Coping with Holy Week and Easter Exhaustion
The Holy Spirit can help reinvigorate us and find peaceful freedom
Amid the glorious joy of Easter there is, typical for every clergyman, accompanying fatigue. The holy season of Lent can be draining. In addition to the personal devotion to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, there is also the tiredness that comes from ministering through the 40 days in the desert. Not only do we battle our own sense of sin in this grace-filled time, but we also do everything in our ministerial power to assist the faithful in their call to holiness.
Concomitant with the Lenten tiredness, let us not forget the rigors of celebrating the sacred Triduum. There is so much that happens in those days beyond the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Liturgies need to be planned. Liturgical ministers need to be put in place. Homilies need to be prepared. The church or, in some cases of multiple sites, churches need to be readied. There is, of course, sometime during Holy Week the trip to the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass and the renewal of the priestly promises. There is the reception of the holy oils, the washing of feet, the stripping of the altar and the preparations of the altar of repose on Holy Thursday. On Good Friday, there typically are Stations of the Cross, the traditional Good Friday service and possibly Tenebrae. In some places, the church is decorated on Good Friday night or Holy Saturday morning. The Easter baskets are blessed. Preparations need to be in place for the elect and candidates. Many preparations go into the “mother of all liturgies,” which does not end until late in the night. Then there are all of the liturgies on Easter.
Most people cannot appreciate how consuming liturgy can be for the celebrant. We have all heard the jokes, “But Father, you only work on Sundays.” The Lenten season and observance of the Triduum can be so exhausting for any minister, especially for those men who find themselves in a one-man parish with a small staff.
It is not uncommon in the aftermath of this arduous journey for parish priests to take a vacation or at least add on an extra day off during Easter week. But sometimes, even with the time off, we return to the parish just as tired. How can this be?
During my recent retreat, I had an opportunity to prayerfully read once again Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.” In this document, Pope Francis speaks of a source of pastoral exhaustion that transcends ministry. He writes: “It also happens that our hearts can tire of the struggle because in the end we are caught up in ourselves, in a careerism which thirsts for recognition, applause, rewards and status. In this case we do not lower our arms, but we no longer grasp what we seek, the resurrection is not there” (No. 277). In this instance, we make our ministry about ourselves instead of God and his people. The Holy Father adds, “In cases like these, the Gospel, the most beautiful message that this world can offer, is buried under a pile of excuses” (No. 277).
The challenge that we face in all seasons is to keep our spiritual fervor alive and always recognize that our ministry is not about being served, but serving others. According to Pope Francis, the key to keeping this fervor alive and overcoming exhaustion is trusting in the Holy Spirit. The pope writes: “Keeping our missionary fervor alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is he who ‘helps us in our weakness’ (Rom 8:26). But this generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to invoke the Holy Spirit constantly.” (No 280)
As a bishop, I have newfound gratitude and respect for the Holy Spirit. When we, as priests, surrender our lives to the Holy Spirit and invoke his assistance, we cannot only be reinvigorated but also find peaceful freedom. The Holy Father states, “Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills” (No. 280). Come Holy Spirit!
BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.