Monday, October 10, 2011

WANTED: Pastors!

The following is excerpted from the Rite of Ordination

16. The candidate goes to the bishop and, kneeling before him, places his joined hands between those of the bishop.

If the bishop is the candidate's own Ordinary, he asks:
Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?
Candidate: I do

Bishop: May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.

Even as a young priest, I have realized the temptation to see myself with a "special mission." I have two main things that serve as temptations to become for me my "special mission." The first temptation for me to be a rogue worker in the vineyard of the Lord is as an educator. I like teaching, it gives me life, I feel like I do a good job, etc. I will be presenting this year at the National Catholic Educator's Association (in one of several hundred break-out sessions). Sometimes it is tempting to think "I ought to demand or at least really beg the bishop to let me stay in a high school."

Another temptation is electronic in nature - I'd love to start some kind of archdiocesan evangelization outreach through blogging/social media/video production - I think it could be important work that would bear a lot of fruit.

I share these two examples because there have been a lot of priests in recent memory who have been out doing their "special mission" who have run into serious problems. One example is Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life. He started his own abortion outreach program that has been very successful nationally, even though during the meteoric rise he was always under his vow to his bishop. Now that Fr. Frank is being asked to back away from his "special mission" we're seeing some problems letting go. Also we have as another example the crash and burn of Fr. Corappi (someone impersonated me on message boards defending his actions - it wasn't actually me). While being under vows of obedience to his superior, he started an outreach organization that also became wildly successful, only to fall into serious trouble. As he fell, it seems like Fr. Corappi has believed that his mission is bigger than his vows. Another example from the recent past would be the downfall of the now deceased Fr. Maciel, founder of the once BOOMING religious order the Legionaries of Christ (who have since been heavily restructured and brought under MUCH closer supervision). A final example of a priest having a mission and getting himself into trouble would be the priest who hosted EWTN's wildly popular "Life on the Rock" for several years...before running off and getting married.

As I think about my "special missions" and I dream "what might be" and the possibilities if I were granted "pure potency" to create whatever I saw fit from scratch, I am reminded of something simple - I was ordained to be a parish priest, a pastor. I'm not saying no diocesan priest can do special ministry, but one's ego has to be kept in TIGHT check because the devil loves working on people for whom "the normal rules don't apply." Not only am I reminded that I was ordained to be a parish priest, I remind myself that that is ALL I envisioned when I discerned the priesthood. I didn't think "huh, I'll join the priesthood to become a high school teacher/administrator" or "huh, I'll join the diocesan priesthood so I can create my own new little ministry from scratch."

I like teaching, and I like doing electronic evangelization, but I am also thankful that I'm in a position to say I don't NEED them. I made a vow to Archbishop Buechlein and his successors to go and do what they ask of me - and usually what the Archdiocese needs is parish priests. I like doing things that aren't "pastoring" but that is precisely why I'd be happy to get sent somewhere 300 miles from a school where video and electronic evangelization are not the parish's primary concerns. As Thomas Kempis notes "it is good for a man to have his will thwarted." I've seen what believing "I'm not a normal priest, I'm a special priest" can cause.

"Special missions" always attract men because, again, they involve pure potency, an opportunity to create something where there was nothing. Special missions also allow a man to have the satisfaction of being able to point to stuff and have that masculine adrenaline rush of being able to say "I made that from nothing." Parish priests can get that sometimes, but it is often much slower - the parish was there before a pastor gets there, and it will be there after the pastor leaves.

We continue to ask God to send us men who will serve in the priesthood, and I pray not just for men willing to serve in the priesthood, but for men willing to serve as pastor.

In the Breviary which contains the Liturgy of the Hours that priests and deacons pray at least 5 times daily, there is a beautiful poem by Geoffrey Chaucer which is excerpted from his epic masterpiece "The Canterbury Tales" entitled "The Parish Priest" I thought it might be a fitting end

"A good man was there of religion,
And was a poor Parson of a town;
But rich he was of holy thought and work
He could in little thing have suffisance.
Wide was his parish, and houses far a sunder,
But he neglected not, for rain or thunder,
In sickness or in mischief to visit,
The furthest in his parish, great and little,
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staff.
This noble example to his sheep he gave,
That first he wrought, and afterward he taught,
Out of the gospel he these words caught
He set not his benefice to hire,
Nor let his sheep, encumbered in the mire,
To run unto London, unto St. Paul's,
To seek a chantery of souls,
Or with a Brotherhood to be withold;
But dwelt at home, and kept well his fold.
So that the wolf ne'er made it miscarry:
He was a shepherd, and no mercenary."

FOLLOW UP: I think some good questions have been raised about this post's origin/intent that I need to clarify

1) Every diocese has priests that are asked to do non-parish assignments. Some guys serve faithfully in the tribunal, mostly working on annulments, and that is just one example of many non-pastoring posts that diocesan priests can be asked to serve in. The type of temptation I spoke of in my original post involves the type of "special mission" where there is virtually no accountability - an assignment where there is a blank slate to make something into whatever that priest wants it to be (made even more dangerous if it was that priest's idea in the first place) - those situations are dangerous and need a lot of humility on the part of the person carrying them out. A priest working at the tribunal didn't think up the tribunal himself, so it is a lot easier to be humble. Fr. Pavone created Priests for Life from scratch, and Fr. Corappi created his "brand" from scratch as well, and thus it can be much more dangerous under that scenario.

2) The reason I shared this post is because guys who have been priests for 3-4 years in our Archdiocese typically start to get put in new roles, and so I've had to do a lot of discerning about that as I prepare to fall into that time frame in my priesthood. I had to pray a lot and ask myself "okay, what if you aren't in a school next year" and I can say I ultimately came to peace because I realized that I was ordained to be a pastor, so if that happens next year, I'm now at peace with that.

3) I also wanted to spread affirmation for guys who are already pastors. It is often a less-than-glamorous post when compared to "special missions", kind of like the difference between stay at home moms and a mothers who travels around the world - but there is a lot to be said for our priests serving faithfully, day in and day out, in our parishes throughout the world and they often go unrecognized.