What is ministry? It seemed a simple question, posed to me by a pastoral ministry student who was interning at our parish. I began thinking of an eloquent response describing the beauty and joy of being the hands of Christ and building the kingdom of God, but later that day I found myself standing in a blizzard directing cars away from the church for an event that was canceled at the last minute. That is ministry.
- Ministry is having five catechists call off and only two substitutes.
- Ministry is explaining to an upset parent why sin is part of the curriculum.
- Ministry is proclaiming the Word of God to a fourth-grade student who approaches you with the simple request, “Can you read me a Gospel?”
- Ministry is offering a compassionate, listening ear to families who struggle in many different ways.
- Ministry is calming a second grader’s nerves and tears before she makes her First Reconciliation—and witnessing her beaming smile when she exits the confessional.
- Ministry is rescheduling, and rescheduling, and rescheduling…
- Ministry is finding a way to make prayer a priority every day, even when it is the last thing on your mind.
- Ministry is talking to an eighth grader who not only is unsure if she wants to be confirmed, but is unsure that she even believes in God.
- Ministry is getting there early and staying late.
- Ministry is reintroducing the Eucharist to a student who has not been to Mass since his First Holy Communion three years ago.
- Ministry is giving very specific instructions, only to have them completely ignored. Again.
Ministry takes shape in many different and surprising ways. Often I feel that the administrative duties of my job take me away from my ministry of catechesis. It took me some time to realize that every small or daunting task is ministry: every e-mail that gets sent, every phone conversation, every parent interaction, every plan, every list, and every bulletin notice. As leaders in the Church, we are constantly proclaiming the Word of God to those around us in small ways—or at least we should be!
At this time of year many of us have ended our religious education sessions and welcome the respite of a summer of recharging, reorganizing, and planning. It is also the perfect time to look back over the past year and identify those ministry moments when we either discovered that we were doing God’s work in an unexpected way or when we missed a valuable opportunity to evangelize. Reflection allows us to notice the movements of the Holy Spirit—and the times when we ignored the Spirit’s stirrings.
It is easy for ministry to become “work” when we get caught up in the daily tasks, forgetting about the greater mission of building the kingdom of God. But when we take time to examine the purpose of our work, we realize that it is not our work at all, but God’s. That is ministry.