“Disappointments are markers on the road of life, saying: Perfect happiness is not here. Though your passions may have been satisfied, you were never truly satisfied, because while your passions can find satisfaction in this world, you cannot. Start with your own insufficiency and begin a search for perfection. Begin with your own emptiness and seek Him who can fill it.”  – Fulton Sheen

It is interesting that a fact check about St. Monica reveals that she is the patron saint of disappointing children. St. Augustine must have caused his dear mother great grief as he went about his life of disobedience, heresy, and debauchery. Yet, as the Church whose head is Christ, is run by human beings, St. Monica may well be the patron saint of us all – us who are disappointing children, and us who disappoint and fall short when it comes to the Community of the Faithful. According to Oxford Dictionary, “disappointment” refers to “Sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations.” In the communities found in the Catholic Church, disappointments are found in multitudinous forms. We are disappointed in the things which could have been better, but in reality are not. We are disappointed by how we are treated and perceived by others. We are disappointed when our hard work seems to be met with ingratitude. We are disappointed when the people whom we hold in great esteem, or expect to be better, fall short of our sky-high expectations.

Luke 24: 13-35 paints us a picture of the deep disappointment felt by Cleopas and his companion. The journey is poignant, muted with shades of uncertainty, shadowed with the grays of confusion, and hued by a profound sadness. The person whom they had believed to be Messiah, had been taken away from them, and had been publicly humiliated and crucified as a lethal and deadly criminal. His followers had scattered, afraid of the inevitable and ensuing persecution. A shroud as thick as the fog that surrounded their heads, and covered them with a death-pall of  discouragement and hopelessness. They had imagined an idealised and romanticised version of the Messiah, and now that the fantasy had been taken away from them, they were at a lost in grappling with the mind-body-embodiment disconnect. A large part of our relationship with the community of the faithful, is marked by discontentment, and disappointment, especially so when we make comparisons between the actual state of things and the idealised notion of what Church is supposed to be in our minds. In actuality, this speaks more about ourselves rather than the Church.

When I started working with Catholic organisations and eventually in this current capacity with the Catholic Church, there were certain hopeful notions I harboured about how things were supposed to function. As I became immersed more and more into the work, it became clear that some prior expectations I had, had to be adjusted, or even completely removed. For one, the people, the regular parishioners often were not as nice as my mind made them to be. Some were downright rude and obnoxious, to the point of calling or texting Church workers and volunteers at hourly intervals between 12am and 6am to venomously blackmouth and smear the reputations of priests and pastoral workers. When engaged on the phone, began hurling vulgarities and abuses at the church workers and volunteers. However the affronts by the parishioners were bearable. It was understandable that given how hurt and wounded they were themselves, they may find church workers and volunteers easy scapegoats for any underlying anger and psychological issues. There is a need to remember that in working within and with a community, we who are imperfect and have our own woundedness, are dealing and working with imperfect others who may be working through their own difficult situation or hurts.

There is a lesson to be learnt from the Emmaus situation. The disciples were so caught up with the problem, that they failed to recognise Jesus even as he appeared alongside with them, conversing with them, and unpacking the things that had happened. The disciples were so caught up with themselves that they could not see the solution that was right in front of them. In community, a lot of discord comes when the ego is magnified and people place their own egos as priority. Disappointment comes as Pope Francis says, in the “orbiting [around] your own ego, the disappointments of the past, the unfulfilled ideals, and so many bad things that happened in one’s life.” (Catholic News Agency) There is a need to move beyond the self, into the “reality of God”. Yet, this began to change as the disciples started to immerse themselves more and more deeply with Jesus rather than themselves. Their dispositions, hearts and eyes were healed as they began to focus on Jesus and his words, so that when Jesus eventually broke the bread at table with them, their eyes were opened and they recognised the Lord. The journey in community may be filled with challenges, but the solution is always found in the focusing on Jesus.

