Pray for priests

A tip of the biretta  o{]:¬\  to The Deacon’s Bench for the following from Clerical Whispers.

The emphases are mine.

Saturday, March 08, 2008 Sotto Voce…Ó Mo Chroí

My dear friends, it is not for me to write here in too much of a capacity if ever at all, but in recent times here, many comments have been sent whereby you have often wondered how I spend my time.

I am also aware that there is constant focus on the lack of clergy going through the seminary and being ordained.

In the last few days, I have done some deep thinking and reflecting on my life and my vocation which I always do when life is being somewhat more difficult than usual.

Since last weekend, I have had to officiate at the funerals of 2 family members and in between all of that, I have had to try and comfort their families which is in essence my own family but in their eyes, you are a priest…not a brother, son, nephew etc…

And this is why I sometimes find it so difficult because when one becomes ordained, a bond of family is lessened as the priest now stands to serve all and favour none. This can involve making sacrifices such as not being available at Christmas or Easter, missing on a birthday and other such family events.

Despite becoming the religious / spiritual father to so many, we are never meant to become paternal fathers which lessens our ability to engage with families in the community or to understand the intricate workings of family life.

I personally believe that over the last 9 years of my priesthood, I have never so strongly felt the sense of loneliness and aloneness of the last few days and yes I have indeed questioned my vocation…

It can be very challenging to be on one’s own and reflect on life and the role we are asked to consider playing in it with sometimes more serious issues being raised and needing to be addressed.

Sometimes, as a human being which is what I am first and foremost, I think of the bodies of those who I have anointed as they are taken from terrible tragic scenes – newlyborns, young people, midlife and the elderly – bringing to the fore my own sense of being a human being who will also need anointing by someone also wearing the collar.

Lest I forget, I am in a position / vocation which has that special dimension to it which calls me to be a Christian / Catholic in the service of God and the community at all times. This can be quite daunting and this week was no less but certainly moreso as I was conscious that I had to be stronger for everyone else this week but when I reached my own abode, I was weary from it all and needed to be consoled myself.

On a very personal level, when I go through the front door of the house, I sense the lack of another person in the house, in my life and in my arms. My vow of celibacy asks me to refrain from being emotionally involved (and indeed sexually involved) which is not easy by any means, and certainly I can understand why some of my colleagues would seek solace in the end of a bottle.

This week, I found myself in the arms of those friends who care a lot for me, and indeed I care as much in return. I would certainly wish that I could be with their company on a more constant basis, but distance prevents this from being a reality. We hugged as they came in my door, sat down for dinner and talked, then went to the local pub for a few drinks and walked home. When we got there, we sat down for a drink or two before another hug and adjourned to our separate beds.

As I got to bed, I went on my knees and offered up a prayer through my tears to God – a prayer of thanks – for bringing people such as these into my life and making me feel so human again. It was the first night in a long time that I can say I slept soundly.

I wish that I could have people like that in my life everyday and I know many would say well be it so but go and become a different religion or leave the priesthood, and I would have agreed perhaps before but I have no right to turn my back on God and leave after having received His call, and as for changing faith, it resolves nothing.

Many will no doubt say that when I was being ordained, I should have known what I was letting myself in for, and I cannot deny that, but it would be a reason why I would say to anyone out there who is considering becoming a priest, reflect carefully and honestly.

I know that I did, and I do not regret my life one bit, but I cannot forget that I am only human as well, and indeed I would ask you all to look at your local priest and remind yourself that he is human also - even with that special gift from God.

I ask you all to pray for me and indeed my colleagues as we endure such times in our lives, as we pray for you when you endure yours.

 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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15 Responses to Pray for priests

  1. Dear Brother in Christ,

    Christ is in our midst!

    I hear your pain and lonliness. After 30 years it does get more bearable. Place yourself daily in the arms of Christ and His holy Mother. let them be your constant source of joy, especially as your celebrate the daily Mass. Be assured of my love and prayers for you.

  2. David says:

    One word: Wow. I’ve never thought of it like that. God forgive me for every uncharitable thought I’ve ever thought about a man in a collar.

    Thank you Father.

