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.