A large part of the disappointment is self-generated. For example, a person in a ministry may find himself or herself, bearing the brunt, in gamer’s parlance, the “hard carry” of the game – this person always turns up, adheres to deadlines, does for the most part, the most work, the cleaning up of the mess, and shoulders the sheer bulk of the work or the project, and essentially carries the rest of his or her team members through.  This person often parallels the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal Son. In the person’s mind, he or she may have done the most work, but he or she does not see the reality that all the other members of the team are equally pulling their hours to make the ministry or the community work. In so doing, the person becomes disappointed with the rest of his or her team. Such disgruntled-ness, actually speak more about the reality of the person’s self-righteousness, and self-centredness. Prayer and blessing form the large part of the arsenal when it comes to the disappointments of the game when the team members are appearing to be not so much doing their part.  What needs to be changed is our own disposition to the encounter of disappointment. We can choose to be frustrated by it, or we can choose to respond to the “hard carry” situation with a positive outlook. For willing servants have done exceedingly over and above expectations when they acted in accordance to the will of God.  For example, Samson, working under the hand of the Lord, and only because he was working under obedience to God, singlehandedly took out a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15).

There are many times, when we may see the existent problems, but sometimes forget that we ourselves, through our reluctance to find active solutions, or in a failure to see the good in others and in the community, become very much, a part of the problem. For example, our own mindsets may prevent us from aligning our vision with the leaders of the ministry or community. There must be true self-reflexivity in finding ways of removing the log from our own eyes and contributing to the solution rather than the problem. Perhaps, I am contributing to the problem and the escalating disappointment – by not listening actively, by not being willing to learn from what others can teach, by thinking that I am always right, by not serving in the communities and ministries that need dire help and your expertise, by not giving and contributing. Perhaps, I am the disappointment to others.  The frustrations that come, tend to come from the absence of an expected outcome. Nonetheless, we can turn this devastation around, by finding God in that experience. It is also about the letting go of the need to take control over the situation and the outcome and surrendering it completely to God. In doing so, we allow God to turn the disappointment into a blessing. As Psalm 22: 5 -6 says, “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” A way to combat disappointment is to trust that the Lord has a greater plan far beyond our imagining. When we actively work to become part of the solution, rather than the problem, we too influence others around us to want to make a difference, and the community eventually starts to grow in unity.

Sometimes, the disappointments in community, come when we witness the actions and the behaviours of the leaders, which may be incongruous to the values that leaders are meant to uphold. A leader may be for example finding ways to test the boundaries of obedience, to circumvent the safety regulations by going left, when by right, certain things are meant to be done in a certain way, or may themselves practise unfairness – such as not censuring a group which violates certain regulations, while being overtly harsh with another group that does the same thing. These leaders may also be the same ones who are guilty of taking advantage of their employees, by not giving them compensation for the days that they work overtime, or on their rest days, yet expecting their employees to work 14-hour shifts for a pay that is paltry and can barely pay the bills. During these times, we must find the common ground with our leaders and strive to unite even more with them through measures of accountability, and gentle exhortations. As 1 Thessalonians 5: 12 -13 states, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are labouring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” A concerted effort needs to be taken to pray for the leaders and to thank God for them. This is not to say that we overlook their errors and indiscretions, but in lifting up the issues to the Lord, we ask for his wisdom and discernment so as to teach, admonish, and remind each other of accountability, in the right time as the Lord determines. A way to overcome the disappointments found in leadership is to make greater effort to unite with them. This will in turn lead them to humility and boost their efforts to do the right thing for the Church.

When we make the decision to join a community, it may be revealed to us many things which are not going right, however, the onus is on us, to find the things and to celebrate the things which are right. The restless energy we feel when we see the things that are not going so well in community can then in turn be used to make more disciples, or to carry out the works of charity. That way when we focus on the more important things of Kingdom Building, we would have less time to focus on the faults of others. Beyond the fixating of ourselves on the problems on hand, is the simple yet difficult solution to immerse ourselves in the reality that God is the authority, and is sovereign. As Proverbs 3: 5-6 declare, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” If the Lord God has placed us in a particular community, He will make that community work out for us.

By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan






Catholic News Agency. Hannah Brockhaus. “Pope: The ‘greatest reality’ is God’s love, not past disappointments” 26 April 2020