A. Reclaim being a human being rather than a human doing, i.e., slow down.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” —1 John 4: 18

Here’s a fundamentally important question that we too infrequently ask ourselves: Is my tendency to act out of fear or out of love? A qualified “Well, it depends” seems reasonable enough. Yet what transparent answer would prayerful reflection yield? Generally speaking, acting out of fear is about control and safety. Acting out of love looks more like acceptance, openness, listening, trust, and understanding. Contrary to control, love is unfiltered and unflinching attention. More than mere affection, love is the opposite of fear. This comparison may provide cause to consider St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians as a corrective rather than a discourse on love:

Love is patient! Love is kind! It is not jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude! It is not quick-tempered, nor does it brood over injury! Love does not seek its own interests, or rejoices over wrongdoing but rather rejoices with the truth!

For a working example let’s consider the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal. When the assessment is levied and efforts feel burdensome and/or insufficient — the fear of not meeting an expected goal for whatever reason looms large in a parish priest’s psyche. Responses to this annual task can range from what is necessary to what is justifiable especially when fears set in.

Considering the choice of living with regret or with gratitude as a good indicator of whether or not we act out of fear or love. Did we trust our Lord who works through process or did we react based on fear from both internal and external sources? Regret and shame are byproducts of fear. Gratitude for an outcome is inspired by love. It’s less about responding to a perceived need to control and more about striving to be grateful for the experience…perhaps even more grateful that the experience is over!

What about this as a goal: seeking to allow work and ministry, even administration, to flow from a place motivated by love and allowing it to feel less forced? Could a sign of operating from fear be when ministry becomes obsessed with metrics, how much and how many? There are many cautionary tales that remind us that whenever we try to control outcomes, going beyond trusting in God’s providential love, we are doing, not being.

Yet there are times when taking control is both healthy and necessary. There is a sense of accomplishment when things get done, and that is a good thing. Perhaps the greatest challenge about doing is discerning if it comes from a need to control or a realization of understanding who we are, what needs to be done, and doing it. Control creates a feeling of power and meaning that can have more to do with our egos than with grateful hearts. By way of illustration, one of the take-aways from the current pandemic is that the anxiety experienced by many was due to a sense of a loss of control. The remedy has been to suggest exercising control over areas where the choice is still ours, like communicating with neighbors or researching a worthy charity. Could it be as simple as following the suggestion of the pithy saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?”

Being on the other hand is not complicated, but we may have complicated it. Consider that when we are at prayer, or the ministry of prayer, we are not so much doing prayer so much as being our best prayerful selves. We are in a privileged space and engaged in a trusting process, one that let’s God be God. Being in prayer seeks to let go of control and abandons ourselves to God the Father, precisely as Jesus consistently sought to do.

Yet being is beguilingly easy. The habit of quieting the mind, especially in prayer, has been rehearsed and experienced by many of us from our first praying of the Rosary. Rituals of prayer, both personal and universal, have helped us focus on the task of merely being, echoing Psalm 46 “Be still and know that I am God.’ All of us can admit that arriving at “being still” came from repeated attempts of jumping into the unknown and thrashing for hours until trust yielded the surrender into being.

Summarizing, dare we identify patterns here: Fear versus Love; Control versus Trust, Ego versus Gratitude; Outcomes versus Process, Doing versus Being?

Pope Benedict’s insight is helpful here: “If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the [challenging] things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One that loves you.” Pope Benedict XVI. “The Lord’s Second Temptation.” from Jesus of Nazareth.

So in the end, trying to exert too much control in my life and the perception the world has of me through someone else’s validation, that’s fear. On the other hand, if I were operating from a place of love, it would matter significantly less to me whether or not after my best efforts, goals are met, because if it is meant to happen, it will…in God’s good time.

After all, in light of the Incarnation, we human beings, not human doings.