  3. Father Z,

    Thank you for posting this article. It is a good reminder that loneliness and a sense of isolation from others can define so much of our experience at times, whether clerical or lay, celibate or married.

    While it would be easy for some to say that the issue is one of mandatory celibacy, I think that is far too simplistic. (I say this as one who favors a married priesthood.) I believe it has much to do with how the laity have been taught to view the ordo of presbyter. Without denying any of the sacramental reality of priestly ministry in this ordo, the notion of “eldership” places the priest-presbyter squarely in the context of the parish community. Ideally, this individual, IMHO, should have their vocation fostered and formed in the context of a specific parish community, where they should remain for the majority of their ministry. The notion that a priest should be a rotating dispenser of sacraments, easily moved from parish to parish like a cog in a diocesan wheel seems to fly in the face of his local identity as spiritual father…and i believe it can contribute to his own sense of isolation and loneliness. To get the full effect of this, envision if you will fathers in the natural order operating in a simliar way. Who would not view such a family system as dysfunctional?!? Fatherhood, whether natural or spiritual, is fundamentally relational. There should be an organic connection between priest and assembly, which is more than simply an “assignment”. (The exception to this rule would perhaps be missionary situations, or circumstances where there is a dire need and no priest is there serving.)

    Ultimately the bishop is the spiritual father to both his priests and their congregations. It seems to me that a key role of his ministry is to foster a sense of fraternity among his spiritual sons as presbyters so that this grace of spiritual filiation flows into their ministry within the parish communities. Many bishops now seem to eschew this understanding of their ministry, and the result are “latch-key” priests who function in large part as employees of diocesan administrators. We need to return to a much more organic, familial model of priestly ministry. In so doing, the grace of fatherhood and filiation cultivates new vocations to the prebyterate and diaconate, all at the service of Christ and the royal priesthood of the faithful.

    Just my two cents…

    Prayers of gratitude for all who serve as spiritual fathers.

    In ICXC,

    Gordo

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I am curious to hear from priests who were married before becoming priests and who are now celibate (widowers, for example). I wonder if they can remember feeling lonely at times when they were married and I wonder if the two kinds of loneliness are the same or different.

    I suspect that loneliness is loneliness. It does not matter much if it arises out of living alone or simply feeling alone because of other difficult circumstances. Married people and parents feel terribly lonely at times.

    I think that the celibate is tempted to jump to the conclusion that his lonliness is caused by his living circumstances. But in reality it is caused by Adam. It is not the byproduct of a mistaken choice of vocation. It is, rather, a suffering common to all humans, like hunger and fatigue and illness and fear, which hurts the most keenly at the most difficult times of our lives. Like all such sufferings, it is a mystery and, as a mystery, can only be offered up with blind trust. We can’t “fix’ it. We can’t make it stop hurting. We can only endure and become stronger and humbler amd more compassionate for it. And ask God to make something beautiful out of it.

    I am a consecrated celibate, living private vows. The difficulties, like anyone’s difficulties, are made a little sweeter by a sense of proportion: this life is soooooooooo short and the next life is sooooooooo long. When we see Him face-to-face every one of us in every vocation will be so glad that we persevered, so that we can say “I didn’t give up on You, Lord, because You didn’t give up on me.”

  5. RBrown says:

    This very serious letter is unfortunately not surprising.

    For years US diocesan priests have been drowned in community oriented formation. Community this, community that. There was almost no formation preparing seminarians to live the alone. Then they get into the apostolate, there’s no community, and loneliness sets in.

    Now this priest has to learn to deal with something that should have been dealt with during his years in seminary.

    I also wonder about the yearly diocesan retreats for priests, which are always preached–and sometimes very well. Perhaps it might be better for them to spend a week at a monastery. Perhaps it would be good for this priest to spend a week at Clear Creek, with only silence, Gregorian chant, and solitary walks with the Rosary.

  6. RBrown says:

    Also: Does anyone remember some weeks ago that Fr Z printed a letter (or article) by a priest who spoke of the loneliness he experienced saying mass ad orientem for the first time?

