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