The One Phrase I Wish Catholics Would Strike from their Vocabulary

I will not soon forget the day when I was serving coffee and donuts after Mass and a parishioner approached me and said, “I’m going to need 5 strong teens to set up for a rummage sale this weekend.”

There was no greeting, no “Good morning. How are you?” Her tone wasn’t very cordial. In fact, I likened it to placing an order at a fast food window, and I was tempted to say “Do you want a youth minister with that?” I gave a quick nod of my head and mumbled, “Ok. I’ll try” even though I was too frustrated to even consider trying.

Maybe I was in a foul disposition that morning because I wasn’t too pleased about having to serve coffee and donuts, which I knew would be followed by the obligation to clean up the gathering hall and take out the trash. To top it off, I knew it would be an even longer day because of other meetings I had to go to later in the afternoon. Most of all, I think I was irritated because I felt like if I didn’t do all of these things, I would be perceived as lazy, selfish, irresponsible or “not a team player.” In short, I was feeling something that wasn’t new: “Catholic guilt.”

I think its’s fair to say that at least 90 percent of all lay ministers have felt it at one point or another. We mess up an assignment. We show up late to a meeting– or we forget about it altogether. We feel bad about not being able to make it to every single parish event. When we say ‘no’ to a social engagement with a friend, we can’t enjoy relaxing at home and binge watching Chopped after a long day in the office because we should be sharing our time with those who need us.

I know I’ve fallen victim to it. I once sat with a priest and spilled all of the things that were weighing on my mind and heart. He let me unload and then said, “What’s with the “should” statements? You say “I should” do this or “I should” be that. But why is it necessary for you to carry all of this? Why are you so hard on yourself?”

My response was simple: “People expect more from me. I feel bad when I don’t meet their expectations”

But whose expectations were they, really? What would happen if I said no to that woman who wanted me to bring her her order of five teens? What would happen if someone else had to take out the trash? What if, once in a while, I said no to doing what everyone else wanted me to do? What if I didn’t do something exactly right? My assumption was that people would be disappointed in me, that too much would be left undone and the goodness of the church would fall apart – and it would be my fault. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the truth. Two things would happen:

1. I would recognize my limitations as realities, not weaknesses.
2. I would see that the weight of the world isn’t for me to carry on my shoulders.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about people working in ministry. We don’t do what we do to bring home a hefty paycheck. We don’t have normal hours. We face a lot of pressure, and when we don’t meet expectations (whether they’re placed on our shoulders by others or more likely by ourselves), we feel bad. Catholic guilt. But Jesus didn’t hang on a cross so we could feel guilty for our deficiencies. He suffered because HE LOVES US. He asks us to love him, but he doesn’t ask us to be perfect. He knows we can’t do everything, and he knows that we certainly can’t do it perfectly. I’ve tried to take these burdens on my own, and I’ve tried to please everyone so they will think I’m perfect at my job. Spoiler alert: I’m not perfect and neither are you. Spoiler alert, part 2: It’s ok. God doesn’t love you because of what you do. He loves you because of who you ARE: His beloved child. The key is knowing that we can’t do it all, but HE CAN – And then we invite him to do so. I recently read Galatians 3: 23-26; 4:6-7:

“Before faith came, we were held in custody under law, confined for the faith that was to be revealed. Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian. For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.
As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”

If you are a lay minister constantly “should-ing” on yourself, I suggest that you pick up this Scripture and bask in it. Hand over some tasks to someone else when you are overwhelmed. Let someone else take out the trash. Allow Jesus to free you from the chains of “Catholic guilt.” And while you’re at it, sit back, relax, sip a cup of coffee and have a donut! And do not feel guilty about it!

Melissa Montenegro is a youth minister at Christ the King Parish in Richland, Washington. She loves middle school youth ministry because even Jesus went to a middle school youth group (seriously, check out Luke 2:41-52). When she’s not busy witnessing 12 year olds becomes saints, she’s caught up in a good book or steamy cup of chai. She rarely says no to French fries.