As St. Bernard once said, we are either a reservoir or a channel, which one are you?
During a conversation earlier in this year I was posed with the question: do I consider myself a reservoir or a channel? I’m going to be very honest, this question confused me until it was explained. This idea of reservoirs and channels representing our spiritual life comes from St. Bernard and is as follows:
The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a drop. But the reservoir is first filled, and then, without emptying itself, pours out its overflow, which is ever renewed, over the fields which it waters. How many there are that are devoted to works, who are never anything but channels, and retain nothing for themselves, but remain dry while trying to pass on life-giving grace to souls! We have many channels in the Church today, but very few reservoirs.
Now that you have the basic understanding of the differences between the two variations, I invite you to stop before going on and reflect on the words of St. Bernard and how they relate to your life.
Now the teetering between a reservoir and channel is one that I have struggled with for many years. When you first receive bountiful graces, you immediately want to run to the mountain tops and share them with the world. It is then though that we must be cautious, for “the channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a drop.” We can be certain that by living the life of a channel, always focusing purely on mission, evangelization, and works, our channel of a heart will soon run dry. We will become frustrated, tired, and our desire to be on mission will soon take a toll on us.
Coming from an engineering background, I visualized each of these choices as what they signified in the world. I spent a lot of time on the reservoir as it is the top shelf choice of the two. From this, my image got quite complicated and confusing when in reality the recipe to become a reservoir is quite simple. It consists of prayer, spiritual formation, and encountering Christ through the Sacraments. This recipe is rooted in the idea of focusing our heart on Jesus always, and letting the fruits of mission and works be the overflow of graces that God grants us. When we focus purely on the fruits of mission and works, our reservoir will run dry. This happens via us putting aside the three key ingredients. First, we may busy our entire days and nights with works to the point where we forget to make time to pray and have quiet, alone time with God. Secondly, we stop challenging our own hearts and allowing them time to grow by no longer reading, listening, or discussing anything of substance that can further our faith journey. Lastly, we forget the importance of receiving the sacraments. This may display itself through choosing works over your normally scheduled mass time or adoration time, which in themselves fill our reservoir so that we may go out and serve.
Fruit Bears Fruit
When I say these things, I don’t say them with utter disregard for the importance of works and mission. They are indeed vital to the Christian life. What I am saying though is that we cannot expect our works or deeds to produce any fruit if we are not first nourished. As we encounter Christ more deeply through prayer, formation, and the sacraments, we are strengthened and encouraged in our mission. Many times for me, my mission or works are often inspired by the time I spend in these three ingredients. When I focused on works, I found myself motivated for about two weeks and then frustrated and stuck after all the water in my channel ran out. A dry hose cannot water a flower, but a hose flowing with water can produce a beautiful rose. Likewise it doesn’t matter what stage of the journey you are at. Whether you have just found your faith or are a full time missionary, there will always be the temptation from the devil to pour ourselves out and not retain any of God’s nourishment for ourselves. This though is when we must take a step back and focus on the key ingredients of prayer, formation, and the sacraments. If you have a desire for mission, I beg you to first focus on the mission of your own heart. From this you can find that call of God’s will that we all desperately chase.