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My last post has caused me to think a lot about the lessons I learned from Fr. C. I think there are several which deserve to be explored on a deeper level. First, I will tackle obedience and dedication.

Diocesan priests make a promise of obedience to the bishop of the diocese in which they are incardinated and all his successors. While some dioceses appoint pastors to parishes for specific periods of time, my diocese does not do so. A priest can stay in a parish for decades or months. After sixteen years as pastor of my parish, Fr. C. was “asked” by the bishop to move to another parish. While the term “asked” is used, it is not really an optional move.

After 16 years as pastor of the parish and nearly 10 years before that as curate of the same parish, Fr. C. had grown deep roots in the parish. He had been there for so long it was hard to imagine the parish without him. I watched how emotionally crushed the transfer left him. Many parishioners and some of his fellow priests encouraged him to petition the bishop to allow him to stay, and others suggested that he simply refuse the transfer. He steadfastly refused both suggestions. He said that he had made a promise to obey his bishop and he trusted that the bishop knew what he was doing even if he didn’t like it or agree with it. This type of blind obedience to the will of the Church was something which was foreign to me. I had been taught to question and fight and accept nothing which I didn’t understand or approve.

This does not mean that this type of obedience was easy. There were many sorrowful days filled with tears for everyone involved. I will never forget his final Mass as pastor of the parish. He stood in the doorway of the sacristy and couldn’t step into the sanctuary. Mass started 5 minutes late because he knew he was going to have to leave at the end. After Communion, Fr. C. sat in the presiders chair and just wept and we wept along with him. Our spiritual father was leaving us and although a new pastor was coming, we felt like orphans. Still, Fr. C. made it clear to us that he believed the Holy Spirit was guiding the bishop.

I didn’t learn the significance of that until I was much older and was reading Pope Benedict’s memoirs “Milestones”. There he writes about a professor who struggled with the doctrine of the Assumption. Others asked him what he would do when the Pope declared the Assumption as an infallable doctrine and he stated that he would accept that he didn’t know everything and the Pope knew better. So simple!

It was at that time when I realized that was the example I had been shown. We don’t need to always understand or even agree with everything about the Faith. Sometimes simply accepting that “the Church says so” is enough. With time, study, and prayer we may come to understand all these things.

With time, Fr. C. came to love his new parish and my parish came to love their new pastor. However, I did notice that during  the years when I worked with Fr. C. in the new parish he did not serve with the zeal he had once had. Some attributed it to his increasing age, others to his failing health, but I saw a spark which had been snuffed out. The deaths of two of his sisters and the sudden death of his priest brother occured in the months just after the transfer. He endured a  great deal of trauma in one year, but he still placed his new parish family first. If there was ever a time when he needed to place his own needs first this was the time. Thankfully, after much convincing, and an extended hospital stay due to congestive heart failure, he decided he needed to take some time and care for himself. When he returned he was in better health: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In time the spark returned and the joy of service became visible once again.

One danger of dedication to one’s vocation is ignoring personal needs. I know some priests who have not taken a real day off in years. A priest told me the other day that he has never had a weekend away from his parish in 15 years because he cannot get a priest to celebrate the Masses. On the other hand, I know some priests who farm out their duties to retired priests and to the laity. One priest I know celebrates one Mass a week during the week and has retired priest who come to celebrate the rest.

I do not think that either is an acceptable option. No matter your vocation, you are no good to anyone if you are burned out or overworked. One person cannot care for another properly if his own needs are so great they are overwhelming him. In the end the care will be less than it should be and/or the caregiver will collapse.

Remember, Jesus obeyed His Father’s will, but He also took time away to rest and deal with his thoughts and struggles.

Parishioners: Remember that your priests are humans with human needs and frailties. It can be easy to think of them as robots or alien species who are supposed to answer immediately, solve our every need, and always be perfect. Before you rush to judgement or attribute your anger or hurt to the entire Church when your priest isn’t everything you think he should be, remember the great responsibility he bears in his human body.  People make mistakes, they have bad days. How would you like to have your actions taken to represent the character of all Catholics? Your priest will most likely not (and he should not) tell you the personal struggles he is enduring, but he will still help you through yours. Love your priests, support your priests, pray for your priests and let them know you are doing so. Remember, they can’t come to you when they are hurting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help. One kind word or sign of appreciation can go a long way.


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