B. The primacy of prayer in the life of every Catholic Christian soul, especially their leaders.

Before the papal conclave in 2013, many of the Cardinals gave a brief four-minute intervention in regard to what type of man the next pope should be. As one among many brothers, the then Cardinal Jorgé Bergoglio, before he was elected pope, made four points. His words are in essence a blueprint for his papacy which emphasizes the importance of the Church going outside of itself to the peripheries of sin, pain, injustice and misery to reach all people. His fourth point however is an essential one in regard to the role of the pope, the shepherd leader among shepherd leaders, and can be applied to every priest and, indeed, to all of us, in whatever vocation we find ourselves. He emphasized that the pope, and by extension every priest, must be a man of prayer – “a man of contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ.” Only this will enable the Church to go out to the peripheries and realize her mission.

Pope Francis’ emphasis on prayer is essential in focusing on the basic identity of the priest which enables him to go forth both within himself and in the lives of others in order to encounter God. Pope Francis’ reflection very much echoes the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his first Chrism Mass homily as pope in April 2006. There Pope Benedict emphasized that “The essence of Priesthood is to be a friend of Jesus Christ. To be a friend of Jesus, to be a priest, means to be a man of prayer. Friendship with Jesus is always par excellence friendship with His own. We can be friends of Christ only in communion with the whole Christ.” The implications of this are both profound and powerful. Prayer gives the priest his sense of direction and is a source of joy that evades emptiness in his life, an emptiness which can lead to selfabsorption, cynicism, gossip and even to the destruction of his own vocation.

It bears repeating that it is essential for us to renew our commitment to prayer, or as Pope Francis put it, “to be a man of contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ.” It is only through prayer that we will be able to carry out our ministry and bring Christ to the peripheries where we will find Him already present due to our friendship in prayer with Him. As prayer takes many forms, preeminent for a priest are the prayerful celebration of the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. The Eucharist must be central. As priests, our prayer in the sacraments must be grace filled encounters with Christ for us if they are to be even more of an encounter with Christ for the people we serve. We can perform many liturgical functions and be involved in many different forms of prayer but they must be in true contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ or we will lose our direction very easily and encounter that joyless emptiness.

Contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ enables us to encounter the presence of God within us, around us and in the peripheries of life itself. Prayer puts us in touch with grace which is the free, limitless and merciful love of God incarnate in the person of Christ. Through prayer we come to experience that grace not so much a commodity but a person, Jesus Christ.

Very recently, two modern diaries of priests have been presented to us which speak a great deal about the reality that, in prayer, grace/Christ is everywhere. One are the reflections of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on his life, resignation and current semi-monastic existence, entitled Last Testament. The other is the private spiritual diaries of St. John Paul II, entitled In God’s Hands. Both of these accounts express the primacy of the priest being, in the words of Pope Francis, “a man of contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ.” As St. John Paul II expresses poignantly in the aforementioned diary, “The priest who prays becomes a living witness to what prayer is…People expect this from a priest. They want him to be a master of prayer, a man of prayer!”(pg. 166) Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI testified to this particular quality of being a man of prayer in the life of St. Pope John Paul II, in his Testament, “… if you concelebrated with him (Pope John Paul II), you felt the inward proximity to the Lord, the depth of faith which he would then plunge into, and you really experienced him as a man who believes, who prays, and who indeed is marked by the Spirit.” (pg. 168) Both of these diaries emphasize how to grow in prayer daily so that we can experience grace/Jesus Christ in all things and convey Him to others.

C. Fostering a sense of your emotional, spiritual, and leadership health. Seeing, Thinking, Leading (cf: Resilient Leadership; Duggan & Moyer)

Resilient Leadership is a framework for both thinking about and leading within human systems. Developed by Bob Duggan and Jim Moyer, the framework integrates all of the key concepts of another theoretical framework called Bowen‘s Family Systems Theory, and applies it to leadership and organizations or parishes/ministries like yours.

Consider these three key concepts from Resilient Leadership. While merely a piece of the entire framework, these three ideas are very helpful in working as leaders and teams: Emotional Process, Triangles, and Self-differentiation.

Emotional Process

In its simplest terms, this concept points to the reality that every organization has both a rational system and an emotional system. The rational system is what we pay attention to most of the time: worship, education, finances, information technology, personnel, policies and procedures, etc. In other words, the rational system includes everything we can observe and measure.

