If you’ve paid any attention to your local parish or diocesan communities you’ve probably witnessed in some way the crisis that the Church is facing regarding evangelization. Whether your parish is attempting to get more volunteers for initiatives in the parish, or trying to attract and hire a new director of evangelization, it’s getting universally more difficult to find, train, and retain folks for so many of the integral parts of parish ministry. While there are a multitude of reasons why this is the case, I just want to focus on one of them; ministry burnout.
If you have eyes to see, you can find examples of ministry burnout in so many places within the Church, maybe even in your own parish; the young youth minister struggling to support a growing family on a Church-worker wage while growing a burgeoning youth group, the long-suffering Catholic school elementary teacher with piles of tests yet to be graded, or the parish groundskeeper who suddenly has four more church properties to care for due to a parish merger – the examples can go on and on. Evangelists, catechists – really, any person who works for the Church – can run the risk of ministry burnout.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century abbot and Doctor of the Church, gave us wise words against burnout; Strive to be reservoirs, not channels. A reservoir is a body of water that spills over once it has reached its fill, being used as a source for drinking or watering crops, and bringing sustenance to those that live downstream. Without emptying itself, the reservoir pours out its overflow, ever renewed, over the fields which it waters. A channel, on the other hand, is only an avenue for water to traverse, it lets water flow away yet doesn’t retain anything itself.
God desires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to pour ourselves out as reservoirs in ministry to our brothers and sisters, but God never goes so far as to say that we ought to love our neighbor more than ourselves, that is, to such an extent that we harm our own souls in the process. Too often in ministry we can be tempted to give everything, without stopping to let ourselves be filled, to run our reservoirs dry. We tend to be channels, rather than reservoirs. “If everyone comes to drink at your fountain”, Saint Bernard continues, “do not deprive yourself of water, too. Must you alone go thirsty?”
As we strive to labor in the vineyard in whatever capacity God has called us, it’s of paramount importance that we don’t allow our reservoirs to run dry, but instead be filled with the peace that comes from the Holy Spirit. In the busyness that is the work of evangelization, we must never compromise on feeding our own interior life. Without the refreshing flow of deep contemplation, the only guarantee is ministry burnout.