Here, Alison describes a period in his life were he felt absolutely horrible, worthless, useless, and despaired. During this this whole time though, he was still serving as a priest with the Dominicans. He writes this about a surprising aspect:
As a priest I was able, of course, to offer them sacraments and the other gifts of priestly ministry, and I remember even then being struck by how they were able to receive a power and transforming grace from the sacraments, a power and grace which had absolutely nothing to do with my subjectivity, whose eyes were scarcely daring to look at what I was doing. It was if in fact the sign was working quite independently of its minister, who was a sort of Baalam’s ass of ex opere operatio grace.
-James Alison, On Being Liked, p.67
The liturgy and the centrality of the sacraments in worship is a strong glue that can hold together really screwed up people. What a far cry from a setting where the pastor is the center of attention up on the stage. If he doesn’t have all his ducks in a row and bring a smile every day, the magic cannot be worked. If he’s feeling down, his only option is to fake it. And when you’re burned out or having trouble with your (kids, marriage, money, all the usual stuff), you practice getting really good at faking the smile. You are the model for your congregation and they get the message. Fake the smile or it will all fall apart. Our faith is built on the solid rock, but the life of the church community centers around something that is really, really fragile.
This is one of the main reason’s I’m diggin’ on liturgy lately.