Last week at our Parish Council meeting we discussed the upcoming ministry fair during which the various ministries will explain what they do and who they serve for the purpose of encouraging more parishioners to get involved. Our discussion was about how the displays should look and how best to attract people to browse the exhibits.
Afterwards, I thought more about this and it seemed to me something was missing. There needed to be more than quality displays and getting people into the parish hall for it to be a success. People need to know more than what the ministry is – they need to know why that ministry is important to the volunteer – and it needs to be expressed in a way that will encourage others to want to participate.
I recalled a re-post from June 2013 titled Catholics are Called to Daily Martyrdom, says Pope. In his Angelus, Pope Francis reflected on Matthew 16:25 and said, “The faithful are called to follow the example of the martyrs in losing their lives for Christ, even if they do not suffer violence for their faith.” He emphasized that it is expected of us, if not our duty, to sacrifice for the good of others.
I remembered this because, although I agree with Pope Francis’ intent, I don’t totally agree with his delivery. By making the analogy between martyrdom by violent death and martyrdom by daily sacrifice, he leaves a dark and unpleasant visualization in people’s minds. I know his intent is to encourage more Catholics to sacrifice their time, talent and treasure for the good of others and for the Church, but there is nothing appealing in those words that will make people who are not already on that train want to jump on board. They imply giving up stuff we value – stuff like comfortable habits.
Words mean things. It’s an individual’s perception of the meaning of a word that induces them to act one way or the other. People can do tremendous things if they are motivated by the promise of positive and encouraging outcomes rather than a sacrifice that hurts.
With respect to helping others, it boils down to how people answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” When it comes to self-motivation, there are two basic types of people. Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes.
On one end of the spectrum is the person whose focus is without and whose answer to “What’s in it for me?” is “What can I do for someone else?” This is the person who is unselfish, is intent on helping others and doesn’t even consider a sacrifice being made. They may recognize a duty but their focus is on the other person. They enjoy it. Their sacrifice is born from love. Martyrdom isn’t even on their radar.
Then, on the other end, there are the people who focus within. Their driver is truly, “What’s in it for me?” These folks range from those who give of themselves because it is their duty, but who find no pleasure in their actions because their sacrifice is a labor to them; to those who say with pride, “Look at me and how much more I’ve sacrificed than so-and-so.” The pride that goes along with this “Holier than thou” attitude is the sin of all sins. Jesus might have said, “He who tries to find martyrdom in this way for my sake is trying to save his life for his own sake.”
It is okay for someone else to say, “You are a wonderful person, so sacrificing and caring of others.” But, it’s not okay for us to think of ourselves in that way. Our motivation must be inside-out. We must do good for goodness’ sake and not for the purpose of inflating our egos. We can only focus on the reward to the beneficiary of our action, not on our own reward. It’s a fine example of the Catch 22 I wrote about in Live Forever or Die in the Attempt– if you want to save your life, then you must lose it, not begrudgingly, but with a smile on your face.
The Pope’s message is wasted on the people in the first group because it’s a “no-brainer” to them. It has to be directed at the people in the second group. To be effective, it has to be encouraging and influence a change in attitude more than an increase in effort; a shift in perspective from looking within to looking without; and blindness to the sacrifice. Only when we develop humility and stop looking for our just rewards will we receive them.
In the case of our ministry fair, attractive displays will certainly help. But, we need those manning the booths to give encouraging testimony, focused externally, to help convince others to get involved. This is an excellent opportunity for offering simple evangelizing comments like those below that emphasize the good in why they serve others and, ultimately, the good of the Church, rather than suggesting that prospective volunteers do their duty for duty’s sake:
“I enjoy being a Lector because, by reading the scripture at Mass, I feel I can help others better understand the Word of God.”
“I am on the Hospitality Committee because I enjoy welcoming new members to the parish and introducing them to all we have to offer.”
“I participate in the Respect Life Ministry because I hope my actions will help save the life of an innocent, unborn child.”
“I am a Day Leader for Eucharistic Adoration because I hope to help others develop a closer relationship with Christ.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all Catholics answered Pope Francis’ call for evangelization by witnessing how blessed they feel when serving others, and how losing one’s life so it can be saved is a sacrifice born of love and, thus, not really a sacrifice at all?
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