  7. Christopher says:

    I want to call into the light a potentially dangerous misunderstanding and cognitively loaded phrase. It’s assertion by a priest and lack of attention by other celibates calls my thoughts on the matter into question, but for now I will stick to my guns.

    “refrain from being emotionally involved.” This seems that it ought not be the case. I realize that a celibate must “refrain from being romantically involved with anyone else but God Himself.” But that is not what this phrase reads, and lest one be misled, perhaps it is worth discussing for a moment.

    While celibacy demands a physical virginity/chastity/abstention from physical-sexual activity, it does not demand the abstention from emotional or even romantic involvement. It actually demands the opposite, but the only object of a celibate’s romantic involvement is God. The celibates emotional involvement must be with God, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the saints on earth of the church militant, and the whole world. To be emotionally detached from all persons seems to have a spiritually and psychologically unhealthy bent. This is only proper and we who strive to be or are celibate must heed the writings of Blessed Innocent XI (v. quietism in Coelestis Pastor)and not fall into spiritual freeze.

    As I wrote, I think that the author was trying to get at refraining from romantic involvement with another human as a “significant other” is a necessary element of celibacy, which is a very true statement. But, we ought to choose words carefully, especially when we come to grieve and lament or doubt, as the evil one may use these imperfect statements to become flawed thoughts which nestle in our minds and poison that which must be renewed.

    If celibacy is the betrothal and marriage to Christ in this life as it will be in the Kingdom- properly lived, then we cannot say that it lacks any emotional involvement. Our souls must sing praise and love as the Bride of the Canticle of Canticles, and yet must, at times, furiously wrestle as did Israel (both the man and his nation) until a blessing is given. What more to marriage should we consider? Children? For, too, spiritual celibacy breeds children that are even unknown to the one who has sown the seed, or cultivated them. “This is so, but how, I know not- God knows.”

    May God bless you.
    Holy Mary protect you.
    In ICXC,
    -Christopher

  8. Melody says:

    That was just my thought Christopher. I know a few priests who seem determined to maintain an air of “professionalism” that seems very depressing. The happiest priests are those who interact with the community. The priest is not some kind of administrator, he a “father” to the parish community, ergo, the relationship should be something like a family. A good father is respected and obeyed by his children, but the relationship is not a cold or distant one.

    So, while it’s sad that the author lives a distance from his family, I question why he doesn’t have any friends and neighbors he could call up for a chat when he arrived home, as I frequently do when lonely. Were there no messages on the answering machine wishing him well? No messages inviting him over for lunch or dinner next week? I should wonder why…

    As a side note: Christopher, are you that same fellow of Catholic Holy Knights on myspace?

  9. Former Altar Boy says:

    Just another reminder why we should always be praying for our priests.

    Also, (I got this from a priest friend) if you know a priest who lives alone, call him as soon as you get home from Midnight Mass because they have left their families to serve the Church but still have all the memories and warm feelings of being with family for Christmases past, so call and let them know they are remembered and appreciated.

  10. Matt says:

    As a former seminarian, I can relate to the gulf that can erupt with friends and family when one becomes a priest. That was the one real spiritual suffering I was not ready for; i.e. a sudden ams-length distance between you and friends and family who are either over-awed or freaked-out by your decision. It is quite an amazing experience really. Some of it is no doubt sharing in Christ’s loneliness while on this earth, but people need to love their priest and not put him on an impossibly high pedestal.

    I really think that priests should have the option of living in community with other priests, yes even diocesan priests. Having priests alone in an empty rectory is not a good recipe for morale.

  11. Matt,

    I think that is an excellent idea.

    One community in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been created just for that purpose. it is called “Companions of Christ”.

    Here is their website:

    http://www.companionsofchrist.org/

    “The Companions of Christ is a fraternity of diocesan priests and seminarians of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. While serving as priests of the Archdiocese the Companions of Christ live in community, where they are able to pray together, share meals, and support each other. In their life and ministry as priests, the Companions of Christ offer three emphases:

    Diocesan priestly consescration expressed through the observance of the evangelical counsels

    Commitment to fraternal life

    Dedication to the “new evangelization” including ministries of catechesis, spiritual renewal and the fostering of vocations.”

