Thursday, July 02, 2009

Response to Modest Suggestion


Father Doyle's description is very factual. His typical day is much like most priests in the USA, i.e., very busy. He also shows what most of us seek to be, faithful sons of the church who adapt our lives to accommodate the pastoral needs of our people. We try to help as many of our parishioners as possible and we try to balance the spiritual and the managerial responsibilities of being pastor. What I am concerned about, however, is the growing acceptability of the so-called inevitability that this current model of parish priesthood is etched in stone. Squeezing ten minutes of quality prayer is not adequate or sufficient.

Father Doyle's heart is indeed in the right place. His love for the Church and for his people is evident and most laudable. God bless him. What I fear, though, is that many of my colleagues, newly ordained to veteran pastors, are caught in the same trap. Protestant Ministers must balance their pastoral duties with their familial obligations, and they do it. They must take care of their wives and children and take care of their parishioners as well.  In order to do that, they must take care of themselves, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Catholic priests are no different in that we MUST take care of ourselves in order to be capable of taking care of our own people.

Priesthood is more than ordained ministry, however. Ministry is service and certainly, the priesthood is about serving God, His Church and His people. And priesthood is about sacrifice and as Fr. Doyle shows, many priests are willing and committed to doing everything they can for their people not matter how inconvenient or difficult it may be. Like loving husbands and fathers, good priests will get up in the middle of the night to anoint someone; will give up part or all of their day off for a parishioner in a crisis; will rearrange their hectic schedule to accommodate someone in desperate need; etc.

Priesthood is about service and sacrifice but also about SANCTITY. We absolutely need to cultivate and pursue a vigorous spiritual life for ourselves BEFORE we can ever hope to adequately help our people. Vatican II spoke of the universal call to holiness and that applies to priests as much as to the monks; to laity and to religious; to deacons as well as bishops.

America has divinized FUNCTIONALISM. As long as I am DOING priestly things, then I must be a good priest. While we know that good priests are not lazy priests; that good priests are indeed BUSY priests, at the same time, we must acknowledge that our people NEED "HOLY" priests. Holiness comes not from DOING but from BEING. Pelagius was condemned by St. Augustine for thinking that human effort alone can save you. Divine grace is what is necessary, not a plate that is too full.

I realize that my colleagues are motivated out of self-sacrificing love for the Church and for their parishioners. I applaud and commend them for that. But as the president of a national association of priests, I have also seen the down side. Too many good priests get burned out. Too many become disillusioned or disenchanted. Some sadly end up disappointed and turn to inappropriate distractions and a few even embrace self-destructive behavior (alcohol abuse, drugs, sex) Some just wind up being cranky and bitter to their people and to the poor priests who live or work with them.

While Fr. Doyle is absolutely right that we do not live in the same era as did Saint John Vianney, nevertheless, the same grace which made him a saint is available to all of us today. While we admire and are awestruck by the sheer number of confessions the Cure of Ars heard in his lifetime, it was not their multitude which enabled him to become a saint. His holiness was not produced from the work he did, rather, his holiness empowered him to do what he did. It was his spiritual life that made him a saint because it was based, rooted and originated in a personal search for sanctity.

John Vianney was no monk, so he did not practice a monastic spirituality. He was a parish priest. But the key word here is PRIEST. As a priest, he saw the necessity for him to cultivate a spiritual life for himself so he could in turn help his parishioners do the same. The Sacraments are sources of grace but are not ends in themselves. They are the means to an end. The Sacraments provide the needed graces so we can achieve the mission God has sent us to accomplish, namely, that we become holy.

The only way someone can perform the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy is through the power of God's grace. Habitual, Sanctifying grace precedes actual grace. Therefore, in this YEAR FOR PRIESTS, it is vital and urgent that all priests, but especially parish priests (young and old alike) realize that we ourselves must take care of our own spiritual needs while we take care of the spiritual needs of our people.

If a priest does not take care of his physical health, he would not be able nor be around long enough to take care of his parishioners adequately. Similarly, if he neglects or cheats his spiritual health, he is not only hurting himself but his people in the long run. They need him to be at his best so he can give and do his best.

ONGOING SPIRITUAL, THEOLOGICAL and PASTORAL FORMATION is not a luxury nor an option for today's clergy. Vatican II, the Code of Canon Law and the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests MANDATE ongoing formation of the clergy. We priests MUST find and make time to pray each day. The obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours is not the totality of our spiritual need, however. Praying the Office is a treasure but it is complemented by other forms and types of prayer.

One of the objectives of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy is the fostering of ongoing spiritual, theological and pastoral formation in a fraternal setting. Besides finding time to unwind and relax (which is guaranteed by church law) through a weekly day off and annual vacation, every priest MUST make an annual retreat. The diocese usually helps by making them available or at least in disclosing where one can go. But retreats are not enough anymore than the Breviary is enough.

