One Saturday morning [...] I saw a woman selling fruit and vegetables in a corner. She was one of those who went to Sunday Mass regularly. It was only 10 in the morning but she was already closing her store. So I asked her the reason. She told me, 'I belong to a prayer group. We have a big assembly this afternoon. Some tasks were assigned to me. So I want to be there early.'
Upon hearing this, the pragmatic side of me surfaced. I responded, 'The Lord will understand if you extend your working hours. You have a family to support. [...] I am sure the Lord will understand.'
With a smile, she said, 'But Bishop, the Lord has been faithful to me. [...] We may not be rich but we have enough to live by. Why will I fear?' Then looking at me tenderly, she said, 'Are you not a bishop? Are you not supposed to be encouraging me in faith?'
I was quite embarrassed. But for me it was an experience of spiritual worship. I, the religiously and culturally accepted presence of God, was revealed to be a faltering representation of God.
All too often I encounter priests and bishops who haven't learned that lesson, and continue to hold the faithful to a low standard of spirituality. I've mentioned before that often when I ask a priest to help me grow in holiness, his response is, "Don't bother, you're fine." I can understand that they have witnessed countless people over the years who have absolutely no faith at all, so when they encounter people who attend Mass weekly they are amply satisfied. But there is so much more to our faith than just "showing up."
But in those moments when priests try to talk me down, have I ever had the courage to say what I think? This woman took the risk of offending the bishop by letting him know that she held a higher standard for herself (and for him) than he did, and he grew from it.
So I extend the challenge to myself and to my readers: the next time you encounter a priest or bishop whose words leave you feeling discouraged in your faith, issue a gentle rebuke in the fraternal love of Christ. Ask him to have a higher standard for you, and not to grow weary or discouraged at the lack of faith around him.