    The traditional practice in the East is that the priest is never alone or isolated. He either lives in a monastic community or in a married state. I think the notion of the Companions offers a viable alternative for the Latin West. It also builds upon the fraternity into which priests are ordained and signified in part by the laying on of hands by their brethren at their ordination.

    Remember, Jesus sent out the 72 in pairs. No priest should have to go it alone!

    In ICXC,

    Gordo

  12. Christopher says:

    Melody, yes I am. I could not help but laugh aloud at the unexpectedness of this digital meeting! And still, the passers-by of the computer consoles, here at the University, I think could not help but laugh at the unexpectedness of my outburst.

    Gordo, and excellent and all to often ignored point. It seems to be the situation that too many Roman priests find “solitary” life to be “just part of the job.” But it never is, nor has been; it is never “just part of the job.” As one might say to a priest that there is an unhealthy view of his celibacy to say that it is only part of a job, I think that a hermit would say the same of such a view of solitary! It is a vocation and a grace, not a mere job description.

    May God bless you.
    Holy Mary protect you.
    In ICXC,
    -Christopher

  13. Diane says:

    As I prepare for consecrated life – alone (I won’t go into details at this time), I have had to ponder many of the same things a priest or seminarian may, such as coming home to no one in particular.

    My most heartfelt prayers are with Father and may the Blessed Mother hold him close.

    Through a serious health threat while lying in the hospital, I realized, only by the grace of God this lesson:

    Seek comfort in Him and in Him alone.

    I have had to live with an understanding that as I go through life, I will have to fall back on that many times. At the root of it is a deep prayer life and through the practice of detachment and mortification – something which I fear has been absent in much seminary training because it is absent in most of our parishes (along with frequent confession which aids us in this regard).

    Consider that even married couples must learn to seek total comfort in the Lord. Man and woman cannot fully give comfort to each other unless it is rooted in Christ. When he is the center of that comfort, they can withstand all that He sends them, including the loss of the other.

    My Carmelite studies have led me to realize that things such as loneliness and sadness are tests and trials. I believe it is a form of temptation – one that can potentially lure us into seeking answers in the world. But resolution is not in the world.

    Look at Psalm 42 in the Extraordinary Form: Iudica me, Deus….

    The psalmist must bear patiently with the deception around him. So subtle is that deception that St. Augustine calls our attention to the parable of the wheat and tares (Mt 13:24-30) in his Exposition on the psalm (labeled 43). Tares look in appearance like wheat and the seeds were planted quietly during the night while the laborers slept leaving it undiscovered until there was significant growth. Jesus admonishes them to not be impatient, and urges them to leave the weeds until the harvest lest they pull up some of the wheat with it.

    Psalm 42, in part, is about long-suffering and patience. What could take greater forebearance than to withstand the perceived absence of God at the time when one needs Him the most?

    In the same exposition, St. Augustine says further…

    “Why go I mourning, while the enemy harasses me?” Thou complainest of the enemy. It is true he does harass you; but it was you who “gave place” (Ephesians 4:27) to him. And even now there is a course open to you; choose the course of prudence; admit your King, shut the tyrant out.”

    What matters is not that the psalmist experiences sadness and the pains of perceived abandonment, but what he does with it. Does he give up, or despair? The great writers on the interior life have led us to an understanding that in order to build holiness we may experience such abandonment and even loneliness. It is a test to see if we will remain steadfast even in the absence of comforting consolations.

    Does the psalmist give up or fall into despair? This becomes known in the next line where he acknowledges God’s light and truth. This is where he seeks his comfort amidst his affliction – not with feelings of consolations, but trust in God – the God of his youth, when he first knew those consolations. Only now he knows not by feeling, but by past experience, that God his strength will aid him in prevailing against these deceptions.

    I pray that seminaries will cease being indifferent and even hostile to the works of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese and other great mystics who have been treated as the other proverbial “nutty aunt in the closet”.

    Pray for priests!

  14. jason scott says:

    when i first read this i thought you wrote it–i felt very sad for you so i prayed for you about this. i even asked others to pray for you concerning this—so you did get extra prayers—now i just read your post again —it is about someone else–i should have read your post more carefully.