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Recently, a friend of mine handed me an article on how to beat burnout, particularly if you work in a faith-based ministry or outreach such as, say, a Catholic newspaper.
Now, except for my struggles with eye strain and some rather tortured typing skills, I don’t consider myself a burnout risk. I love my job, and my evening and weekend hours exempt me from doing housework that my pets don’t appreciate anyway.
But I do know a lot of people whose careers can be, and sometimes are, overwhelming due to their punishing demands: treating those who struggle with intractable addictions, policing our most troubled neighborhoods, counseling heartbroken souls in the pew.
Long labors at even longer missions can exhaust body, mind and spirit, whether you’re in a parish office or a corporate boardroom. In particular, those who devote themselves to fixing the big problems in life — such as feeding the poor, or caring for those with terminal illnesses — can reach a point where life seems to be, as Job lamented, “months of futility and troubled nights” (Job 7:3).
Like the psychologist who wrote the article recommended by my friend, experts offer a number of strategies for reversing burnout, such as setting boundaries, adjusting expectations, cultivating hobbies or even changing jobs.
And those tactics are all good — but they’re woefully inadequate.
As Catholics, we have a remedy that can heal the ravages of burnout in the depths of the soul: the Eucharist, “the source and summit of Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11).
Christ himself awaits us, hidden in the host that he might reveal himself more fully and intimately to each and every heart.
Why, then, are our churches so empty, and their tabernacles locked?
Are we too sophisticated to humble ourselves before a sacrament that confounds our limited reason?
Are we afraid of sitting in genuine silence before a Lord whose desire for us, could we but perceive it, would take our breath away?
Do we prefer to keep Christ at arm’s length, limiting our time with him to less than an hour a week at Sunday Mass, if that?
How often, and how foolishly, we starve ourselves of “the nourishment of Holy Communion” (Mysterium Fidei, 66), when in fact it is “the desire of Jesus Christ and of the Church to see all the faithful approach the sacred banquet each and every day” (cf. Mysterium Fidei, 66).
In addition to daily Mass, we are called to “(pay) a visit during the day to the Most Blessed Sacrament” to show the gratitude and love “that is owed to Christ the Lord who is present there” (Mysterium Fidei, 66).
In a digitally distracted, information-overloaded culture, daily Mass and adoration may seem thoroughly impractical — or, even worse, “inefficient.”
Yet St. Teresa of Kolkata did not dare minister amidst unspeakable impoverishment without daily Mass and at least an hour of eucharistic adoration. When her newly founded order, the Missionaries of Charity, received permission to have the Blessed Sacrament in the convent chapel, she wrote to her archbishop: “Soon Our Lord will be with us. Everything will be easy then — He will be there personally.”
Committed by her order’s rule to “(seek) out, even amid squalid surroundings, the (poor), the abandoned, the sick … the dying,” and vowed to perform any good work “however lowly and mean,” St. Teresa would have seemed a likely candidate for burnout. Yet she knew of a fire that paradoxically cooled the fevered brow while reviving the numb and listless spirit.
Would that we too would seek this flame in the Eucharist, and allow it to utterly consume us.