Friday, September 26, 2014

Why I Sometimes Think About Leaving Diocesan Priesthood and Becoming an Order Priest Even Though I Never Will

I may some day run off with some woman and go get married…we all have to always be open to the fact that we are prone to falling into all sin…but that being said, I really don't think my greatest temptation is quitting the priesthood for a woman.  

I once heard someone say that if the Devil can't get you through things that are sinful, he'll try to use things that are good.

And so I think, for me, the greatest temptation is to leave the path God has called me to for something that I perceive to be "good" and "holy"

Let me make some comments up front:

1) I'm not writing this for sympathy
2) I'm not in any sort of existential crisis
3) I'm not actually going to leave the diocesan priesthood
4) I'm writing this in case it might help other priests or seminarians struggling with this (I know several that are)
5) I'm also writing this because I think what I sometimes feel as a diocesan priest is also nearly exactly the same sort of thing that a lot of married couples feel after being married for a few years, and so maybe this will help them as well
6) I don't think I'm better than anyone else
7) This also has nothing to do with my current assignment (I really do love both of my parishes and the university ministry!)

That being established, let me remind folks that as a diocesan pastor I am charged with caring for and working for the salvation of EVERY soul that lives in my parish boundary.  For me, that currently is 2.1 counties in Indiana, and roughly 40,000 souls.  

Out of that 40,000ish, perhaps 900 come to one of my 5 weekend Masses.

This percentage is about right for most pastors of most Catholic Churches in the USA.  

And so I spend a lot of time asking and praying about "what is the way to reach the unchurched?"

(note: people will always reject the Truth, so I know not all will likely return to the Spring of Life, but the numbers are clear - we have a lot of work to do!)

So we have a lot of work to do.  We have to go out and invite folks.  We have to EVANGELIZE and knock on doors and engage folks kindly and let them know we want them with us.  We have to celebrate the Mass the way the Church asks so that it will draw them in and not, as is often the case, actually repel those who do happen to come one time to check us out, etc. etc.

So my struggle, and the doubt that is certainly of the Devil, takes the form of something like this - 

"I will likely be spending the rest of my priesthood at least spending the first 5-10 years at a new assignment having to convince people that:
1) Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist
2) mortal sin is a reality
3) I can't receive Jesus if I'm in a state of mortal sin
4) I have to go to Mass on Sundays and holy days
5) confession has to be part of my spiritual life
6) because Jesus IS truly present in the Eucharist, flip flops and Colts jerseys and gum and cell phones and boat shorts probably aren't appropriate attire and behavior for being in the presence of the King of Kings, given the fact that we dress up infinitely better for many other occasions in our lives
7) That you can't, as a Catholic who takes their Faith seriously, vote FOR someone who votes in favor of abortion and/or same-sex "marriage" etc.
8) That pop music has no place in the Mass and actually has the function of reverse-evangelizing
9) That the priest ISN'T the center of attention at the Mass, nor is he an MC, but instead is to serve as an icon (read: get out of the way of Christ)

And so I think about all of this, and how long it takes to get today's parish to understand the basics, and I begin to think:

"It would be a HECK of a lot easier, and a better use of my time, to go to a parish that already GETS the above listed concepts so that we, as a parish, could worry more about what REALLY matters - the call to go make disciples of all people who AREN'T at Church."

Look, I know that religious orders that only staff parishes that do the Traditional Latin Mass and the orders that only staff parishes that do the TLM and the Novus Ordo Mass the right way, I know those priests have challenges.  I know in those parishes people struggle with pride, some people want to go to confession every half hour, some people think Vatican II was demonic, some people think Pope Francis is the enemy, etc.  Every place has its challenges.

But when I look around today, not at my own parishes but just at future potential parishes in general…man alive…am I really going to have to always fight over the basic stuff that a properly catechized kindergartener understands and believes?  Am I really going to have to take down video screens, tell people for the first time that they're supposed to be at every Mass, tell people they are supposed to NOT receive Communion if they're in a state of mortal sin, that they SHOULD get an annulment and not, despite what the last priest told them "just go ahead and take Communion anyway", and tell people that they're NOT at a barbecue?

If I were an order priest of, say, the FSSP or St. John Cantius or something like that, I would be able to show up at a parish where I wouldn't' have to spend 10 years convincing people that
1) Chant does a better job of drawing people into the Mass than pop music
2) A Communion rail doesn't "cut people out" it is highly catechetical
3) Mass on Sunday is non-negotiable (barring illness)
4) Mortal sin is real and it is in the Bible
5) Confession isn't psychologically damaging, it is actually a Sacrament
6) Adoration isn't "from the Dark Ages" it is actually edifying 
7) The Church has never said Mass should be said facing the people
8) Mass with the priest facing the people has real philosophical, spiritual, and catechetical implications that DO matter even if most people don't care

That's why it is tempting to leave and join an order…because then I think in my mind I could get right to trying to go reach out to the 98% of my people in my future parish boundaries who AREN'T Catholic.

But, at the end of the day, I realize that this is very similar to a spouse that wakes up early one morning, and lays in bed staring at their beloved, and the sinking feeling hits them - "This person isn't what I had in mind when I married this person."

And I'm sure that my current and future congregations feel the same way about me at times - "who do we write to in order to get rid of this guy?"

And so, at the end of those days where I'm especially struck by thoughts about what COULD be, I remember that I made a vow, and that vows don't happen on accident, and since I promised, before God, to be a diocesan priest for the rest of my life, that's what I need to be.  

