April 6, 2013 by lucieromarin
Recap: The challenge was to find ten reasons for being grateful for ending up as roadkill. I seem to recall making it to number five, and I have to admit that, about two weeks ago, I’d started to think that I would make it no further. I was beginning to draft lines to the effect of, ‘Why did I choose ten?’ and ‘It’s horrible to admit this, but…I can’t think of a single reason to be happy about this. I just can’t.’
Well, I’m glad I didn’t post those lines, because something interesting happened on Friday night. As I skipped lightly and/or trod wearily (truly, it was a bit of both), up the stairs to my chapel, a young woman loitering in the tea-and-coffee area, chatting to another young woman, turned to me, smiled, and said, “Oh, hello!” And her companion smiled.
And then the intellectual equivalent of a tonne of bricks came crashing about my head, as I realised one thing after another, and, when the dust cleared, I saw that Castle Gloom had only ruined stumps where its eerie turrets used to be.
The realisations were these: these young women, (and their sisters), are all pursuing work that means something to them. Obviously their aim remains vocation, but if vocation never appears, they’re not going to find themselves wondering late in life what they want to to, or how they are to support themselves. All of them dress modestly (by and large!) but none of them have scruples about their dress. None of them are afraid to volunteer their services to the community, because they don’t expect to to be told that they’re not wanted if they do. They choose which headcoverings they’ll wear and when they’ll wear them. None of them are obliged to hang out with weird bachelors because there are no other young women in the community. None of them attract any attention at their philosophy classes, because none of them are the youngest, or the only woman, there, and none of them receive any comments from anyone, positive or negative, about their presence at such classes. None of them are the only one of them that they know.
And the reason they can experience this kind of community life is, in part, because of the people who were there before them: the women who normalised volunteer service by persisting with it when it was still considered suspect, and the men who themselves risked criticism by supporting that service whereever they could; the women who taught classes and the men who unashamedly took those classes and recommended them to others; priests who poured serious energy into putting the crazy people in their places, who dedicated hours to listening to woes, and taking those woes seriously.
In other words, some of the men, the women, and the priests who are, at present, prone with burnout, are a part of the reason why double and treble the numbers of younger people are safe – or, at least, safer – from the same burnout. They’re comparable to the older children in families who, seeing parent-caused problems in the home for what they are, offset those problems with kindness or patience or sound advice, and are part of the reason their youngest siblings grow up relatively happy and normal. The sacrifices that lead to burnout appear to bear no fruit in the lives of the burned, because the fruit is borne in the lives of those around them.
I don’t know if this can be said of those Catholics whose burnout has come about either because of their employment or because of their membership of an apostolate or vocations-based group (such as exploited or neglected priests and religious, or members of, say, certain personal prelatures occasionally mistakenly associated with albino monks). I can’t help thinking that if I’d poured my life out as a priest or religious and then got dumped by the highway, it wouldn’t be much of a comfort to me to think that all the people in the lost parish or the mission-field were having a great time, especially if half of them didn’t even know I’d paid the price for their happiness.
However, tomorrow is Divine Mercy Sunday; perhaps burnt-out priests and religious around the world, former employees and former members of other life-consuming organisations, will be filled with consolations of their own.