Regular confession is good for everyone but even more so for us priests. Yet, most confessions are heard on Saturday afternoons. So, how does the parish priest go to confession when he himself must be in the confessional hearing his own parishioners confessions? DAYS or even AFTERNOONS OF RECOLLECTION help.  The CCC local chapter meetings encourage a monthly gathering of local clergy to spend 2 to 3 hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament with time allotted for individual confession in addition to praying the Office in common, celebrating Exposition and Benediction, and listening to a spiritual conference. It is only a commitment of two or three hours most once a month. If a priest needs to have a cavity filled, does he not make time to go to the dentist? If his car needs to have its oil changed, tires rotated and vehicle inspected, does he not make time to get it done? Then why do so many priests find it impossible to make time for their spiritual needs? In the seminary, monthly spiritual direction was obligatory. Post-ordination, it is not optional, however. Like making regular visits to the doctor, monthly or at least quarterly direction is crucial for the priest. Annual workshops, conferences, and convocations help keep the priest theologically up to date and on his toes just as every good physician seeks to do as well.

I am not saying that every priest must join the CCC or that the CCC is the only or is even the best way to fulfull our ongoing formation, but it is one valid means to do it. However it is done, it needs to be pursued. A priest's spiritual health is not sustained by his parish duties, rather, he is able to perform his duties so well if he has first taken care of his own needs. Priestly fraternity also means we help each other so that no priest feels he is alone or that he must take care of himself alone. This is why associations of the clergy are highly recommended. Pooling our resources and helping one another should be the goal of every priestly organization.

For some, it may require a paradigm shift from functionalism to ontologicalism. BEING a priest comes before DOING priestly things.  Agere sequitur esse, we learned in seminary. Cultivating a healthy and robust spiritual, physical and emotional life will enable all priests to be able to best serve our people and for a sustained period as well.

Relegating some of our managerial tasks to our brother deacons is one other significant help when possible. Since many of our permanent deacons have full time jobs in the secular workforce, they know a posteriori what it means to budget time and money, to balance resources and expenses. Some administrative duties can be shared or delegated to a parochial vicar or better yet, the parish deacon. Networking with the local parishes in one's deanery is another. Sharing costs might mean hiring a full time custodian with benefits for two parishes whereas one parish could not do it alone.

Bottom line is that no priest and no parish need feel it must survive by itself. Every priest must take care of his own spiritual, intellectual and pastoral needs BEFORE he can help his people take care of theirs. If we fraternally help each other as brother priests, then our people will be best served all the way around.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Father George Rutler on Saint John Vianney and the Year for Priests


by Fr. George W. Rutler
June 28, 2009

On Friday, June 19, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated a special “Year of Priests” with a special ceremony in Saint Peter’s Basilica, during which he venerated relics of Saint John Marie Vianney, which had been brought from the French village of Ars where the saint had been parish priest in the nineteenth century. The Pope declared that Vianney, who has been patron saint of parish priests, will from now on be patron of all priests, whatever their particular priestly work may be.

     The Pope chose to begin the Year of Priests, which will include the 150th anniversary of Vianney’s death on August 4, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart represents Christ’s merciful love for the world, as Vianney’s own heart, which is one of the preserved relics, represents the saint’s love for his parishioners. He once said that “the priesthood is the love for the Heart of Jesus.” Pope Benedict XVI echoed those words, saying that “the gift of our priesthood originated directly from that Heart.” He said that he wants the Year to be a chance for priests to grow in intimacy with the Divine Love and become “in today’s world, messengers of hope, reconciliation, and peace.”

     Not long after I became pastor here, I placed a statue of Saint John Vianney, the “Holy CurĂ© d’Ars,” in our church. Many were unfamiliar with this saint. Around the same time I also restored the altar cross and candles which I found tarnished in the basement (one individual expressed surprise, being under the impression that Vatican II had abolished this arrangement). I am gratified now that the Pope has brought Vianney to wider attention, just as he has called for the restoration of altar crosses and lights as we have them here, to emphasize the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. Since we erected the statue of the CurĂ© d’Ars, our parish has been remarkably blessed with priestly vocations.

     The Gospel (Mark 8:24) records a severe storm on the Sea of Galilee during which Our Lord seemed to be asleep in the stern of the boat, his head on a cushion. Pope Benedict has provided this Year of Priests because the world is storm-tossed: politically, economically, morally, and spiritually. Some have thought that God is paying no attention. The fact is that when he seems to be sleeping he is preparing to calm the storm as Jesus did when he rebuked the wind. Along with that is the other fact that many Christians have indeed been asleep and now must be awakened. The Pope is calling on priests to do that, but not before they commit themselves anew to the saving power of Christ who has called them to show people the road to Heaven, as Saint John Vianney promised to do when he arrived in that little village of Ars in 1818, and which he did do in an amazing way.

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