I had the pleasure today of some conversation with more than 100 pastoral associates — women and men who devote themselves day in and day out to the service of the people of our parish communities.
The pastoral associates had a daylong meeting, the agenda of which included several matters of common interest. I spent two late-morning hours with them. During that time, I offered brief responses to some starter questions they had provided in advance. Thereafter, the floor was open to any follow-up questions related to new subjects they wanted to raise.
While it was a workout in some ways, I enjoyed every minute of the session. I’d like to tell you why I enjoyed it so much:
1. Our pastoral associates are clearly people of faith. They are alive with the love of the Lord and a desire to share with others the treasure that has been given to them. They choose to express and grow in their discipleship through faithful, humble service to the community.
2. These women and men understand how important it is for them to be well-acquainted with the church’s tradition. They have poured their time, talent and treasure into their theological education, and they have been very attentive to their own spiritual development. In their presence, one has the sense that — no matter how experienced they are — they seek and find new growth through their ministry.
3. It is clear that they love the people they serve and want to do their best by them. This entails a constant effort not only to be faithful to the Gospel but also to present it in ways people can understand and bring to life in their daily activities. I read this as a sign that our pastoral associates take the need to pray very seriously and strive to keep it as a strong element in their lives.
4. They strike me as a group with a healthy sense of realism. For example, they, like the rest of us, would hope that all relationships develop smoothly and that all plans work out successfully. But they — and we — all know that is not the case. So, when they bump into their own limitations or the imperfections of the church and its members, they do not give in to discouragement but turn to the might of Christ. When they meet parishioners who have difficulty accepting new ways or who feel that the pastoral associate is usurping the place of the parish priest, they respond with patient explanation rather than with anger and frustration.
5. I know some of these women and men quite well. Others I have only recently met. But as I write, I think of how enriching it would be to hear from each of them the story of what first whetted their desires for pastoral ministry, how they handled preparation for it, what brings them joy in the ministry and what tests their spirits, what they have learned, and what they yet hope to accomplish.
If you enjoy the ministry of a pastoral associate in your community, I hope you would offer her or him a word of encouragement and express your gratitude for all that he or she does. I am sure such kindness would mean the world to the individual.
Peace to all.