The Need to Reflect as We Serve
Our ministerial life and “work” do not necessarily begin or end during the hours we have designated for active service: we are always ministers of God. The calling we have received from Him is an invitation to be present for the Lord and for others at all times. Therefore, true ministering demands sacrifice, generosity, and commitment. Sacrificial service requires us to renounce our self-interests and to attend to the interests of God and His people. Generosity puts sacrificial service into motion with great liberality, and commitment encourages us to do so continuously with dedication and perseverance.
These three characteristics serve to remind us that an indispensable part of our ministry is when we are not actively ministering. Indeed, it is at those moments when we process more fully what happened and what did not. This processing is not simply an intellectual exercise—God is at work, speaking to us and revealing once again how He is always present in our lives. Therefore, it is a period of reflection that is guided by the Spirit to help us comprehend what God is doing and what He wants from us. He brings to light His loving, active plan of salvation, and His desire through our willing sacrifice, generosity, and commitment.
Because we are called to serve and want to do so well, it is necessary to create time for reflection outside of our active service because this helps us grow as ministers. However, theological reflection’s effectiveness depends upon putting God at the center and not putting our desire to acquire knowledge and insight above God’s glory—for its ultimate purpose is to praise, love and follow Him more. Once we put God at the center of theological reflection, we realize how God makes Himself—and His thoughts—accessible to us to lovingly guide us. Over time, a willing service that precedes and succeeds theological reflection will convince us of the truth that we are always ministers of Jesus Christ, called to reflect and to serve with sacrifice, generosity, and commitment to God’s glory and our salvation.
An Experience Full of Reflection
As ministers, we will occasionally have moments of epiphany in which we encounter a person whose situation would bring us to deeper theological reflection. For many years now, I have known this person named “Mary.” She is an older parishioner that, for a long time, has struggled with a host of health issues. The ability to consistently and effectively cope with her numerous physical illnesses has been a grinding battle for her due to the inner combat she confronts on a daily basis because of her depression. Sadly, her physical illnesses and depression have created in her life a vicious cycle of unhealthiness. There have been many occasions in which I have sat with her to pray with and for her. Very often it would be after her return to the church following an extended period of absence in which she sought to isolate herself. Sometimes, it would be during her self-exclusion.
One Friday long ago, Mary left me a voicemail informing me that she was not going to church that day because she was at the hospital. She stated that she had gotten severely burned with hot cooking oil that previous Wednesday and was currently being treated at the hospital’s Burn Center. Though she left me a telephone number where she could be reached, I kept getting a busy signal every time I called. I was not only frustrated that I could not speak with her but also concerned that she would probably think that no one cared for her. For six days I prayed and thought about how she was doing—physically, mentally, and spiritually—while I was unable to speak with her until I was finally able to visit her at the hospital a week later…
My intention and goal were to strengthen her in faith and hope and help her see and believe that God loves and cares for his children. I phrased my questions to help her and me reflect on this experience theologically. As I visited and spoke with her, I was moved to deep reflection by her situation and was reminded that we can discover God’s presence in the experiences we have, and, through those experiences, encounter God. In this experience, there was something different happening. Whereas in the past, she would angrily blame God the “Punisher” for any traumatic experience she would go through, her expression was radiating immense peace and hope. It seemed that her theological perception had been altered by this experience. She convincingly stated how she believed that la mano de Dios (the hand of God) was working in all of this. When she was running to the hospital screaming, “Lord, help me; give me strength, Jesus, accompany me,” it was truly an act of faith—unlike Simon Peter’s situation when he was drowning. She believed that God had been taking care of her from the very first moment she got burned until now, where she saw God in all the people (doctors and nurses) treating her burned hand, arm, face and chest at the hospital. I sensed this renewed faith again when she called me three days later to share that she was going home because her wounds were healing quickly.
We Are Always Ministers of God
Her experience was not only spiritually significant for her, but also for me on a personal and ministerial level. Even more significant had been the opportunity to theologically reflect on what had happened, and how it had shaped me as a minister. Through this experience, I was reminded that we are always ministers of Christ Jesus. Indeed, we are always called to serve. Though I wanted to take advantage of the rare few hours of break I had between my job and an evening commitment—for it was a very long and difficult week—I felt the call to sacrifice myself and to make a generous effort to visit her in the name of Christ. How could I not? Christ Jesus came to this world to break the vicious cycle of human weakness/sin, and the devil’s influence on the sinner. He also came to break her personal, vicious cycle.
When I visited her that Friday, I was reminded of our Crucified Lord as I witnessed her physical appearance and pain. When she told me three days later that she was being released, it was a reminder of how we rise again in Christ, whom Mary Magdalene did not find in the empty tomb. If I had ignored God’s invitation to visit Mary that day, I would have also missed that moment of grace. The more I reflect, the more I understand that the intention and goal I had in visiting Mary was also the intention and goal God had towards me: to strengthen me in faith and hope and to help me see and believe more that God loves and cares for all His children.