The biggest struggle in Church community is overcoming ourselves. There is a current within ministry, community, and other aspects of the Church that works hard to cling to power and stomp out opposition. This is tied to fear and our own immature understanding of living a life of virtue and in communion within the Mystical Body of Christ. We all do it from time-to-time. There are some things that all of us are going to have to confront in order to overcome the obstacles, hostility, and pain division causes. We have all experienced disagreements or conflict within the Church.
First, we need to know ourselves. We need to understand what sets us off and what fears we carry. Then we need to examine whether or not we project those fears on others within our parish or community. Human beings cling of counterfeits. That is the nature of sin and the driving force of concupiscence. Most of all we cling to power. Power is a false sense of security for us. In clinging to power, individuals or groups can begin to focus more on power than living the Gospel. Any “power” that we have within the Church is from Jesus Christ. If we are leader, it is a position of stewardship and service. It is not meant to be used to squash others and create some form of authoritarian rule. Obedience is never about power. Power also tends to feed on fear of how things look. In fact, an overemphasis on caring about what people think is toxic to the Christian mission. People will reject us. We must accept that. We have no power over other people’s choices. It is about understanding that Christ is King and we are not. This is an easy temptation for all of us. We are called to serve and share the message, the rest is up to God. Let’s keep that in mind.
Second, we need to get a firmer grasp on what love actually means. Love is not sentiment, it is not feelings. In fact, I can wholly dislike a person and still love them. I have to do it. We all do. Love is action. As St. Thomas Aquinas defined love, “it is willing the good of the other.” That means I love when I choose the good for a person. This can in fact include punishment which is linked to justice; however, love never includes vengeance, pay-back, or answering upset feelings. In fact, a decision to love cannot be based on feelings. Feelings are largely involuntary and can be driven by the Passions. That means we must overcome our feelings to choose to love, even the unlovable, and the difficult. It doesn’t mean our feelings change per say. It just means that we choose to overcome those feelings. Love is an act of the will.
Third, gossip is grave matter and usually results in mortal sin. Yes, that is right: a mortal sin. Why? Gossip very quickly turns to denigration, division, character attacks, and causes deep hurt. It is always the result of half truths or imagination and does not allow for a person to defend themselves. It is an attack against the virtue of justice. We all fall into it, but it is time we start to understand the seriousness of gossip. We can chat with our friends and work through problems, but we cannot divulge private information, provoke character attacks or personal attacks, launch plans for revenge, and we most certainly cannot use gossip to cause division and hostility. This is the Mystical Body of Christ. We are meant to overcome the world and that includes the natural inclination to gossip. Gossip usually results in back-stabbing. Gossip within the Church community needs to stop. If we have an issue then take it up with the individual and deal with it like the adults we are supposed to be. Once the issue has been talked about, we move on. This is a problem for women more than men. We all need to stop poisoning the well against others.
Fourth, we need to start to recognize the different gifts of each person. This is tied to power and pride. Each person is a unique body and soul created in the “image and likeness of God”. That means that God created me to be me and you to be you. You may not have the same talents, gifts, interests, etc. as I do. You may be better at prayer, service, or hospitality, while my gifts are largely intellectual and in teaching, with some hospitality. We are all meant to work together to bring the Good News to the world. We cannot do that when we are too busy trying to tear others down. We need to stop fearing or trying to control other people’s gifts. We need to embrace them so that we can learn something that may be lacking within ourselves. We need to trust in God’s mission for each one of us and stop scrambling for some worldly prize or control. Embrace everyone’s gifts! We are all infants on the spiritual journey and we need to learn from the people God puts in our path.
Fifth, we need to accept that conflict will arise. It is inevitable that conflict will arise at various times. Even priests and religious have conflict. Gasp! They are human too. That is how human interaction works. What we need to do is resolve conflict quickly and move on. Punishment may be necessary as long as it conforms to justice, which many times it does not because of a lack of understanding of justice. We need to be mindful and make sure that our choices conform to the virtues. We work through it, forgive, and move on. That is the point of the Our Father and Jesus’ call to forgive. Frequent Confession can also help in dealing with conflict. The longer we hold on to anger or rage the more likely it starts to destroy groups within the Church community. Conflict may mean changes in relationships, but it does not mean that sinful anger should be given free reign. Sinful anger very quickly escalates to mortal sin. The more I study theology, the more I realize just how easy it can be to fall into mortal sin. This is very true when dealing with one another within the Church. Sinful anger that turns to rage is a great threat to The Mystical Body of Christ. I know. Anger is something that I struggle with at times. If this is an issue, go to Confession for healing. And keep going because some sins are stubborn.
Sixth, everything should be centered on Christ. All of our actions, choices, movements should reflect our love and service to Christ the King. The Church is our guide on the path to holiness. Holiness is the goal. If all of us set that goal a lot of conflict will begin to disappear. When holiness is not the primary goal, conflict escalates and grows. Serving within the Church is not meant to fulfill some desire for recognition or pride. It is meant to be a self-giving act of love. That is the same for leaders in ministries as well as other members of the Church. If that is why we are serving, then we may need to consider a break.
Seventh, burn out is inevitable. Serving in many groups will eventually lead to burn out, especially when we have families to raise. When that time comes, it is time to take a break. “No one else will do it”, we tell ourselves. False. We are not indispensable that is the devil feeding our pride. We cannot serve if we are tired and depleted. We cannot share joy if we feel exhausted and dead inside. If you get burned out, then take a break. It doesn’t matter if people get upset or are angry with you. After loving God, we are told to love ourselves. Christ’s command to love others is based on our love for ourselves. If we do not love and take care of ourselves, then we cannot love and serve others. Take a break when you need it. You can replenish your spiritual life and return to serving within the Church when you are ready and God calls you back. Even Christ went up on the mountain to pray and replenish. He did so not because He needed it, but because we do. I made this decision earlier this year. I needed it so I did it. It worked out because God called me to work on my Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy while I take a break from leading ministries. Take a break when needed!
I have written this because I have either done or been the victim of all of these items. I know the pain and damage that they cause. I have seen a lot of these things within my own faith community over the past few years. These are problems throughout the Church because we are sinful. We struggle, but we are called to overcome these struggles. If all of us can agree that holiness is our calling, then the rest of these things will disappear over time as we work in holiness. As always, I recommend frequent Confession in order to help us heal from our own iniquities. The more we go to Confession the more we realize just how stubborn sin is within us. Do you have any thoughts? God bless.