Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fears of The Priesthood pt.3

This third installment on the "FEARS OF THE PRIESTHOOD" based on an observation in Fr. Brett Brannen's book, To Save A Thousand Souls:

A man in this stage is assessing specific fears now: the fear of celibacy, the fear of not being a holy priest, the fear of loneliness, and the fear of preaching in front of people. (p 153)

The fear of celibacy was covered here.

The fear of not being a holy priest was covered here.

Now we move on to-


Before we go further, I invite you to relax, put a log on the fire, sit back in that leather chair and listen to the Reverend Al Green. Chill, my brutha...

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about the tiredness that can come with being lonely.

Actually, the loneliness that comes from the priesthood isn't the loneliness that one has when he doesn't have a woman in his life. It's not that sense of incompleteness that only the love of a woman can provide (which is one heck of a sentence. I can write romances!). This loneliness is not the same as not having a family or friends.

This loneliness is even more particular. It's the loneliness that is best described as ALIENATION. And it will happen and should happen in the priesthood. I'm gonna deal this out without water or ice. Cut the lime and pour the salt, it's coming to ya straight.

AS A PRIEST YOUR LIFESTYLE WILL BE OUT OF SYNCH WITH EVERYONE ELSE: Let's say that you become a priest at the ordinary age (around 25 or 26). You come out of the seminary and start work at your first parish as an associate. You are probably under the guidance of a pastor who gets to tell you what to do. Your days will probably be spent with people who are your mom's age or more likely, your Nana's age. You go to church every day. You have to care about if a candle is burning or not. You visit hospitals and nursing homes. You dress up like Moses and give a small presentation to the 3rd graders on the 10 Commandments. You buy your first car and sweat how you're going to pay for it. People come to you sporadically to set up baptisms and confessions.
Now we get to the dark side:

Your friends may be marrying and discussing weddings. They may be struggling with the early years of marital life. They are buying their first homes and welcoming babies into their homes. Some of your buddies are working their way up in their companies. They are concerned about their neighborhood. They join the country club or tennis club. A bunch of them get together for beers after work downtown. They cookout on Sundays.

And you have nothing at all in common with any of that.
Yes, you are different and cannot truly UNDERSTAND what they are going through. And they can't understand what you're going through either. As much as you can't fathom why it's a big deal when Courtney demands Austin go to her family for Thanksgiving, they can't understand why it's a big deal when someone doesn't have their baptismal certificate updated as they turn in their work for Confirmation.
Your peers won't be able to sympathize much with you. It will be lonely that way.
The suggestion is that you find a priest who can be spiritual director to help you through at least the first few years. That may be hard to do, however. 
I couldn't do that when I was a young pup priests so I joined a priest support group. It was awesome. Seriously. Good stuff. A group of guys who understood how it felt when the pastor told people his associate was not to do Baptisms without me knowing. That stuff is real, y'all. 

YOU TAKE SOMETHING SERIOUSLY THAT FEW OTHERS TAKES SERIOUSLY: I remember talking to a group of priests about my concern for people who aren't practicing their faith and one said, "You take your religion too seriously!" I was thinking...celibate...obedient. WHAT IS NOT SERIOUS ABOUT THAT??? 
For some, religion is in the realm of an enthusiasm or hobby than a way of life. Some love Catholicism for the historical value. Some like the ritual. Some like it because it does nice things for poor people. Some just like the feast days or Ash Wednesday. But when it comes to the deep, deep full-on, raging Catholic stuff, you are alone as a priest. Some people want a stringent moral code to be enforced but aren't concerned about attending Mass on Sunday. Some folks want good liturgy but hate the social teaching of the Church.
You? You gotta LOVE IT ALL. Not like "LOVE LOVE" but you have to be that guy who stands for what the Church teaches. And when you do. You will be left alone. Often. Even by clergy. And Bishops. It's the way we roll.

MOVING SUCKS: Our diocese has become almost the opposite of a Diocese. It's more like a big mission field and thus, clergy are not asked to be pastors as much as missionaries. Sounds romantic right? The open road. The huddled masses looking forward to hearing the Dei Verbum. 
The wandering stranger. The only thing that's kinda priestly is the cool shades. I got cool shades.
The mystique of being a weary traveler on the path of life. Well, that's kinda a sucky romance and it's not that way anyway so...umm..shut up.
With the constant moving of priests, the lack of giving a priest roots in a community and the diminishing role of pastors while the LEMS (Lay Ecclesial Ministers, pronounced "lehm", or so I hear) are the guides for parishes, it is a lonely existence for a priest. We aren't able to make friends or contacts because we won't be there for them long. We don't invest in communities because we are just passing through. The older we get, the less likely are we to want to meet others, and vice versa. 
This is one of the hardest obstacles and isn't really a historical Diocesan issue. It is now. And it takes leadership to change it. Brave leaders who are willing to make tough alienating choices for the Gospel and Church.

I won't get into some of the badness that we priests can get into because of loneliness. I don't have the bandwidth. 

But here are some things that can help:
1. Pray. Really pray. Don't make up prayers. Pray. 
2. Talk to other priests often. Daily. Even if it's to moan and cry about stuff, do it. Don't believe the hype when someone says, "Complaining does no good." I LOVE IT! I make up funny stuff when I complain!
3. Don't make other people victims of your loneliness. Don't use families or people to fill your void. That's like psychopathic, man. 
4. Expect it. Then when it shows up, you can welcome loneliness as part of your trial in life. Because...well....

Jesus did it.