“If you want to serve the Church, be prepared to be disappointed” said one of the heads of a local apologetics organization for which I have been volunteering for the past few years.
Indeed, those of us who have worked for one apostolate or another, such as in a parish or trans-parochial group or movement, have our frustrations: apathy from members of the Church hierarchy whose support we need, scarce resources for carrying projects, or disagreements and misunderstandings with the others involved in the same apostolate. Amidst these frustrations, it is easy to lose sight of the souls we have set out to save when we volunteered for the apostolates concerned. Burn-out and disillusionment set in, which the enemy can take advantage of. How do we continue working serving the Church amidst frustrations?
Pray, pray, pray
It may sound cliché, but the importance of prayer for the efficacy of any apostolate cannot be overemphasized. Dom Jean Baptiste Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate discusses in greater detail how the success of an apostolate depends on the apostle’s prayer life. I recommend that everyone involved in an apostolate read this book.
We need prayer especially in handling difficulties in the apostolate. Constant communication with Christ helps us remember, amidst the distractions, the reason behind our efforts. It also gives us wisdom on how to solve the problems that we encounter. Most of all, it is an occasion to ask God for His help in moving things along. Our resources may be scarce, our strength may be waning, and our co-workers may be few, but when we pray, we work with God’s strength and not just our own.
Recognize opportunities to grow in virtue
God inspires us to get involved in apostolates not only so that we can help others, but also for our own personal benefit. In calling us to an apostolate, God gives us opportunities to grow in virtue and become saints. This is especially true when we encounter frustrations in our apostolates. Dealing with difficult people in our team, for example, is an opportunity to practice charity, humility, and patience, and tact. A lack of resources is an opportunity to practice prudence. Lack of moral support is an opportunity to practice fortitude, in the form of perseverance in doing good. The list goes on and on. When we grab these opportunities our apostolates present for us to grow in virtue, we can be sure that our apostolate is bringing us closer to God. The closer we are to God, the more fruitful our apostolate becomes in turn.
Take care of ourselves
There is nothing wrong in taking a break from an apostolate so as to take it up again with renewed vigor. Sometimes the burn-out that comes from dealing with too many frustrations in the apostolate is real, not imagined. Sometimes stress causes quarrels to break out within a group, which could be avoided if the members just recognize their own limitations. Taking a break from an apostolate to be able to take care of one’s spiritual, family, physical, or professional needs is not only sometimes necessary; it is also an exercise in humility. We can trust God to take care of our apostolate in our absence, and we will be more capable of serving Him when we return.
Apostolates involve just as many frustrations as other endeavors, if not more. We should not be surprised to encounter disappointments in our involvement in apostolates, but neither should we be discouraged. If we carry on working for God, all our efforts offered to Him will produce fruit in others as well as in ourselves.