Wherein Fr. Z gives advice to new and to young priests

Congratulations, reverend and dear gentlemen and welcome to the priesthood.  We older guys are all for you, except when we are against you.  That’s going to happen, now and then.  If you are straight and you are faithful, some guys of a certain range of age will hate you.  That’s okay.

I’ve been pecking away at this for weeks, so don’t draw conclusions if we’ve recently met.  One of the reasons I post this today, is because of a piece at Crisis by a new priest who talks about the problems of seminary discernment, homosexual seminarians, possible deception of self and of others, etc.  At the end he uses a deft reference to, I believe, Tolkien.

In any event, as I said above, we older guys are all for you.  We want to support seminarians, as well.

On that note, here are a few pointers, in no particular order, but gathered over the decades from other priests and from experience.

Pointers.

  • Do NOT ramble in the confessional and don’t let penitents ramble either.  If they are rambling, intervene.  If you are rambling… well… don’t start.  Do NOT ramble.
  • On your way to the confessional, do NOT look around at people!  Do not look at them standing in line.  Do not greet them.   Keep your eyes down, on the floor in front of you.  Do NOT look at them.  People should be able to be anonymous.   (For lay people reading this: if you spot in a priest in the confessional line, for the love of God, don’t shout, “Hi Father!”)
  • If you don’t know Latin, learn Latin.  Yes, it’s going to require work.  Ordination doesn’t mean “Stop learning”.  Quite the opposite.  Now, more than ever!
  • Avoid “cute hair”.
  • Be careful whom you hire who might have access to your rectory.  If someone (usually a woman) is really eager to “lend a hand”, think not twice, not three times, but ten times before considering about that person seriously.  There are some people out there who are just dying to pry into Father’s life.  And they invariably gossip.
  • Don’t accept a parish, etc., until a thorough audit has been completed.
  • When you are saying Mass or fulfilling a liturgical role, stand up straight!   Don’t hunch over as if you are so moved that you can’t bear the burden of your own reality.   Stand up straight!
  • And on that point, when you are giving blessings, such as after ordination, stand up straight!   You don’t have to loom to make it meaningful.   Don’t hunch over people, and grab their heads as if you are about to extract their brain for an experiment.   Just gently place your hands on their heads and say the blessing.
  • And on that point, if you shouldn’t ramble in the confessional and in the pulpit, don’t ramble when giving blessings!   I think you guys are great and I am really happy for you, but – my my – some of you do go on and on and on: “Through the intercession of …. with the hope of…. because we are all made in God’s image…. because the weather is great and there is a strong chance of showers in the evening as a low pressure front moves in….”.   For pity’s sake, say this:   “Benedictio Dei omnipotentis, Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super te (vos) et maneat semper. … May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain forever.  Amen.”  Be brief, be gone.
  • If you are going to use cuff-links, use good cuff-links.
  • Always carry a stole and O.I. and memorize the form.
  • Consider getting a portable altar from St. Joseph’s Apprentice.
  • Have a couple of “go bags”.  Have one for “priestcraft” which in the case of a disaster you can grab and go and get to work.  Have another one for getting out safely because of fire, storm, quake, attack, whatever.  And have one in your car, a “get home” bag.  If you know doctors (and you will) get some courses of anti-biotics and maybe a couple epipens for your kits.  A small caliber rifle could be useful.  Yes, get a CCW license.  And don’t get me started about training.  You do have time for this.
  • Memorize something everyday, even if is short.  Use index cards.  A good approach is to recite it 5 times, 5 times a day.  Or 7 if you need more!  Your memory is like a muscle and you can get good at memorization.  Once it is in your head, it’s yours.
