Saturday, November 12, 2005

What do we expect of our priests?

I visited Rich Leonardi's blog, Ten Reasons, yesterday and today, and read his post -- and the comments that followed -- concerning plans being made in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to deal with an expected shortfall of priests in the next few years.

I made a few comments there; but some thoughts arose I decided to post here.

A lot of assumptions about dealing with this problem -- and it is real -- should be examined openly. And they basically come down to:

Just what do we expect from a parish priest? What do others expect from him?

Some may think the priest doesn't have that much to do from Sunday to Sunday; because that's all they expect of him, is Sunday Mass.

Some see no reason a priest shouldn't celebrate Mass four, five, six, or more times on a Sunday, "if that's what it takes." A friend says, repeatedly: "that's what you do"--as if that's all there is to it.

Some actually do begrudge a priest having time to himself, time to recreate, as if he's being selfish.

When I was in the seminary, I remember a weekend we had a group of men visiting for a retreat (I'll be vague about the details to protect those involved). It was Friday night, around 9 or 10 PM. I was in the student lounge, watching TV -- yes, I was indeed relaxing.

One of the men in the group came in, sat down nearby. We chatted briefly. An initial comment from him: "it must be nice." The meaning was unmistakable: too much leisure.

And I've encountered that attitude several times, as a priest. The folks who object to me sleeping late on days when I can, don't have any comment about the nights when I'm in the hospital till 4 AM.

And it's not just the duration, but the intensity--some of the things you deal with can be terribly draining: such as having two people, dying, in two different cities, one 30 miles away, one 80, both begging for you to come; meanwhile, you have needs in your own parish to attend to, including a parishioner who is dying.

(This happened to me recently. I ended up having a funeral in my own parish, and one in Cincinnati, several days apart. Meanwhile, the person dying in Dayton seems to have recovered. I spent a good deal of time on the phone, trying to assess. I spent a good deal of time second-guessing, agonizing, and bathing it all in prayer.

Meanwhile, I have any number of needs in the parish that won't go away, while I'm trying to be a priest for these other folks.)

Another aspect I'd cite -- in the way of expectations -- is that sometimes folks don't understand why the priest can't just "drop everything" when they stop by. Sometimes, I do indeed drop everything, either because the need is obvious, or simply because I want to be generous.

But that means some things wait on my desk, unattended to, such as:

* vocations promotions (I have ideas yet to implement)

* server training

* a weekly Bible study I want to start

* organizing my office (I'm still working out of boxes).

* fundraising (our parish has a tight budget)

* long-term planning

* scheduling evenings to meet with extraordinary ministers of holy communion, readers, servers, sacristans, etc., to encourage and thank them, and to provide some further liturgical and theological formation

* thank you letters to any number of folks for any number of kindnesses, either to me, or the parish

I don't paint this picture to complain, or to elicit sympathy; only to give folks, who make assessments of priests "from the outside," an opportunity to consider their priests' situation more from his perspective.

We all hear complaints about priests who say "no" to this or that request. Perhaps some of this gives insight into why they might do that.

I feel a great privilege and am awed to experience Christ acting, mysteriously, through my ministry. I realize such events drive me where I need to be: on my knees in prayer.

But let me share something St. Charles Borromeo said -- it appeared in the Office of Readings last week:

"Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without being forgetful of yourself."

I'm not complaining; I love my priesthood. But do you want to help priests? Try being understanding. Give 'em a break.

12 comments:

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

I only ask two things of priests, and that emcompasses it all:

1. That he do his best.
2. That he remain faithful to, and pass on, the authentic magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church.

I don't know much about how a priest spends his week, but I don't imagine it's not a full week.

TheresaMF said...

I'm always extremely grateful for the dedication of priests to their duties. My parish has a lot of priests (Dominicans), and I'm sure they are busy most of the time. I can't imagine what it would be like for one priest running a parish. Even at my parish I thank the priest who is chaplain for the young adults group for hanging out with us, because I feel it is a great privilege for us to have his company. So thank you for your ministry too, and for having a blog!

Gregaria said...

I second Theresemf! Thank you and God bless!

Tim said...

