As I settle into my second year at a parish in South Jersey, and find myself responsible for the entirety of programs like First Eucharist preparation and family ministry, I’ve noticed that I must also find my own solution to a continual tension involved in running such programs. I’m calling it “the tension between the urgent and the important.”
There’s a sense of being bogged down by stuff that isn’t important in itself, but is necessary for the important stuff to happen. I don’t want to focus all my sacramental preparation time on ensuring the kids all have baptismal records; I want to make sure we have a coherent plan for how we’re forming them after baptism. I have to be able to find time to look beyond these minor concerns (even if I can’t move on without them) to notice and evaluate where the parish is headed in our ministry, and if that ministry really is allowing Christ to change hearts.
Different personalities will use different strategies for managing this tension, so I can’t offer much of an explicit road map. However, we can all agree - it must be managed. If we don’t make time for the visionary in our ministries, we never move forward towards the vision. I understand that this year’s ministry won’t quite comprise the full realization of our eschatological hope, but I’m also in my last year at this parish, and I don’t want to accept continually the deferment, “Next year, we can actually catechize well.”
As I contemplated this professional frustration, I realized there was an analogous tension in my life: contemplative prayer. I’ve often heard cited that “finding the time to pray” is difficult, but each of us needs to take a good hard look at what exactly are the things which supercede our prayer lives. As a parish minister, mine are especially ironic - “I can’t pray now, I have to get to work... so that I can balance envisioning the direction of the Church with executing the logistics involved.” I may be well-intentioned, but that prioritization isn’t ultimately fruitful. I cannot say that I am doing the work of the Church, whether important or less important, if I am not also praying through the work of the Church.
“Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer each day," remarked St. Francis de Sales, "except when we are busy—then we need an hour." This pithy quote is a roadmap to balancing the tension between my active ministerial work and the vision, which in this case actually is the Kingdom of God. The Catechism also calls me out: “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter” (2710). Isn’t it ironic that the trial can be a temptation to plan out the best work of the Church?
I have to be able to make (not “find”) time to look beyond my work (even if the Church couldn’t move on without it) to notice and evaluate where I’m headed in my prayer life, and if that prayer life really is allowing Christ to change hearts... especially my own. I don’t want to promise continually, “Tomorrow, I will actually pray well.”
Laura Berlage serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