I just feel like thinking out loud today.
The break is over the students are back and slowly but surely life returns to its normal rhythm. Office hours and chores during the day, Mop (Ministry of Presence) at night. I think every priest these days has to ponder a very important question. How should I spend my time? What does God need from me today? How can I give my life to Him and His people in the most effective way.
There was a time when Father did pretty much everything. I remember going to register at St. Gabriel's with my family and Fr. Frank P appeared in his t-shirt covered with dirt and explained. I was glazing the cellar windows. Physical labor sweeping, cleaning up, are good things and have value. I think they should be a part of every person's life and priests are no exception but, is that what God wants from me needs from me?
I believe that a priest has to be a part of the lives of the people he serves. Relationship is all about presence, being present to people, being a part of their lives. I think a lot of us (priests) struggle with that these days. I think the people of God struggle to figure out what they can realistically expect from their priests. Some hold on to the "Father does everything" model. We are fewer in number and our median age is creeping up what are realistic expectations the people should appropriately have of their priests and what should priests expect from themselves.
So often I feel that there is not enough of me to go around. I fear that it is next to impossible to go beyond a superficial relationship with the people of God. It is so tricky because all of us need relationships and presence but sometimes when friendships develop someone invariably gets hurt because you chose this person or that family instead of that person or this family. Often people invite us to things and while their intentions are absolutely pure and it is great to be invited, if you respond to all the invitations its easy to simply collapse at the end of the day or worse yet grow resentful. Our students are forever inviting me to games and recitals and concerts, and shows, and pizza parties, RA programs and after all of these years I still haven't figured out which ones to choose which ones to avoid. I often feel guilty about not being able or maybe not even wanting to attend many of these events. How should I spend my time ?
One of the simplest things to figure out is that a priest should, must, pray with his people, it is part of our mission to lead them in prayer. The place where we affect the most people is at Mass or adoration or at devotions. A priest definitely has to take adequate time to prepare for those moments. I think that this preparation goes beyond the moments spent in "homily prep" More about that in a moment.
In these 24 hours a day a priest also has to be able to relax to do things which he finds life giving, yes some of us are so blessed by God's divine providence that we find our ministries life giving, but there still has to be moments of "re-creation" moments of exercise, healthy moments with others. Burnout can lead to resentful burdened men. A burnt out priest is not good for God's people and being burnt out is not good for him.
In addition to manual labor, and relationship or presence, and preparing to lead the people of God in prayer and worship. I have finally come to believe the obvious, a priest has to devote time to personal prayer, and spiritual growth, a deepening of his relationship with God for whom he strives to pour out his life. Every moment spent in prayer and mediation, reflection and spiritual reading, are moments shared with God and one of the most important gifts we can share with God's people.
You see I discovered way to late in my priesthood that our homilies and reflections shared with the people of God can't be just the fruit of a couple of minutes, or hours of preparation but they must flow from a life lived in relationship with God. How can we speak of Him if we don't know Him? I have heard this in conferences and "priest talks" for years and years and years but it is only in the last few years that I have understood it and I still struggle to give my relationship with God the time and effort it deserves. Growing in holiness is definitely one of the most beautiful gifts a priest can give God or the Church.
Please be patient with us... we haven't quite figured everything out yet
Please Pray for Priests.