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.


  1. Father John,

    For a while I've felt what I believe is the call, but I have a couple things that will keep me from pursuing this further. That being that I'm married and have children. I know that I have the vocation of husband and father, but the thoughts of being a Priest have not subsided. I'm not posting this to be argumentative. I'm just posting this because this is what I feel and if it is the nudging of the Holy Spirit, the feelings will not go away.

    Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

  2. Dear Father Hollowell,
    Just wanted to let you know that my prayers are with you, and for you, that you continue to be the priest that you are! Your faith and obedience, to God and His church is very beautiful to see. May God and His angels guard and protect you all the days of your life.

  3. Father Hollowell, sorry to hijack the combox:
    Anonymous #1: it is indeed difficult when you feel called to the priesthood alongside the vocation to marriage and family. As a man who cries at ordinations the way women cry at weddings, and who discerned his way into marriage (11 years ago this month) the question has to be: "Is this what God wants for me?" God is indeed calling you to serve his Church, as he calls all of us, but the priesthood, (though a crucial and sacred vocation), is not the only way to fulfill that service. Archbishop Dolan pointed out that the real vocation crisis in the Church is not in the priesthood or religious life, but in faithful, holy marriages, where children are welcomed lovingly from God and brought up according to the laws of Christ and His Church. Take heart, that ours is a noble vocation indeed.

  4. Dear Fr John, this is my first time visiting this site. As a married mom, I don't feel called to the priesthood ;-), but I often pine for some sort of "worldly achievement", despite my certain discernment of my vocation, as wife and mother (and in the time I have to spare, servant to the Church) You have been most helpful, by recalling what you most envisioned at the time of your ordination. Ah, lightbulb! Thank you for this reminder, that I AM living the fullness of what I envisioned when hubby and I set out on this path together. THIS is where God has called me.
    Many thanks; I'm bookmarking your blog. God bless you!

  5. Dear Fr. John,

    I'm a Lutheran pastor who, over the years, has progressed from philo-Catholic to (what Lutherans call) Evangelical Catholic to, in effect, crypto-Catholic. Now I find myself with the opportunity to enter the Catholic Church as a priest through the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, which will be one of the U.S. personal ordinariates. For better or for worse, however, serving as a pastor is all I know and ALCC mission starts have no salary; as I prepare to swim the Tiber, I must find some form of employment that would allow me to support my growing family while serving the Church as a tent-maker in the Pauline mold. A tall order indeed!

    Prayers would be appreciated. And thank you for your blog.

  6. Gabriel - thanks for the note and welcome to the ALCC - I'd love to hear more about it from someone inside the ordinariate - feel free to email me when you get the chance.

    Thank you for your ministry without the security blanket of a paycheck - that is definitely Faith in action!

  7. I understand this exactly. I was a working mom for six years, but through discernment and circumstances decided to quit my job to retun to being a stay-at-home mom. It was only after I had stopped working that my youngest daughter had the courage to tell me that she wished I had never gone out to work. Perhaps my need to "get noticed in the world" had blinded me to my real vocation as a wife and mother. I can never give my dauhter back those important years, but I am present now in total obedience to my vocation first. I no linger care If the world knows who I am, because I am called to be Iimportant in the lives of my children first.

    Thanks for being willing to be a parish priest, I don't know what I would do without mine. I pray daily for all seminarians and priests.

  8. Fr John,
    Where in the breviary is the Chaucer piece, please? I've never come across it, but my copy is both old and a British version.

  9. It is in the "poetry" section at the back of the current breviary. There are probably 20-25 poems back there - they are very solid. Then again, it may be unique to the U.S. Breviary?

  10. Father John,

    Had you not gotten the assignment to be a pastor at St. Malachy, I would still be lost and not in communion with God. I wouldn't have been brought back into the Church and wouldn't have the joy in my life that I do now. Maybe being a parish priest is a "Special Mission," because there is a reason why you are placed where you are. God knows whom you will help when He clears the path for you to go where He knows you are needed.

    You are touching lives in an amazing way as a parish priest-I know that you were an instrument in God bringing me back to Him. No matter what you do, there is no doubt in my mind that you will do it well and not fall prey to the devil's temptations.

    I heard on EWTN this week that priests who come from families who are not strong in the Faith are the ones who fail in their priestly duties and the ones who come from a family that is strong in the Faith are good lifelong priests. You came from an amazing family with a strong Catholic foundation, so even if you were given free reign, you'd never abuse it.