It’s a common saying around St. Isidore’s that in the church, the reward for good work is always more work. If you agree to help move chairs or set up for Mass, for example, there’s a real chance you may end up being asked to do that job next week as well. This seems to be a function of being as large and as much of an “all hands” type of endeavor as the Church: We rely on those able to serve being generous with those gifts.
It’s easy, though, in this or any other similar type of environment, to grow somewhat jealous of the ways others are able or asked to serve. “Why do they get to do hands-on ministry while I push papers?” “I wish I was as gifted in speaking to groups as her.” “Why can’t I have what he has?”
When healthy, this can come out as admiration and encouragement for us to grow in those skills. The examples of others who we wish to imitate can be a powerful motivating force. More often, at least for me, though, it turns into jealousy, bitterness, and frustration. We begin to resent those with gifts and duties we want, as well as the people or God who gave us our gifts and duties.
This applies to the spiritual life as well! I often hear about the prayer life of a certain friend of mine, or the spiritual insights of another, or see the deep consolation they receive at Communion, and become jealous. I want to ask God why I can’t have their gifts, their prayer, their experience of Him.
I take some comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this feeling, either regarding work or the spiritual life. Not only do many of my friends experience the same thing, but we also see this in scripture, specifically in the final moments of John’s Gospel.
In John 21, we see Jesus interacting with St. Peter, the man He has chosen to lead the Church He founded. Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Three times, Peter, increasingly distressed, replies in the affirmative, and three times, Jesus tells him, obliquely, what his job will be. In His instructions to “feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep”, Jesus lays out the basic tenets of Peter’s role as bishop: spiritually and physically “feeding” and guiding those Christ places in his pastoral care, even unto death.
Immediately, Peter reacts exactly as I would, by turning to and complaining about someone who seems to have been given a better job. He sees John, recently entrusted with caring for Mary the Mother of God for the rest of her life on Earth, and asks “what about him?”
This is possibly the most relatable moment in the Gospels. I, too, would rather simply live with and minister to Our Lady than be a bishop and get martyred, but, as Jesus reminds Peter, this is not our choice to make. Instead, He brushes off the question and gives Peter one final commandment: “Follow me.”
What we see from the remainder of Peter’s life is a simple submission to that command. He becomes the first Pope, leads the Church well and sends Her on mission, and oversees Her growth until his martyrdom.
So what can we learn here? First, it’s clear that it is always okay to ask the question. Jesus is not upset with us for wanting to do something else, for desiring gifts or jobs we don’t have. He can relate, after all, as the One who begged his Father to “let this cup pass”. But, when the answer is “no”, we have to follow His and Peter’s example by submitting our imperfect wills to His perfect one. Practically speaking, this may mean submitting to our Pastor, when we ask for a certain role, maybe leading a small group or a Bible Study, and he tells us that what the parish really needs is a CCD teacher. Maybe it means submitting to the gifts God has given us, understanding that I may never be a theologian, but I can help cook and clean for the Common Table meal.
Regardless of how God calls us, our call is always to submit to His plan, because that, and only that, is how we become saints.
Andy Brandt is a Staff Editor, Producer, and General Ne’er-do-well at Konza Catholic. You can find his writing on Catholicism, Justice, and Politics here.