Moments of Affirmation
God has little ways of helping us find hope in the darkness
I have heard from many priests that, even though they may receive 99 compliments, he or she will always remember the one negative comment received. For all of us in ministry, I think that we know this to be true, and although we try hard to do the right thing, occasionally we will upset, frustrate or even anger the people we serve. In spite of this, though, God often sends us positive gifts of affirmation in unexpected places, and sometimes they may brighten our entire day.
When I was newly ordained, I found myself preaching one Sunday in a parish that was not particularly welcoming or amiable. There were literally no expressions on the faces of the people. Most looked bored or disinterested, and I thought that I was a total failure as a priest.
A friend from high school was a member at the parish, and I had visited him, his wife and his 3-year-old son at their home for dinner several times. During the middle of the homily, I heard his little son yell, “Yah, Father Mike!” That certainly caused me to smile. But I nearly lost it when, breaking loose of his dad’s grip, he began to run toward the ambo down the middle aisle yelling, “Hi! Father Mike!” Needless to say, the people began to laugh and smile, and I replied, “It’s good to have support, and I didn’t even pay him.”
That slight unexpected outburst allowed me to remember that God was still with me, even using a toddler prophet to remind me that the Lord is always at work. It is honestly fidelity, not accolades, that matter, and at times we best heed those great words of St. Padre Pio, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.”
I had a similar experience once when chairing the festival committee for our parish. Our festival was not turning as big a profit as in the past, and the people who were in charge of the concessions and dinners were not amenable to change. They fought, yelled and became belligerent that they would not change the menu or the way they operated. They actually left the meeting and told me that I was ruining the festival. I was not feeling too good about myself until once they left. The entire committee began to applaud.
One woman shouted, “We’ve been trying to do that for years!” Even the deacon, who referred to their roast beef dinner as “shoe leather surprise,” was grinning from ear to ear. I felt bad that the couple felt so marginalized and unappreciated, but I was glad that we were able to move forward.
Obviously, not all things are going to go well, and as Mary Chapin Carpenter once sang, “Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug.” However, if we can look for those little moments of affirmation to remind us of God’s love in difficulty, we remember who we are and what we are — men of faith, men of sacrifice and men who can find hope in the darkness.
FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and chaplain at Central Catholic High School and Oakland Catholic High School.