In 1998, as I arrived to Rome for the second time to continue my studies towards the priesthood I was entrusted with the responsibility of the administration of a parish, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was to work directly under the pastor of the Church. I was young and inexperienced but full of energy and enthusiasm. I could just envision the possibilities of what we could do. However, one after another, the pastor just shut them down: “No, it is not going to work…” “We already tried that…” I felt like all my ideas were being put down. There was not much to do.
However, towards the end of my first year, the pastor had to have a hip replacement. I practically became his caregiver. I drove him to the doctor, I took him to the pool for his exercises, I helped him put his socks and tied his shoes… Eventually we established a great relationship. Needless to say, in a short time he was allowing me to do anything I wanted in the parish. I even partnered with a famous Italian artist to set up a Drama School in the parish. The pastor had total confidence in me.
One of my top five strengths according to Gallup’s Strengths Finders Test is Responsibility. It is defined as the psychological ownership for anything we commit ourselves to so that we feel emotionally bound to follow through to completion. We could also say that it goes hand in hand with a sense of duty.
Add faith to the sense of duty and you get a notion of the will of God, an indispensable element for spiritual growth.
The active practice of fidelity consists in accomplishing the duties which devolve upon us whether imposed by the general laws of God and of the Church, or by the particular state that we may have embraced. Its passive exercise consists in the loving acceptance of all that God sends us at each moment. Jean-Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence
Spiritual growth then, consists mainly in accomplishing our duties and this is never going to be out of our reach since the moment that duty requires what we cannot give, it ceases to be a duty. Fr. De Caussade provides the classical example that we are exempt from the duty to go to Sunday Mass when we are sick and bed-ridden.
It is important, however, to remember that duty becomes a blind sense of obligation when we dissociate it from responsibility for someone. Hence, it is very important to know how to retrace our duty to the person or the people that we have been entrusted some responsibility for. Then duty has meaning, it is transformed into love. Add faith to the mix and it becomes an act of love towards God, the ultimate person we do everything for. Mother Theresa of Calcutta saw Jesus in every person she served.
How about my administrative duties in the parish at the Basilica of Our Lady of Gudadalupe in Rome? It was important for me to recognize that the first person I had to serve was the pastor. Forgetting that important factor would have brought a lot of frustration.
Every duty we have or we acquire has meaning insofar as we can retrace it to the people we are responsible for. The teacher is responsible for his students’ learning. The accountant is responsible to provide the leadership team and the general manager with the financial reports needed to make good decisions. Everyone is responsible to serve someone in some capacity. Faith helps us see Christ behind every person we serve. We put faith and love to the mix and we have our recipe for spiritual growth.
One more factor has to be taken into account. There is a hierarchy in duties. God first, our duties to our state of life second, other duties including work come next. Here it is important to know our limits: the moment we acquire duties that impede us from fulfilling essential duties towards God and towards our family, the moment that those duties cease to be duties. Discernment towards them is in place. It is that big YES to those God has entrusted to us that enable us to say no to distracting things and to the pride of life that leads us to extend ourselves beyond God’s will.
Questions for pondering:
- Who am I responsible for? Can I name them?
- Who do I serve with my work? Are there any “internal customers”? What are their names?
- Do I know my limits? Do I know how to say no, when expectations trample with my primary duties?
Fr Lino Otero, LC: Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. For more go to linootero.me