  • Learn basic sewing and not so basic cooking.
  • Use the official translation of the form of absolution.  Change it, and I might just have to hunt you down.  Better yet, use Latin.
  • If you listen to podcasts, youtube interviews or audio books, use the 1.25x or 1.5x speed setting, especially if the material is of a more ephemeral nature. I use a combination of Total Recorder and an audio capturing/extracting program.  Free up your day.
  • Immediately after having a difficult or tense or important meeting or conversation touching on administration or complaints or whatever, write a memo to yourself and file it away.  Even if you have to use voice note apps on your phone, make a record and write it down later.  You might need it.  Scriptum manet.
  • In a group of priests who have been around awhile, listen a lot.  Now that I am getting on a bit, I am triply, quadrupley, quintupley, grateful for the times, years ago at the table in the rectory, with those much older priests when I could just soak it in through listening.   I received lore… “priestcraft” in a good sense of the word… a healthy clerical culture was being passed along and absorbed by osmosis.
  • Try to have a good, formal meal with priests, perhaps Saturday evenings: steak and cab works.  Vent, catch up and laugh.
  • While you are learning Latin, study for your amateur radio license.  We may need it soon.
  • On that point, and on the point of memorization, memorize a couple of Mass formularies.  We really should know the Ordinary by heart, right?  If you have a formulary memorized, you’ll be able to say Mass even in the gulag they are going to put us in.  Perhaps a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin and another?
  • Ask old priests for their stories about priests who were old when they were young.
  • If you haven’t already, start now: start learning the traditional Roman Rite.  Do yourselves a favor and super-charge yourself.  Nay, rather, complete yourself.  And see the point about Latin, above.  No, really.
  • My old pastor, Msgr. Schuler, used to say, partly sardonically but mostly seriously that we shouldn’t write our names in our breviaries.  Why?  Were we to lose one, someone could claim that it was found in a “house of assignation”.   Old terminology, but the message is clear.  You have a reputation.  It is precious.  It is also incredibly vulnerable and fragile these days, when a false accusation, even someone looking cross-eyed at you could harm your reputation once and for all.  Be careful.  Think about where you are going, what you are doing.  Keep a diary or make a digital or paper trail of your day to prove you have been someplace or haven’t been to another.  Sorry to have to offer this, but these are the times we are living in, and God chose us for this time, not some other time.
  • Never let anyone – like Susan From The Parish Council and her friends – bully you into thinking that liturgy, or keeping a tidy sacristy, or having fine vestments is somehow a lesser part of what priests ought do or is, somehow not Jesusy-enough.  Don’t let them accuse you of not being “pastoral” (95% of the time mispronounced) because you are careful about worship.  Don’t listen to Judas.  Do priest stuff and be interested in these things because they are for us and, therefore, through us for everyone.
  • On that note, the word is “PAStoral” with the accent on the first syllable.  It’s not “pasTOral”.  Even less is it “pasTOreeal”, in four syllables.  Moreover, it’s “ad orientem” not “-tum”.  See the point about Latin, above.
  • Also, and this is something that I heard at the St. Paul Center conference for priests, recently, and I am still sorting it out.  “Take care of the parish of your soul.”  Not that we have multiple personalities in there… or most of us don’t at least.  But, we have to take care of ourselves.  It’s a work of mercy because we are not easily renewable resources.  Physically, too.  And some of us have wide parish boundaries, as it were!

