work.
He then accomplished everything He came to do in just three years.
This is the model. This is the Man.
He is saving me. He is saving…me.
Lord, may I continue to grow closer to you, even after you call me back to work in the vineyard. May I be a light to those I encounter in the meantime, working at FedEx or wherever else, worshiping in Your house, walking in my neighborhood. I am not perfect, but with pressure and time, you can make me a better man. Please do what needs doing. Amen.