Maybe I will get some future parish assignment where I have to spend 12 years convincing people of the basics, and I maybe that parish will do very little to reach anyone outside the walls of that parish, and maybe those 12 years would have been more productive for the kingdom if I was the pastor of a parish that already understood the basics…but a vocation isn't first and foremost about production…we only measure the performance of machines by production…a vocation is a person's particular path to holiness that God has called that person to…even when it seems like the grass is greener on the other side…

Let me end by saying I'm fine, I love being a priest, and I'm not asking for sympathy.  If anyone has issues, it is me.  I do not think I'm better or holier than anyone else.  My current assignment is great.  
The Devil doesn't use our ACTUAL and CURRENT situation to discourage us, it is always some hypothetical future reality, because the Devil can only suggest thoughts to us about what MIGHT be.

If you are struggling with a fear about your vocation as a priest, a seminarian, a married person, etc…kick the Devil out of your head…press on…recommit your vows to your spouse…or your vows to your bishop…say a quick prayer…and then press on laboring in the field that God has given you to care for and quit worrying and thinking about hypothetical futures.

May we all be able to say, at the end of our lives,

"I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me" (2 Timothy 4:7)


  1. Ha, sounds like you've become a parent. Being the parent of several children, I know I day dream about what I could accomplish if I didn't need to spend all of my energy teaching/guiding/battling/cleaning/feeding children.

  2. Is there any way you can implement the Latin Mass in your diocese? Or at least a more traditional version of the Ordinary Form? You are 100% right, this kind of worship is highly evangelistic and will draw people into the Church. It will also foster more priestly vocations. The Church's hierarchy made a huge mistake by getting rid of this. I'm so sorry you, and many other good priests, must suffer because of their sins. You'll be in my prayers as I certainly know the pain of having to re-catechize my fellow Catholics.,

    1. Yep...we have it every Tuesday night at one of my parishes

    2. is Sunday Morning Against Some Rule?

  3. Excuse me Father but it seems you don 't realize you already do have a "parish" that GETS IT in those who follow you on Twitter & your blog! Thank you for your teaching and encouragement to your online "parish" which reaches far beyond Indiana! We take the message out into our little world, thus evangelizing farther than door to door. God bless you in your vocation!

  4. Wow, that must be exhausting, but thank you for actually teaching the faithful. If every priest and bishop taught like you do, the catechetical crisis could be over in a few years.

    You are doing good work; keep it up. You're in our daily prayers.

  5. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I clicked your link, but this sure wasn't it. My heart is filled for you. I wanted to leave my husband about seven years into our marriage. I wish I could deny that, but I think all marriages go through rough times and we need to admit to them. I prayed about what was going on in my head and heart and found ways to fall back in love with my husband. It wasn't easy and it took a while, but it worked, and I spent the last several years of our lives together happily Loving him to the absolute best of my ability.

    Unfortunately, our marriage only lasted 14 years. He chose to leave suddenly while I was pregnant with our 5th (surprise!) little boy. It was a horrible time and I cannot put into words how devastating divorce is. Despite being left pregnant, a lack of child support, foreclosure, unemployment, everything, I am SO glad I stayed and fell back in Love with my husband even though he later chose to leave.

    I realized the power to Love comes from God, not from another person. I realized that the power to be Loved comes from God, not from another person. Because I stayed, not for the children but for God and my husband, no matter how my husband later tried to tell me I was unlovable, I didn't cave for long. I knew he couldn't take God's Love away from me. I wish more people knew and understood that. I wish more people knew that marriage was meant to be permanent and that when the vow is broken, the effects of divorce are what becomes permanent. God heals, but you never just get over it.

    I have often thought of our priests and sisters who must undergo similar questions and longings and think of leaving religious life. I understand you are not leaving your position and are making a beautiful point. I will pray for you tonight. I thank you for your integrity and sticking to your vows and for sharing your story. God Bless...

  6. YOu have opened my eyes to see what I like as Good but NOT good for me.......Great timing for me, Father.

  7. Father
    Though you're not asking for sympathy, I'll offer some support and consolation, and even com-passion. Rest assured there are MANY of us out here who are frustrated by the same Church & Parish same problems you encounter, but are heartened by the fact that you are fighting the good fight and making great headway. We don't say it enough, but we REALLY APPRECIATE you. From what I've heard & read, you'd face some of the same struggles in Religious Order life.
    Look around, if not you, who? if not here, where? if not now, when?
    Stay the course, brick by brick..............

  8. Beautifully said , Father! Thank you for your Priesthood.

  9. Father thank you SO much for this post! It is a breath of fresh air to say the least! I am from a diocese in Canada and I must say we experience the same issues here and it brings me so much hope to hear how committed you are to bringing people the basics of the Catholic faith! So many people have no idea why they go to Mass and so no wonder they don't go every week...we need more priests like you to explain the basics and catechize and teach their congregations why we believe what we believe and then challenge them to live out the Catholic faith. Thank you so much for what you do! You will be in my prayers, God Bless!

  10. There are some folks in your future parishes who will have been looking longingly at those videos from places St. John Cantius in Chicago, etc., and hoping against hope that one day they might be in a parish at least a little bit like that, but who also feel a certain obligation to stay where they are with the parish where they have ongoing relationships and work to make it better, and who will be so grateful when you get there that they won't know what to do with themselves. You don't know how much I'd like to be going to the parish across town where there is a priest much like you, but I have to stay where I am with my family who doesn't find those liturgical matters of much importance. But if that priest ever was assigned to my parish, I would be so, incredibly grateful. So might you be blessed with the consolation of knowing that you will be the answers to the prayers of many who thought their prayers would never be answered.