I may add to this list of unsolicited advice from time to time.

I’ll switch on the Moderation Queue.  Perhaps other priests have more to say.  If it’s good, I’ll post it!

UPDATE:

A priest wrote:

Thanks FatherZ on this blog post! I am a young priest myself and this blog post is really, really helpful. Well, my being ‘young’ sometimes put off some parishioners…One elderly even approached me and bluntly told me that I should expect from them any sign of reverence because I am much younger than them…well, this shall pass… [Always stand up straight.  Put your chin up.  Do not be intimidated.  Weave into your preaching the meaning of the chrism on your hands, the mark upon your soul and the office that comes with it.]

Maybe it will be also helpful if you can add up some advice regarding Confession, that we may avoid ‘ramblings’.  [Preach about the basics of confession.  Many lay people today have never been taught how to make a good confession!  Just as children need structure, so do penitents.  Teach them the structure of confession: sins in kind and number, act of contrition that includes attrition and contrition, a method – such as by the Decalogue.  You can insert this into your sermons and it’ll only take a couple minutes.  Do it again and again.]

God bless!

NB: Moderation queue… ON… and I am selective,  PRIESTS first.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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9 Responses to Wherein Fr. Z gives advice to new and to young priests

  1. Michael says:

    Father, may I ask yours (and any other priest’s advice) on the following?

    *What about newly ordained priests who are assigned to parishes with little to no priestly fraternity in the rectory? (Examples – 1) There is a huge age difference between the pastor and retired priest vs. the 20 something newly ordained priest, roughly 40-50 years older 2) Difference in cultures/customs 3) The pastor does not check on the new priest nor meets with him regularly – and thus, he resorts to being alone at times, especially in the evenings)

    [Tough one. Everything I hear these days tells me that younger priests really don’t want to be stuck out there as Alpha Wolves without a pack. They want some community. They want the company of other priests. Stay in touch with other young guys. This is also one reason why I suggested getting a ham radio license! Think about it. And, it’s a hobby. We need some hobbies.]

    *What about the many…..many so-called “parish committee’s” that are run by and taken care of by a multitude of laypeople (mainly women, some men, who have power and are buddy-buddy with the pastor) with the new parochial vicar as the “moderator” (which means he has no authority, but just sits there and gives his two cents) in discussions?

    [Again, I know what you mean. This is also hard. You are, as an assistant, in someone else’s demense and, as you are finding out, you have the right to Christian burial and that’s about it. Come to think of it, they wouldn’t even let you be buried according to your wishes. You have to get busy with some of the projects I mention, do your work and bide your time. These days, with the shortage of priests, you won’t be there long. Smile. Don’t give in. Don’t scratch eyeballs, but don’t crack.]

    *What to do about the multiple lay people who have personal keys to the rectory (who come in and out when they please) and housemaids who come into your room to clean – but then go through your boxes, clothes, etc?

    [Change the locks on your door. If the old man goes after you do so only in writing.]

    *Of course, the famous “this is how we do it here” mentality which automatically puts a wall in front of the new priest’s desire to make things more reverent in the overall Liturgical prayer of both the parish and people? Upon my recommendation that we do not have so many flowers on the high altar, and that the Extraordinary Ministers should not receive the Precious Blood (they keep saying “wine” over and over again) a woman in a certain committee told me “No, at this Church, this is what we do. As Mass the Eucharistic ministers (yawn….) receive both the host and the WINE (yikes….)” and “Don’t touch my flowers, or I will meet you in the parking lot!”

    [If it comes to serious liturgical abuse or profanation of the Blessed Sacrament, don’t budge. And, again, make sure everything is written down. And, remember, if you give an inch, Susan and the Gang will take until you don’t even have a place to sit.]

    *Lastly, the horrible situation when one finds the Blessed Sacrament on the floor (happened once so far and I immediately consumed, purified the spot properly, and offered a prayer of reparation), in the woman’s bathroom (sacristan said that women have reported this at least TWICE), and even in the trash (one of the servers said this, although he wasn’t sure it was consecrated or not, nevertheless he treated it as such). Should the newly ordained, from the pulpit or even at the announcements, say that “Communion in the hand” will no longer be given out of safety/security of the Blessed Sacrament (following Red. Sac. 92)? Upon talking to the pastor, and he does not agree with this, what to do?

    [If that is the case, remember, everything has to be in writing so you have a case, write to the bishop and then to the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome, perhaps with a copy to the CDF, which handles major delicts. Also, start preaching about the Eucharist, without mentioning the abuses right away.]

    As a newly ordained priest, and having been at my parish assignment for four weeks now, this has been my unfortunate experience so far. As newly ordained priests, and parochial vicars, we do not have power, nor the final say. For some, myself included, it is becoming more difficult.
    I thank you in advance for your advice and prayers.

