Encouragement for Those Who Work in the Church

Maria Troutman

Encouragement for Those Who Work in the Church

One of the most efficient ways of keeping ourselves sinless is to have compassion for those who fall due to frailty, and never to boast of our rightness, but with real humility to acknowledge that if we are in a state of grace, it is by the mercy of God.

-St. Philip Neri


I have never worked for the Church, but my husband does, having left the public sector to work for our diocese a few years ago. When I asked him how he would summarize his experiences working there, his response was very cheeky. “I like to think of working for the Church through the lens of the Pauline directives regarding marriage: let him who is unmarried remain unmarried. Let him who does not work for the Church remain not working for the Church.” It was certainly a tongue-in-cheek response, but his likening of marriage to employment with the Catholic Church was thought-provoking, to say the least—and I think there is much that can be expounded upon here. 

For one thing, working for the Church can often operate like a vocation, in the sense that many are seemingly called to it. I have heard several men and women who work for the Church in one capacity or another explain that they desired to work there because they felt called to serve the Church in a concrete way, using the talents that the Lord has given them. While it will not be unilaterally true that every employee at a Catholic institution was drawn there by anything other than convenience or need, working for the Church appears to be aligned with more vocational occupations, such as working in the medical field or in education. 

Furthermore, like marriage—working for the Church is often entered into joyfully and with an appropriate degree of naïveté. What bride and groom on their wedding day would not recoil at a glimpse of the sufferings that would soon come their way—the sickness, the poverty, and the pain? We all know that suffering is a reality in marriage (or else, we ought to know it), and yet, we continue to give and be given in marriage. Likewise, we ought to know that working for the Church will come with its own kind of suffering. For my husband, there has been very real spiritual suffering: he entered into his work for the Church with much naïveté about what to expect in his interactions with priests, religious, and the many lay people that help to keep our parishes afloat. In many cases, instead of finding virtue and sanctity in those around him, my husband was met with pride, anger, and a lack of charity. The stark contrast between what should be and isn’t—the virtues he expected to see in priests, religious, and lay people, versus what actually was—was disillusioning. “I can see why some people who work for the Church end up leaving it,” my husband once confided. “It’s hard to be reminded day in and day out that nobody is perfect, even the Fathers the Lord has given us.”

But as in marriage, working for the Church gives Catholics of goodwill the opportunity to do as St. Philip Neri taught: “to have compassion for those who fall out of frailty” and to remember that “if we are in a state of grace, it is by the mercy of God.” Marriage quickly reveals to us the faults of our spouses—but even faster is the unveiling of our own faults, which we see reflected back to us as if through a mirror. Working in close quarters with other Catholics can be a reminder that we are all called to holiness and that we all have sins for which we must ask the Lord’s forgiveness. Especially in the case of priests and religious, for whom we as lay people naturally set high standards for virtue, comportment, and charity, it is crucial to remember their frailty, and to recall that they too once approached their vocation not truly knowing the sufferings that would follow. But like my husband, who courageously accepted the cross that the Lord made for him when he took my hand in marriage, every priest and religious—out of love and an insane amount of courage—said yes to the call of the Lord. Even when they fail us, when they are frail, when they are demanding, discourteous, or distant, and when it is difficult to work with them, we can try to remember that Our Lord chose very weak, utterly unremarkable men to be His apostles, and He continues to work with the weak men of our generation to call forth saints. If those who work for the Church can learn to approach each other in charity and bear each other’s faults patiently, almost as spouses must learn to do, then working for the Church may still be challenging, but it will be fruitful and, ultimately, a path to holiness.