“Praise loudly and blame softly.” I do not know exactly who said this, but each time I come across it I think of those missionaries who I feel were imbued with this spirit.
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I cannot recall hearing any belittling word coming from my Columban missionary pastor about his parishioners. Once during a parish feast, the chief catechist was making an announcement again and again over the loud speaker. Pilgrims to the feast began to get irritated. The pastor, however, defended him. He said that the catechist was repeating the announcement to make sure that all got the important message. The catechist admitted later that from that day on he was clearer and briefer in what he had to say.
Another missionary priest sent a young man from his parish to fetch Mass wine from another diocese. The young man returned with the goods, but a few bottles had been broken on the way. The priest did not blame the young man for that. Instead he apologized to him for having failed to give him a companion to help him. He praised the young man’s performance and was deeply grateful. The young man, on his part, was deeply sorry for the loss. He confessed later that he resolved from that day on to be more responsible.
Missionaries were known for their appreciation of their people. Each time I came to the diocesan center as a young priest, my Columban bishop would invite me to take a stroll with him. He inquired about my health and work, and about my people and their work. He took a deep interest in what I had to say, made comments and always encouraged me. Where I made mistakes, he chose to see the good that could result from them.
He even made me feel proud that I made the mistakes. This was life-giving. His concern for my well-being, and his appreciation for what I did, gave me a sense of worth and purpose in my life. All this helped me find better ways of doing things. What was most important was that he was supporting me and guiding me. Thus my confidence in him and my sense of going in the right direction grew with each encounter with him.
Such stories of our missionary pastors always remind me of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Remember your leaders who preached the word of God to you and as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). On the other hand, these same words, as they occur in the Common of Pastors in the breviary, never fail to evoke in me fond memories of the edifying life of our good pastors. I count myself blessed, because I have them to look up to with affection!
The article above was provided by Archbishop Paul Grawng who lives and works in Myanmar (formerly Burma).