    [I get it. I was once in a parish where the old man, a chain-smoking queen who started drinking at 4:30 was so abusive and insulting to me that I almost punched him. He even once screamed at me in the sacristy in front of lay people for hearing confessions too long. I get it. These are our trials and our tests of love and purification. Consider Christ, mute before his tormentors. Keep tearing that page off the calendar. It’ll be your turn soon enough and then you’ll have assistants who gripe about you. So, learn how NOT to be a priest from these guys. It’s like going through Hell Week in the PT First Phase of UDT/BUDS – of the enemy – and then continuing with Phase Two – dive training.]

  2. FrAnt says:

    Thank you Father! I have been a priest for 22 years I wish someone would have said even 10 of those things to me. I arrived at my assignment, given a tour of the buildings and the parish boundaries and told that I was on duty the next day. The next day arrived and all of the other three priests took off, I was left alone. I was to watch over a parish of 5000 families when I didn’t know what switch turned on the bathroom light or the fan.

  3. dbonneville says:

    Two things:

    1) The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, at School, and at Play Paperback, by Harry Lorayne. This book is amazing. US HERE – UK HERE

    2) PASStorul, not PASSEDoral.

  4. Gab says:

    Reason # 567,894 to pray, pray and do penance for our Priests.

  5. Fr_Andrew says:

    One of the best pieces of advice I recall being given about the confessional as a young priest asking how to give advice and encouragement to the faithful in the confessional to an old priest :

    “Father, I’m never sure how much to say in the confessional, or what to tell people. I feel like I ramble on too much. What are the faithful looking for in the confessional?”

    “Absolution, Father.”

  6. A “young priest” writes:

    I am a young priest and I was interested that you included doing an audit before accepting a parish. Could you say more about this? I have never heard before that this was a possibility.

    Think about it. Who knows what sort of financial brilliance or malfeasance has been perpetrated in a place until there is an audit. Do you want to walk in blind? I know priests who, for years after arriving, kept finding accounts here and there. Don’t put yourself at risk. Let there be clarity before you take the reins.

    And if this isn’t the policy of the diocese, it ought to be. Change of command = audit.

  7. Pcito says:

    Here’s an expansion on something I wrote to one of my newly ordained Vicar several years ago:

    – There was a pious book out a while back, “To Save a Thousand Souls.” Lovely book, I’m sure, but unfortunate title. You do not save souls. Jesus does. Sometimes, he will put you in the right time and place to do something beautiful for a soul. Sometimes, he won’t. You’re a trumpet through whom the air blows, not the trumpet player. Don’t adopt the fundamentalist attitude, “I’ve got to go out there and save souls!” Instead, “I’ve got to go out there and find Christ among the needy, and minister to his needs.” (Mt 25) Let him take care of the rest.

    – Likewise, you are not a superhero. Don’t try to be Super Priest. I’ve met a few who were that way from birth, and they’re amazing. Most of us are not born that way, and I have watched some get burnt out trying to live up to impossible expectations of themselves. The Lord chose YOU, not some idealized Cabbage Patch priest. Let him magnify the good things in you (why he called you), and diminish your character flaws over time (He must increase, I must decrease). In other words, HE will make you a Saint, not you.

    – Familiarity with people. My seminary rector once said to us, “Go where you’re invited, but don’t stay.” You are “holy”, best understood as “set apart”. Just as the Christian is in the world, but not of the world, the priest is among the people, but not of the people. Practically, this means you don’t “hang out” or “let your hair down” among parishioners. You should do that with fellow priests (usually).

    – On the other hand, you will make life-long friends, but the best ones will be those who relate to you as a person, not as a priest. In other words, some will want to become your friend because they love you as a person. They will be life-long friends. Others will want to be your friend because you’re a priest and/or want to be in your “inner circle”. They will be your friends as long as you live up to their expectations and/or as long as you are useful to them and they get some prestige, power, position from the relationship. They will be fickle and the most likely to turn on you.

    – Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments. People will expect you to be like Father-I-knew-growing-up or Father-our-last-wonderful-pastor. Don’t try to live up to people’s unrealistic expectations, and likewise don’t hold people to yours. This applies equally to what you expect from your pastor.

    – An old priest was once asked by a seminarian how he made it 50 years in the priesthood. The old priest responded, “I ate well.” Take care of yourself. Form good habits, early. Good habits in all aspects of your life: eat, sleep, work, prayer, rest, recreation. Balance is good. Have a hobby, but don’t be a “hobby priest”.

    – Max out your retirement contributions and planning NOW. If you die with your boots on, you’ll be able to leave a great legacy to your favorite cause. If you do actually get to retire, you’ll have some freedom and still get to leave the rest to your favorite cause.

    – Don’t be passive aggressive: “Happy Easter! See you at Christmas!” You are preaching to the Choir every week: the people in the pews are there because they want to hear the Gospel. Give it to them and don’t spend your time criticizing the people who aren’t there. In other words, when preaching, start with the assumption that the people in the pews believe the Gospel. They just want to be fed.

    – Be kind, be kind, be kind. I put it this way: love first, ask questions later. The contrary temptation is: judge first, start lecturing. That’s not how it works. Jesus looked at the rich young man, and loved him. He saw the crowds, and had compassion on them. He saw the woman caught in adultery, and forgave her. Then he taught them. Go and do likewise.

    – As a young Vicar with little authority and power, learn to say “I prefer”. If you come across an abuse, do not immediately label it as such and point out why it is wrong or why your way is better. The person involved may not know better, and if they feel attacked, will get defensive and resentful towards you. When they say “this is the way we do it here”, just say with a smile “I prefer to do it this way” and perhaps over time you can explain why (once they know you love them). And sometimes, it may actually be a matter of preference (i.e. within the rubrics). As we used to say in seminary, “if they’ve got one toe in the baptismal font, they’re in the Church.” Yes, there may be a hundred better ways, but only a delicate and kind approach will result in real change (helping people dive deep into the baptismal font). And once you’re a pastor, let your Vicars have their preferences where allowed (within the rubrics, of course).

    – Your pastor may actually know more than you do. He may actually be wiser. Listen to him, learn from him. 90% of pastoring is wisdom, which I define as “experience reflected on”. You don’t have the experience to reflect on yet. Listen to someone who does. Better yet, share with him your experiences and he may give you good insight.

    – Choose your battles. Some hills are not worth dying on. The Serenity Prayer is not just for alcoholics.

    – Piety is wonderful and all, but it can and will be used against you.

    – People will use piety against you to get you to do extraordinary but unnecessary things. They will wear you out (remember, you’re not Super Priest). Learn to say no when appropriate. E.g. “Padre, Our Lady of Timbuktu says we’re supposed to say 15 decades of the rosary in the parish in front of the Blessed Sacrament every Saturday morning before sunrise! Can you come and open the church for us?” If you’ve got a full Saturday, it’s perfectly OK to choose a healthy night’s sleep over piety.

    – The hierarchy will use your piety to manipulate you under the guise of pious obedience. Remember that you have canonical rights and if you are asked to do something that canon law gives you the right to refuse, don’t be afraid to stand up for your canonical rights. This is especially true once you become a pastor.

    – Women. Meet them only in your office. Have a window installed in your office door if there is not one. Meet only during office hours when your secretary is nearby. Period.

    – Some women. You are not a substitute for a bad husband. Women will be attracted to you because you are everything their husband is not (you listen, you empathize, you show compassion). When they first discover that, they may want to speak to you more often, frequently at odd hours. And if you start to feel “gosh, she calls all the time telling me how wonderful I am… I must be really helping her” … DANGER WILL ROBINSON. Draw a line and don’t let it be crossed. When they try to push it, what works for me is, “I’d be happy to give you spiritual direction. How about we meet once a month in my office, on a Monday morning during office hours?” This applies in general to troubled and lonely women. YOU are not the solution to their problems, Jesus is. ‘Nuff said.

