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Monday, January 08, 2007

Things I wonder about priests....

This last Sunday, one of the priests at our parish announced that he just recieved notice that he is being moved to another parish. He is a wonderful priest and we will miss him greatly. While I'd gone to him for Confession from time to time, I didn't really get to know him until he took over a particular gathering for the young adults in our area, and found him to be a great ally and supporter. When I began teaching RCIA he took some time to talk to me and provide some direction. And when I taught my first class, which was the impossible topic of "Catholic Social Doctrine", he stopped in just as my talk ended to see how things had gone. And actually, he gave me some encouragement before that class and answered some of my last-minute questions which could not be found in any book. (Or none that I had).

I've come to know him also as a joker and we, the parishioners, often enjoyed the good-natured verbal sparring which took place between him and another of our priests. This, also, will be missed.

I have found that not only does the parish community make the parish feel like "home", but also knowing the priests not just on Sundays, but in other times as well, and recognize in them the people that they are.

We live in a strange culture in which priests on one hand are still very much respected; and on the other hand, they are regarded with complete suspicion and even outright rejection. Father Corapi has discussed the rejection part; God forbid that a priest reach out to hug a child, or be alone with a woman, for fear of accusations. In the past, priests were recognized as "Men of God" and treated with a certain esteem that is lacking in our society. Our culture values money and hedonism over sacrifice; relativism over religion, and the pursuit of money over the pursuit of holiness.

I think it's a miracle when a man becomes a priest in today's world.

Our parish is very large, and has been blessed with several wonderful priests, each with a specific set of gifts, each a true Father. And now we are losing one to a parish that, in all liklihood, desperately needs him.

So this has caused me to ask some questions and ponder some realities of the life of a priest.

First of all, given the current situation, there has been an outpouring of gratification to Father as he is leaving; even witnessing the expression of someone's gratitude brings tears to MY eys! I have no idea how hard it must be for Father to stand up there and not get teary-eyed himself!

Secondly, I am aware that one of the reasons priests are moved after a particular period of time (in our archdiocese it's around 12 years) - it is to prevent a certain "culture" from developing, a "cult of priest", etc. Priests do have to guard, to a certain degree, from becoming too attached, but I have to wonder how do they NOT become attached?

I'll admit that certain customers have really touched me in some ways, and my dealings with them are not nearly as intimate as a priest and parishioner. After all, it is the priest, by the authority of Jesus himself, who brings us His body and blood, who gives us absolution, who knows our secrets, gives us counsel, etc. These are powerful things, and I would think a priest would have to be inhuman not to be moved by the people he shepherds. And of course, this isn't a "job", it's a VOCATION; a specific calling.

Do priests see their parishes as family? Do certain people stand out to them, as they often do to us? Are priests today welcomed into families and do they maintain contact with some people even after they are moved to a different parish?

As much as I'll miss the priest who is leaving our parish, I won't be going out of my way to contact him becaues I recognize that he is moving on and has to give his attentions to a new parish family. Yet, does it mean something to the priest to be visited on occasion, or be contacted by previous parishioners? It is encouraging? Should we make an effort to stay in contact with some of our priests who have gone on to other pastures?

One of the things that I want to do, as a Catholic woman, is to encourage vocations, and part of that, I think, is to encourage our existing priests and recognize them for what they do every day. My life is better for the priests I have known, and were it not for them and their leadership, I'd still be limping along, begging God not to give up on me. (Well, I guess I'm STILL doing that...)

Human beings are designed to form attachments, so breaking those legitimate attachments is always difficult. I would imagine that a priest, during his service at any given parish, tends to form some strong bonds. Is it hard to leave? How do they handle it?

Clearly I look at this from the persepctive of a woman, and women tend to be more emotionally driven, so perhaps my questions just seem odd. But I can't help feeling like I'm losing a member of my family, in a way...my really big, really Catholic, really huge parish family.

So maybe it comes to this; do priests really get attached to their parishes in even a few years, or do they detach enough so that their moving isn't so difficult?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Adoro, you have given me quite a topic which I think I might tackle soon on my blog. But that might take me a while given my recent schedule...so, here are a few of my observations, after a few years of working in a parish office, side by side with one of the most amazing MEN I have ever been graced to know.

Priests are, first and foremost, people too. Some of the questions you raise point back to the basic point (or make me think to myself), "Do priests have feelings too?" Yes, they do. They make friends with parishioners the same way you make friends with certain members of your family, even though you're related to them too. They will stay in touch with brother priests who they are closer to, regardless of the miles, the same way you or I would keep track of a college girlfriend (or whatever analogy speaks to you). They will have their lives touched even as they touch their parishioners' lives.

