Life as a priest

Vocations Awareness Week is a only few weeks away. (4-11 August, which coincides with my annual retreat. I’ll be sure to remember priestly and religious and married vocations in my prayers.)

I was asked to write a few paragraphs on my first year or so as a priest. Here’s one perspective.

I was ordained in September 2011, and after several temporary assignments, I arrived at my first parish just in time for the new school year. Fr Paddy, the parish priest, encouraged me to get involved in the primary school, so I celebrated the school’s Opening Mass.

Next day, the grade ones had to write a story about their weekend. Here’s one of the stories:

On Sunday, I went to church with my dad and my brother. I sat with my class. We sang a song, and then I listened to the boy who was speaking. Then we sang another song. The End.

The teacher was puzzled by this unidentified boy. “Was he a classmate, who chatted during Mass?”

“No.”

“Was he one of the altar servers?”

“No.”

“Well then, who was this boy?”

“The boy sat up the front, and he was dressed in Fr Paddy’s clothes.”

It didn’t take long for that story to sweep the parish. And you can bet that if a seven year old thought I looked too young to be a priest, older parishioners thought so too. My new nickname, “the boy,” took a while to shake!

A year and a half later, I’d like to think I look a little older, a little more like a priest. I’ve certainly learned a lot — the sort of lessons that can’t be learned in the seminary.

For example, just this week, such a mountain of work built up — meetings, phone calls, paperwork — that I was tempted to neglect my prayer. I had to remind myself that the time I invest in personal prayer is important pastoral work. It’s a lie — a lie I must resist and dismiss — to treat prayer as something “extra,” something separate from my pastoral work.

But still, I was tempted, and I was annoyed at all the pastoral contact I wasn’t making. I didn’t get to the schools at all. I managed to visit the hospital on Wednesday, but then: disaster!

The computer wasn’t working, and I couldn’t get the list of Catholic patients. So I visited one of the nursing homes instead. I was in the right place at the right time. One resident was in a terrible state, and the grace of the sacraments gave her peace. I intended to debrief with a staff member, but as it turned out, she was going through a tough time too, and needed to talk it out.

Later, I recognised God’s providence in that computer malfunction. It led me to the nursing home, which is where God wanted me on Wednesday.

As a priest, I offer Mass, I hear confessions, I visit schools and hospitals, which at a human level I love very much. But when I offer that work to the Lord, when I consciously invite the Holy Spirit to work through me, I am not only enriched and rewarded, but also often surprised and awe-struck. It’s God’s work, not mine.

Life as a priest is an adventure — and a daily challenge — of “letting go and letting God.”

  • Samuel

    If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of paperwork does a priest have, and why so much?

    I must confess, when I think of priests, I don’t imagine them, like I would a 9-5 office worker, whom I associate with ‘paperwork’.

    • Fair question Samuel. As an assistant priest, my duties are chiefly pastoral, so I don’t have much paperwork. There are lots of documents to collect and forms to fill in before and after weddings, and if I get them wrong, I’m in no doubt our nation’s dedicated public servants would hunt me down!

      Parish priests have a lot more paperwork. They employ all the staff at parish schools, including principals. They are also responsible for the administration of the parish, whose operation resembles a small business. A wise priest — if he is able — will delegate such clerical duties to parishioners whose professional expertise often makes them more suitable anyway. But canon law is clear: the buck stops with the parish priest. So there is always some paper work which must cross his desk.

  • Jake

    This is really wonderful (and funny!) to read. Thanks, Father.

    • Anne

      Whoever said that being a priest was hard? Piece of cake!!! 🙂

  • MP

    “I had to remind myself that the time I invest in personal prayer is important pastoral work”

    You are right Father John, but I think you should add “ the most ” in front of “ important pastoral work ”. God has to have the highest priority on your list, hence spending time with Him first, Father.

    My local priest was driving me insane and now I have to change church or I will lose my faith and turn as nasty as him.

    It seems to me that Father doesn’t work well under a lot of pressure (too much pastoral work), hence he turns angry and bitter. He uses the altar to attack everyone to the point that I question him being a priest (in my mind)

    When Father preached about “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”, instead of listening to Father, I was wondering “Well, you cannot do it, why standing there preaching it to other people?”, then I had to go to confession for judging other!

    I have to pray for the priests every day now as I see the important of a “Shepherd”. If a Shepherd is not holy then his sheep will suffer as the consequences.

    If you love your sheep, you will never stop praying, even when you have only two hours to sleep at night, Father John.

    God bless you Father

  • MuMu

    I’m sorry to say Fr John the in spite of your heavy workload and courageously accepting the slow martyrdom of the priesthood, you don’t really look a day older than you did before your ordination.
    You might have to get used to people asking “Where do you hide the portrait, Father?”!!!
    But you’re in good company – Archbishop Anthony Fisher also looks remarkably youthful; at least he did when I last saw him about 10 years ago.
    Gee, I wish I had the same problem!

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