    – If the confessional is a room, there should also be a window in the door. [Ahhhh… the deadly “reconciliation room” aka “lawsuit room”. Just say “no”. Move heaven and earth for old fashioned confessionals, with a fixed grate and a curtain on YOUR side that the penitent cannot move.]

    – Alcohol. Never drink alone. Ever. Better yet, just don’t drink. But if you do, then if at a parish social gathering, have one drink. One. Nurse it for two hours if you have to. If with fellow priests, well, pretty much the same. One. Alcohol is not your friend, and if you ever start to ponder whether you may have a problem, you do.

    – Oh, and one funny thing a seminary professor told us about preparing couples for marriage that I have found to be true: they lie, they lie, they lie. But no biggie – you’re there to give them the tools for a successful marriage. You can’t make them use those tools. One thing I have observed is this: if a couple is living chastely before marriage, they will volunteer that fact, and you can have a great conversation about how to keep it that way. If they do not volunteer it, I just state simply (without judgment), “I assume you’re sleeping together.” Once they get over the initial shock, they will nod, and then I can do my NFP pitch and why chastity before marriage works.

    Padrecito

  8. fishonthehill says:

    A lot of good advice here for the newly ordained.
    My first assignment was the dream assignment, besides myself, two older guys who gave lots of advice on what to do and not to do. Second assignment, somewhat a disaster. After 6 years I was suddenly told… oh black vestments…we don’t do that here. Private mass on a side Altar…we don’t do that here, ablutions of vessels at the altar, we don’t do that here. Biretta, we don’t do that here. Cassock…pffft! My head was spinning! Pick your battles.
    I wish I can carry my oils all the time, but my car has been broken into at least 5 or 6 times and the oils do freeze in the winter… so a go bag is great advice.
    Now 18years under my belt and a Pastor, I have had 2 (good) newly ordained and I always supported them, but keep them busy!
    Its interesting, I am probably more traditional in my approach than previous pastors at my parish (in fact I am), yet anyone involved in the liturgy (organist or deacons) know exactly what to expect from me… no innovation simply doing the red and saying or chanting the black.

    As for Michael’s comment about fraternity… my newly ordained is practically my age but he seeks out fraternity with classmates as do I. Sometimes that’s just the way things are. I have a certain night of the week that has become a regular night to socialize with priest friends and I stick to it. Its been a great source of support throughout the years, especially as assignments change and responsibilities increase.
    My advice… enjoy being a curate for as long as you can.
    It’s lonely at the top! Fulfilling? Yes! But my closest lay friends were all established before I was made Pastor.

  9. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr Z. et.al.:

    Great list. A good priest told me that he makes it a practice not to go to lunch with a woman alone. [I don’t think that going to lunch in public is a big deal.]

    I also agree with Fraternity. Father Capodanno”s biography by Father Mode mentioned that when Fr Vincent was a Missionary priest, he would meet when he could with another priest where they would hear each others confessions and share a meal.

    Here’s two things that I hope are helpful:

    Confession. Some good priests communicate that confession is different from spiritual direction. Lines for confession may be long, so the penitent should do the examination of conscience beforehand. I have even seen handouts and cue cards asking the penitent that confession should be brief. [That could be a good idea, especially in a place where confession has, as a regular sacrament, been neglected.]

    Spanish. I live in Texas, and knowing some Spanish is a help. Some dioceses now require some working knowledge prior to ordination (I believe it’s mandatory in the Archdiocese of San Antonio) while other dioceses highly recommend it. [I wonder what their position is on can. 249.] Spanish will also help with the Latin, since there is the overlap, and I notice the times I have attended a TLM that certain prayers and responses are similar. [I think that’s backwards, but… great!]