The emotional system, on the other hand, is much harder to observe. It arises from having our parishes populated by human beings, and is driven by the anxiety that is a normal and inevitable part of human existence.

Think about your ministerial experience for a moment. Can you remember a time when there was change or turmoil going on in your parish and speculation, if not rumors, abounded? Or a time when you stepped into leadership as a new pastor or parochial vicar and found your pastoral team opposed to everything you wanted to do? If so, you’ve experienced the power of the emotional system.

Resilient Leadership highlights the importance of emotional process in organizations, and offers tools for observing and influencing this system. This is important because it’s the emotional system that drives human behavior (and ministry), not the rational system. For example, if you spend your energy and time as a pastoral leader focused on all the reasons it makes logical sense to re-organize and on what the new plan will look like, you will fail to address the emotional undercurrents that are actually driving whether others support the change or not.


This framework suggests that triangles are the natural building blocks of human relationships/ systems. They form whenever two people experience tension and triangle in a third person in order to manage that tension. The classic example in organizations is when two employees have a conflicted relationship and constantly turn to you, Father, to complain about each other and strongly “suggest”, if not demand, that you “do something.”

Left to fester, triangles can become hugely detrimental to productive ministry and morale. However, the good news is that you as a leader can also have a positive effect on the triangles that you’re involved in. Resilient Leadership suggests that there are two key skills to managing yourself skillfully in triangles and producing positive outcomes:

1. Stay connected to and define your position with the two other points of the triangle.

2. Stay emotionally neutral in the triangle (in other words, don’t take sides).

What would this actually look like? Consider a pastor that has two employees that do not get along with each other. Here the pastor first learns to manage his own reactivity to the tension so that he can avoid taking sides. Then he communicates clearly to both of them that the parish mission needs them both, and that he will hold them accountable to find a way to resolve their differences without involving him. While it’s not a cure all, the pastor’s behavior in the triangle gradually lowers the overall level of anxiety and tension and promotes a higher level of functioning from both individuals.


Self-differentiation essentially means that you have the capacity to do what “Fr. Mike” did in the previously mentioned example: to define your perspective or take a position, without cutting off emotionally from others. This is typically described as the ability to take clear stands without steamrolling or sugarcoating, while still staying connected. Another way of looking at this is to consider it as a way to help others to “buy-in” to your vision with their thoughts and ideas.

Here the notion of self-differentiation is important. Leading as a Differentiated Self means that you are clear about who you are as a priest and pastoral leader, what you stand for, and are able to communicate that to others while still staying connected to them. A well-defined leader calms a system, because they bring clarity and consistency to it. The goals here are:

Be a calm Non-Anxious Presence means to “embody and communicate an inner calm in a way that lowers others anxiety.” (One can imagine how being rooted in prayer helps here.)

Staying Connected means to strike a healthy balance by being “Close enough to influence yet distant enough to lead.”

To Lead with Conviction means being able to take tough stands while still staying connected to important stakeholders, i.e. staff, pastoral team members, and parishioners. Sometimes this refers to a capacity for being bold and for taking risks when needed (…not out of a need to control but rather out of desire to influence others through a loving zeal for shepherding). 

If Resilient Leadership resonates with you and you find yourself wanting to learn more, consider reading the book.

What about you? How do you see the concepts of emotional process and triangles playing out in your parish and/or ministry? How does your level of self-differentiation as a pastoral leader affect your behavior?


Please join us for a video conference next Wednesday, February 10, 2021, from 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm, where a member of Holy Family Counseling Center Good Shepherd’s Wellness Council will facilitate discussion on this month’s content. These sessions will be nonintrusive and will simply be an opportunity for brother priests to discuss and ask questions. To sign up and receive a link for next week’s call, please email goodshepherds@holyfamilycounselingcenter.com. Our facilitator will email you a link to the call the morning of the meeting.

We are here to serve your needs. We welcome your feedback and suggestions at this secure email address: goodshepherds@holyfamilycounselingcenter.com.

All correspondence will be received by a member of our Good Shepherd’s Wellness Council team and will be held in the strictest confidence. We will use this information to provide future content for the newsletter.


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