I expect our priests to be obedient. I can tolerate lazy though most that I know are exteremly hard working. I can tolerate carelessness. I can tolerate a gruff presonality or an aloof one. I can tolerate forgetfulness and even wimphishness.

I expect my children to recieve the sacraments in the order and manner the Church requires and not according to the dissenting preferences of a deviant. I expect priests to offer Mass licitly and ALWAYS validly. There is nothing in the Roman Missal that is difficult for a priest to follow. I expect my Pastor to not allow the writings of public supporters of abortion, same sex marriage and euthanasia to be in the school library, the bookrack or Faith Formation library.

These are not high expectations. I don't have any problem with fewer Sunday Masses. I'll get there. John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI expect priests to offer The Holy Sacrifice daily. Holy Mother Church requires her ordained sons to pray their office daily. I think we can at least expect that.

Tim said...

And one more important thing. I expect our priests to tell us, the laity what the Church expects from us.

joeh said...

Father, I think you may have missed the point. For years this Archbishop has led this area. If his number one job is not to have enough priests who love the church, who teach what the Church proclaims as truth, and who by their numbers serve the needs of his dioceses, then he is a failure of immense proportions and should resign. If a CEO of a company goes out to his customers and says here are new rules because we can no longer bring the product you need, they would lose their customers and their job. Anyone could have foreseen the priest shortage years ago. I think this bishop had an agenda along with many others to undermine the current status of priests. We can see this by his actions or lack of action. We as layity have the responsibility to call him on this to show our love of the Church and the priests who are loyal to that Church.
We also owe it to you and others like you to come up and tell you frequently how much we love you and respect you and your sacrifice for us. When we see you do something well we need to stop right then and tell you how we saw it and apprecitate it. I waited after mass the other day to tell the priest how much I appreciated the way he presented the Eucharist to each person by showing with his actions that he did actually believe that this was the body of our Lord. So many had it out like it was a cracker. I emailed another priest for a column he wrote which I found amazing and helpful to me in my journey of faith. I have been married for over 40 years to a wonderful woman. We are still married and still very much in love because both of us sacrifice and both tell each other when we see the other sacrifice and how much we appreciate it. If you feel the need to write about what your life is like as a priest, maybe you have not heard it enough from those you sacrifice for and that is a crime. I know from reading your blog that you are a good man and a wonderful priest and we are lucky to have you. Two priests have had a major impact on my life. One died young, Father Jim Willig, and the other is no longer in this area, Father James Sullivan. I am happy that I let both of them know how much they meant to me, that I love them, and that they are always in my prayers. We all need to do this and continue to do it more often.

Rich Leonardi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rich Leonardi said...

[Fixed a typo]

Just what do we expect from a parish priest? What do others expect from him?

Honestly? Not much. Not homilies for the ages, not Neuhaus-like charisma, and not boundless, Wojtyla-like energy.

No, I want -- scratch that -- I have a right to a Mass that observes the GIRM and parish catechetical programs grounded in and conducted according to the CCC.

Is that too much to ask?

Yet that is precisely what believing Catholics simply cannot find in all too many parishes in this diocese.

Ray from MN said...

Wow! Some heated expectations here. I trust that those folks are meeting the expectations that the Church places on them in terms of personal, spiritual, financial and physical (contribution of their time) support of their parishes.

Frankly, I'm not always in compliance.

But I appreciate my priests.

Matt said...

Good post, Father.

I can't imagine how busy my pastor is. My parish is pretty large (something like 8,000 families). That means in addition to leading the worship life of that many people, he's also running what is essentially a good-sized company, with all the administrative stuff that goes along with that responsibility. I don't envy all the work, but I'm glad it's being done.

FieldOfBarley said...

God love you, priest of God.

You are John, the beloved disciple -- beloved not only of Jesus, but of His Mother! -- a son of the Son of Man, one who would defy death itself to remain at the foot of the Cross with Him, while all the rest of us hide and conserve and reserve and fear the knock on the door, hypocrites and babies and
whited sepulchers that many of us are.

May God bless and sustain you, and may Mary wrap you, her son, warm in her protective mantle whenever you feel pain, exhaustion, rejection, abandonment or loneliness of any kind.

sexy11 said...
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