Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 25, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
One afternoon recently as I traveled out-and-about, I found myself listening to words of wisdom from the CD player in my car. I was struck by an interesting concept. One speaker observed that the Church – at least in the United States – seems to be experiencing what she called “institutional exhaustion.” She did not go on to explain the meaning of this phrase, but I found it curious. It still resonates in my mind as nature enters a time of dormancy and as the Church nears the end of another liturgical year.
What might be this business of “institutional exhaustion”? The speaker lets us guess. Is it what parents feel like after investing years in the raising of a family? Is it what teachers experience after a year’s worth of classroom pressure and hassles? Is it what school principals sense after months of pleading in the wind for volunteers to help with programs, receptions, and activities? Is it what pastors experience after pressing through calendars blackened by commitments to sacramental celebrations, appointments, and what seems like a million other responsibilities?
All of this busy-ness creates a certain sense of physical exhaustion. Thank God for days off, vacations, and even sick leave! Yet I would surmise that institutional exhaustion does not address the matter of ordinary physical tiredness. I heard in the speaker’s voice a tone of complaint that after all sorts of efforts on the part of the institution (whatever shape they may take) the end result seems to be a lack of effectiveness or a sense of emptiness. The institution itself (or the person) has expended all kinds of resources and energy to accomplish a mission, but in the end, finds itself merely depleted and out of gas. The one suffering from institutional exhaustion may well complain, “What else can I do that I have not done to try to make our mission work, or to come alive?!” There is a feeling of failure and frustration in a sense of institutional exhaustion.
The presenter’s diagnosis of this malady was perhaps quite accurate. Which of us in the contemporary Church have not spent some measure of time, money and energy in trying to make our mission work, as it were, and have found that we have run out of gas, out of spirit? Gone is the zeal, the enthusiasm, the zip in our steps and the spark in our voice and heart.
I have found this to be a rather interesting notion to ponder prayerfully. Is it possible that institutional exhaustion eats away at our hearts and deadens our enthusiasm because we engage in our efforts (despite the best of intentions) with an inaccurate perspective? And the more we maintain a work pace and schedule based on this inaccurate assumption, the more we are destined to the throes of exhaustion – the total expenditure of our selves where we to the point where we discover that we have not so much given of ourselves in loving service to the needs of the world, but we have given up ourselves. We have been consumed in the frenzy of activity in trying to solve the world’s problems and thinking that we had to be the source of its salvation.
Our Christian faith certainly offers us a proper perspective on life and our daily responsibilities. If we have no faith in a God who first loves us and who has reached into human history for the sake of our salvation, then indeed we will burn our proverbial candles at both needs until there is nothing left but ashes and frustrated memories. The world is saved by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and not by our calendared activities and programs. God is the source of salvation, we need to remind ourselves – not the work of our hands and the busy-ness of our lives. Most wonderfully, the Risen Jesus has filled the world with the promised Spirit of God’s salvation precisely so that we can be agents of salvation, but not its controlling source.
Institutional exhaustion happens to those who have run not so much out of physical energy but who have distanced themselves from the reality of the life of the Holy Spirit given by the Risen Lord Jesus. It happens to any of us when we lose touch with the need for listening prayer and the motivating breath of God’s saving love. This spiritual disease cripples us when we forget who really is the Savior of the world. When we work, serve and help under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus, we may be physically tired, but not paralyzed with the cynical frustration of seemingly failed efforts. It is God who saves and we can only do – we only need to do – what we are in-spirited to do.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane, and Director of Deacon Formation for the Diocese of Spokane.)