I have a friend who, for 35 years, successfully resisted all attempts to promote her to a management position in her company. She loves her work, but she did not relish the idea of supervising other people. A couple of years ago, her boss finally convinced her to move up the ladder. And last week, for the first time in her life, she had to fire an employee—an employee she had hired.
Who should discern?
There are some lessons in my friend’s story for discerning the readiness of catechumens for the Rite of Election. The first lesson is, who is qualified to discern?
My friend did not want to be a manager because she did not think she had the gift for it. What is actually true is, she is a very gifted manager. She did not want the responsibility of management. She did not want to be the person who decided who gets hired, who gets a raise, who gets put on probation, and who gets fired. That dynamic happens in many catechumenate teams. We often avoid any formal discernment process with the catechumens because none of us wants to be the decision maker. It’s much easier to have a kind of default catechumenate. Everyone who shows up gets baptized (or received into full Communion) just by virtue of coming to a minimum number of catechetical sessions.
If that’s true with your team, it’s time to promote someone. Discernment is not the sole responsibility of a single person. When my friend had to fire her employee, she did not make the decision alone. But she did make the decision. And she delivered the bad news. Someone on your team needs to make the final decision and be the lead person in a formal discernment process with the catechumen.
What kind of person should you promote to this position? The reason my friend got promoted is, she’s a natural leader. Even before she was a manager, she was a voice that everyone in her company listened to. People listen to her because she is an expert at her job and knows more about it than most people who work there. She also has a deep passion for the success of others. She invests a lot of time and energy in helping colleagues and customers accomplish their goals. Is there someone like that on your team?
My friend is not a lone ranger. Before she fired her employee, she consulted some of the employee’s coworkers about the quality of the work being done. She consulted with customers about their satisfaction. She examined the employee’s work records and reports. She went over everything with her own boss and asked for guidance. So even though my friend was the one who did the hiring and firing, it was a “team” effort. The person you select as a discernment minister must be very good at collaboration.
My friend is also a deeply spiritual person. Spiritual depth is not a requirement for her work, but her faith does make her a better manager. She prays about every important decision she has to make, and she has faith that, even when she has to fire someone, she is acting in that person’s best interest. A discernment leader on your team must be a person of prayer.
Firing your catechumens
Secular management and spiritual discernment are not the same thing, obviously. You’re never going to fire a catechumen. But you may have to delay a catechumen’s next step into becoming one of the elect. In some cases, that decision and the resulting conversation can be as stressful as firing an employee. Just as my friend resisted becoming a manager so she wouldn’t have to make the tough calls, we sometimes let catechumens slide by so we won’t have to make the tough call either. As my friend’s boss pointed out to her, however, the question is not what’s best for you. The question is what’s best for everyone.
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