By Fran Lavelle
I have never been drawn into a papal document to the degree Pope Francis’ exhortation to young people, Christus Vivit, has captured my attention and my heart. As we prepare to return to our classrooms, religious education programs, RCIA meetings, adult faith formation opportunities, campus ministries and youth programs it is important that we ask some serious questions about how we are being challenged in our call. The Church does not do succession planning very well and, therefore, we have folks putting time in in ministry roles well beyond their vigor. Before you accuse me of being indifferent and an ageist, hear me out.
I was having lunch with a friend the other day and she remarked that we can serve many, many years in ministry or we can serve one year in ministry several times over. Ministry is organic and as we grow and change so too our ministry must be able to grow and change. Bishop Kopacz often reminds us that we never step into the same river twice. We can step in at the exact same spot, but the water is always new, the sediment and rocks have shifted, even the temperature of the water is different. I like that image, especially for formational ministry. The room may be the same as last year, the textbook, schedule and lesson plans too, but you are different, your students are different.
When we become complacent, we tend to pull the template out from “last year” and proceed like nothing has changed. When we allow this to happen, our eyes are closed to the present reality. Our ears cannot hear the voices of those we are called to serve. We lose our mojo. Because really, deep down inside, we all know that we never step into the same river twice. A glance back, especially for those of us who have been at it for a while, can reveal how very much things have changed. I’m not suggesting that Church elders give up their call to ministry; rather, we need to check to see if our energy, passion and openness to change is still there in our current role. Pope Francis would argue that young people need mentors of all ages who are capable of accompaniment, intentional listening and are relational. If that time has passed for us, there are still many ways we can serve in ministry. It is about our time aligning with God’s time.When we are open to knowing when that dynamic of time is off kilter doors will open to new opportunities.
In paragraph 191 of Christus Vivit, Pope Francis states, “The world has never benefitted, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations. That is the siren song of a future without roots and origins. It is the lie that would have you believe that only what is new is good and beautiful. When intergenerational relationships exist, a collective memory is present in communities, as each generation takes up the teachings of its predecessors and in turn bequeaths a legacy to its successors. In this way, they provide frames of reference for firmly establishing a new society. As the old saying goes: ‘If the young had knowledge and the old strength, there would be nothing they could not accomplish.’”
We need the wisdom of our elders as much as we need energy of young people. We need to be able to hear new ideas as much as we need the solid foundation of the kerygma.
A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 20 year anniversary with the Diocese of Jackson. It gave me the opportunity to look back as I look forward to year twenty-one. Twenty years of ministry. No two years have been the same. No two days have been alike. I recognize that even in walking with the same student for four or five years, each year was different. Hopefully, we both grew in wisdom, understanding and love. It’s been five years since I left campus ministry to take on my current role in formational ministries for the diocese. I had to let go of one thing I knew I loved to be able to embrace something new. Following God’s call to ministry for the diocese has had many challenges; but it is also filled with much joy. The day will come that I need to turn this ministry over to someone else. We talk about intentional disciples. What we need to talk about is authentic disciples who exercise intentional ministry. This includes succession planning. The torch gets passed. Someone else picks up where we left off. Another generation of leadership takes the helm. All of it done intentionally.
As we begin another academic year, I pray for great success in your ministry. Please know I am an email or phone call away if you ever need anything.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)