One of the most amazing things to me, in my time sitting as an "unnamed parish secretary (and now administrator)" (Father's name for me) is how many people do not seem to realize that priests are, at the heart of it, MEN. I find this too when I hear raving criticisms of them. Where you would forgive a man a mistake, sometimes it is harder to forgive a priest. But they are men too. And they have the special protection and patronage of Mary, and they need it!

Priests make friends with parishioners, have quirky hobbies, share joys and wonder of life. They have chosen a vocation - a way of telling God how they love him, a way of expressing their call to holiness - but that does not take away their essential humanity.

OK, so after all that, I don't really think you view your departing priest as an alien.

*stepping off unneccesary soapbox and misspelling a few words for good measure*

I would encourage you to stay in touch with your priest if you feel called to do so. It is not inappropriate. We plan to stay in touch with Padre forever and ever amen. My husband's family still stays in touch with a dear priest (the one who buried all three of the small white caskets), and it was through him that I caught a glimpse of the fact that "priest" is a gift, a man who touches God, who's under the protection of the Mother of God, and who puts his pants on one leg at a time just like all of us (said with NO disrespect, to any priests who may read this!).

Also, priests are moved for a variety of reasons. I think some of it has to do with the parish having to be responsible for the parish and not dependent on a personality or a priest (I'm not saying that well, but I'm losing steam, as have the Buckeyes - SIGH).

Hope some of this clarifies. And if I have rambled inappropriately, please accept a humble and sheepish apology (ha ha, we are in lambing season and BOY is it late!)

Adoro Te Devote said...

Sarah,

Thank you for your insights. Let me assure you, though, that my questions don't pertain to whether or not priests are human; it is their humanity I appreciate!

My meanderings have more to do with how they HANDLE breaking their attachments, how much professional detachment is necessary--I would imagine it would be very difficult.

And I will likely stay in touch with Father to some degree; just not inordinantly.

As far as priests being moved, I think you described well the "cult of priest" I mentioned. That has happened in some areas. In this case, our priest is being moved to go to a parish that has need of a priest, simple as that. He's only been with us for a year and a half.

Since I've become more involved in my parish, I've gotten to know our priests, and so it just seems so hard to see this "family member" move on. *sigh*

But it makes me wonder how they can form bonds to people only to have to break or lessen them as this is not a lifetime assignemtn. I know the priests think moving on is good for them and for the parish, and it makes perfect sense, but this post is getting long and I need to go!

Thanks for your comments; I'm sure others will have more to add.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: You are in my prayers. I know the priest you are talking about and I think I know what he means to you.

You and your parish will be just fine.

I'm with Sarah. I think it is appropriate to stay in touch with him after he's transferred if you feel comfortable doing so.

Adoro Te Devote said...

Aargh! I just posted and then it crashed!

Anyway, Cathy, the priest you met is not the one who is leaving, but that doesnt' matter because I love all of our priests.

Certainly I, and the parish will be fine, that's never been the question.

My post was prompted by the gratitude I saw at Mass last night for Father, and how hard it must be to leave.

Personally, I'm so grateful to the priests who serve our parish, it's hard to see any one of them go. But he's leaving to fill another spot, and that will be such a blessing to whatever parish it is.

Anonymous said...

Being a Priest would be exactly like a caretaker at a nursing home, or for people who work with familys of DD (ahem). They sit and tell youall about how you cannot become attached to the people. How can you not when you have seen them grow and persevere though this horrid society?
Thank you for posting this girl! Priests deserve respect, but in the end, they are human too!

Anonymous said...

Adoro, I think you might compare it to how military families handle being moved, or even other careers where there is moving. Many priests are at parishes for "two terms" (not sure if this is a diocesan thing or an all-over thing - in our diocese it is two 7-year terms, max, with a few exceptions possible if the priest is near retirement age).

Compare the difficulty you are imagining to what a mother must feel as her child leaves home to establish their own home. It is part of the vocation, which doesn't make it easy. You should ask him about it, if you feel comfortable with that. It would make a great posting later. :)

Ma Beck said...

I am so glad my parish priests are non-diocesan and will never be transferred.
I would be really sad without each one of them.
:(

Jean said...

