Every newly or recently ordained priest often thinks that he is ordained to save the Church and makes her better. Many think they know better than those who are older in the rank because they think that they are more orthodox and faithful than their older brethren who are “the products of their time.” Yet, many come into ministry as little saviors without recognizing their humanity and humbly accepting their limitations. They often glow brightly with zeal but do not take the time to rekindle their spirits to make sure they have enough oil for the long run. Of course, we are ontologically changed because of our priestly ordination, and there is much grace there, but our humanity never goes away. We are still broken, weak, and limited. And unless we recognize this reality, we set ourselves for failure and imminent burnout.
As a matter of fact, as priests, our humanity should humble and remind us of our radical dependency on God, as well as our need for transparency and vulnerability. We cannot do this alone! We have to be honest and vulnerable to those who are around us, especially in being transparent when we are struggling or hurting. Guess what? We do not have to have our acts together just to be in persona Christi capitis! He did not choose us because we are perfect, but because we are simply His ministers in our very own weaknesses. Therefore, we can only be who we are in all humility and genuineness instead of trying to be somehow perfect.
No seminary could ever prepare us for the demands of ministry because, let us be honest, we are never good enough or can satisfy everyone who is in need. We will never get to use everything we have learned in the seminary and that is perfectly fine! Too many priests try too hard to be the best in the seminary, but that does not really matter in the real parish world, for people really do not expect us to have all the answers because we are simply not God. However, people do want us to be genuine and humble because they will not trust us if we are seemed to not care, detached, arrogant, or are disgenuine. The people we live with will trust and see us for who we truly are in the long run, not because of the fancy ideas, words, or knowledge we seem to possess. We do not have to preach with eloquence or teach well, for we really teach and testify by how we live. In people’s darkest times, sufferings, and struggles, they will remember seeing Christ and the Gospel (the Good News) in and through us when we choose to be present, loving, and attentive in the moment. They will recognize the Lord in how we prayed with them and ask them not to stop praying, even when things do not make sense and when they do not feel like trusting in God. Our people will see Christ when we choose to extend our hands, embrace them, or touch their wounds with fatherly love.
Our people trust us not because of where we went to seminary or how many degrees we have but whether we care for them beyond our preachings and lessons. Our people support us not because of how good our plans sound or how grand our visions might be, but because they know that we care for their goods. Their stewardship is often the response of how we are as stewards of the Gospel beyond words. Our people need to know that it is fine to disagree and can speak their minds without being being belitted or dismissed, respected by us, and to know that nothing will ever stop us from loving them. They need to know and trust that we will NEVER abandon them!
If we do not know something, ask. If we made a mistake, apologize. The relationship between parish priests and the faithful should be one like a family, where each is loved and cared for even at times we do not see eye to eye on things. In the age and time where people misunderstand and are confused between like and love, our people should see in us how much we love and care for them even if we do not like each other at times. We as priests should be able to pray for our people at Mass and personally with fatherly affection, especially those who are challenging at the moment.
We will be misunderstood and hated at times, and that is fine, for that is what it takes to be fathers. We will receive many angry, frustrated, and threatening emails and messages, for that is what it takes to be the ones in people’s lives. We can only make decisions as we are able with proper time for discernment, as clear and honest before God, and not out of pettiness or vindictiveness — for He knows our true intentions. Every opportunity is a unique learning lesson that no seminary could ever prepare us for! We can only be willing to learn over and over again, especially asking for help when needed.
Being parish priests is wonderful, but it is also challenging! At times, no matter what we do, we cannot seem to “get it” with people who are unhappy with our decisions. Some people do not like changes, even if they are important and necessary for the life and well-being of the parishes. They like to keep things ‘the way they have always been!’, yet not knowing their unwillingness sometimes choke the life of the parish and drive people away. Some people are just frustrated no matter what! While the stress of actual administration and finance can be overburdening at times, as to balance and keep things afloat or to find enough options to maintain and resolve problematic areas that are in need of attention (before they get worst), the human pressures are sometimes harder because they involve actual emotional and psychological ties.
Too often times, we get caught in between the trenches when people are not happy with other bigger decisions and reality… When they are not happy with how the society or Church at large is going, it flows and affects the life of the parishes as well. Being stuck in the middle is often quite uncomfortable; and sometimes, people tend to become very vocal, slash out, or transfer their frustrations and feelings to us who are at the parish level.
Yet, this is who we are as priests. We are not just people who “do Mass” at the altar then go home and locked ourselves away from the rest of the world! The priesthood, while oriented around the sacraments, are integral and holistic because we are a part of people’s life, their blessings and challenges, happy moments and hard struggles in life. We are much more than sacramental ministers, and that is why people call us, “Father.”
A father’s mission and purpose are much more than what we can do to feed and give to people! It requires much patience and humility to struggle with those who are entrusted to us; oftentimes, not giving a solution but simply as a venue to help our family vent, have someone to talk to, and to listen without being “helpful” in many senses of the word. To be a priest is to be present and a part of people’s lives, their emotions and sentiments, as to say: “You’re not alone! I might not have the answer, but I’m here for you. God loves you and so do I.”
In the midst of all the challenges, we have to know who we are and who we belong to! We should never ever let anyone or anything try to steal our joy in the Lord away from us. People can gaslight, misunderstand, or disagree with what is going on but we should not allow the evils or struggles of each day to get out of control and become the darkness that envelopes us. Please always remember that we are humans and we get hurt, tired, and affected by our ministry so it is important to find the time to get rested and revitalized both humanly and spiritually speaking. We only do our best as we are able, and we have to trust in God‘s will for us, that He will help us mature and grow where He has planted us. Without this radical trust and simplicity of heart, we will always try to be someone or somewhere else than what or where He wants for us.
At the end of the day, remember the lesson of St. Pope John XXIII before he went to sleep each night: “Lord, I had a long day and have done my best. I am going to sleep… Take care of the Church for she is yours!” May the peace of the Lord be with you, my brothers. Let us pray for one another.