In my years of service as a deacon I have seen the ministry of priesthood up close and personal. I am glad to see a day set aside to pray specifically for the sanctification of our priests, but I truly hope we pray for them on a more continual basis than just once a year. The demands and expectations that are placed on the priests can be immense. Here are just a few things that jump to mind immediately.
We want them to be excellent business managers, phenomenal preachers, and compassionate confessors. We want them to be at every function ever held on parish grounds and possibly in the community as well. We want them visiting the hospitalized and home-bound as well as those in nursing homes. We want the sacraments celebrated flawlessly. The liturgies are always to be uplifting and inspirational.
These expectations would be difficult to meet under ideal circumstances. It becomes especially problematic when the definitions of these expectations are inconsistent. One person thinks an uplifting liturgy is the one done in Latin. Another thinks good liturgy consists of music with guitars and drums while another believes that sacred music can only come from a pipe organ. Another simply wants more quiet and no music at all.
Is phenomenal preaching based upon length, style, or content? Is it okay to use props? How about videos? Do you want catechesis as a main component of the homily? Do you prefer extensive background information on the day's Scripture readings to put it into a historical context? Is a pastoral approach to the homily more to your liking? Do you have a desire for concrete and applicable examples of how to put the Gospel message to use in your day-to-day life? Do you want all of these things in one homily under eight minutes long and presented with charisma?
The business manager aspect of the priest's role is another area of anxiety. We want the pastor to run a meeting with precision-like focus. We want him to manage staff and volunteers with the excellence attributed to a high profile CEO of a major corporation. Through it all we want him to be kind, gracious, and merciful while holding people to accountability. We want him to accomplish these things while paying staff as minimally as possible so as not to hurt church finances. Try recruiting top talent to work in the parish with that philosophy in place.
This list could go on and for pages, but I think you get the message. In the secular workplace jobs become more and more specialized as the organization grows. Skills are developed for a particular task at hand. The worker who repeatedly completes that specified task becomes more and more proficient. That competence will most likely result in a high quality job being completed in an efficient amount of time.
The priest went to school for eight years or more studying philosophy and theology in preparation for his ministerial role. He has a very defined skill set in that arena. Unfortunately, the job expectations are much wider than that. I would compare the pastor to a small business owner. Small business owners tend to wear many hats and are responsible for every aspect of the business. The business owner will be more skilled at some things than others. The same is true for our priests.
On this Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus we also commemorate the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. I encourage each of you to lift up your pastor in prayer today and every day. Express a word of gratitude to him once in a while as well. Our priests are human and need an abundance of God's grace to fulfill their calling well. Please ask the Lord to fill them with that grace.
To all of our priests striving to serve God's people fathfully, I offer you a sincere word of gratitude. Thank you for all that you do. More importantly, thank you for who you are. May God bless you abundantly!