The policy of moving priests around is relatively new, and in fact our diocese was one of the instigators of that practice. The priest who advocated this practice, ironically enough, has had the luxury of staying at his own parish without removal, so apparently what's good for the gander is NOT good for the goose. It's a policy which makes a mockery of the name "Father" -- what kind of father leaves his family after a period of time? It's hard on the priest, hard on the parishioners, and contributes to a breakdown in parish unity, as some people will follow their Father (who they regard as their Father in both spiritual and familial dimensions) to another parish if they can. I know I would follow my priest if he's reassigned.

Adoro Te Devote said...

Jean,

You bring up EXACTLY the reason why it's GOOD for priests to be moved on occasion. Certainly, they are our spiritual Fathers, but if we are following them aroudn from parish to parish, then we are missing the point of the Church's teachings: we are there not to follow a particular priest, but to follow Jesus.

Now, there are definitely some priests who are (ahem) more faithful than (ahem) others (Greeley, McBrien...), but we still must be obedient in our own role as the laity. That means remaining and taking those teachings and relaying them to others.

If the priest has developed a "cult" of followers, then something is off-balance. That's not to say that one can't visit that priest in his new parish. But to permanently change parishes? That's not proper in any way.

The priests at my parish actually feel that it IS a good thing to move...sometimes they need a change, too. Certainly it's hard, but there is a spiritual component that is needed.

And remember...the priest is there to serve God and ALL His people...not just the people of parish X.

Jean said...

Julie,

I think you're painting this too broadly. Of course I am against a "cult" following of an individual priest -- and a good priest would discourage such a thing. (I have seen when it is not discouraged, and it is NOT a good thing.) However, if a particular priest delivers authentic Church teaching that is watered down, dismissed or even contradicted elsewhere, then why not follow that priest if it helps with one's spiritual growth? Nor am I talking about disobedience: it is no longer required that one attend one's local parish. Obviously, if all parishes and priests could be relied upon to pass on Church teaching and not the heresies of the day, we wouldn't be having this discussion. And I am all in favor of priests moving if they believe it would help the parish (or that they had particular gifts that could aid another parish in need of those gifts). But when we call someone "Father", they do become part of our family, and bishops ripping our Fathers away just because X number of years has passed(a new, "enlightened" practice, by the way)is not going to help parish unity. In large parishes such as Epiphany, it might take quite a few years for one priest to get to know his parishioners, and just when he does, why, he might be taken away.
I am concerned with my spiritual growth. Therefore I am naturally going to hope that my priest (who is also my spiritual advisor)who has done so much to help me in that growth will be around for a while. If he is replaced with a heterodox priest who destroys the unity that the parish currently enjoys and decideds to "improve" our excellent liturgy, I have no qualms about moving. Sure, sure, people will tell you to "stick it out" and to fight it, but I have seen nothing but bitterness result from this: you can't fight the heterodoxy existing in the chancery. I figure that the chancery will at least listen to money: my financial support for a good priest and parish is a way of communicating with the chancery that I know they pay attention to. Do you get "Homiletic and Pastoral Review"? There was an excellent article in an issue last year that looked into this question, especially as it pertained to canon law. The upshot of it was that it was a bad policy. I don't know if past issues are available online, but you might want to look it up.
P.S.--I got a horse this spring!

Adoro Te Devote said...

Jean,

Thank you for your clarification. With that information, I don't think we disagree at all.

No, I don't get that particular publication, although it's one on my list.

Are you who I think you are? How are you? You have been in my prayers and I still have your CD's which I've been meaning to send to you.

Jean said...

Julie,

I figured that we really didn't disagree...and as I mentioned, I have seen the very negative situation that you are really addressing, wherein people's attachment to a particular priest gets them into spiritually unhealthy areas (even leading to disobedience to the Church).

If I can find that particular issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, I'll copy the relevant article and send it to you.

You've been in my prayers too -- and you have my apologies for my behavior in the past. Hope the dogs are doing well. Yup, I got an Oldenburg mare this spring -- I'll have to send you some pictures!

Adoro Te Devote said...

Jean,

Yup, we definitely agree.

I also apologize, been wanting to say so for a long time. So let's say we put that behind us and move on (although we clearly have!)

I'd love to see pictures of your horse!

My e-mail is on my profile in case you don't have it anymore...send me photos! Tell me all about her...are you using her for lessons/ eventing, etc?

The dogs are both well, Mr. Couch Potato and Ms. Trouble Maker are both napping quietly.

Yes, send me the article..would love to read it. It's not online by any chance, is it? (I'm guessing not).

God bless!