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Praying for our priests is not enough

We must show our priests that we value them

By on Monday, 7 April 2014

Priests are easily isolated says Francis Phillips  (PA)

Priests are easily isolated says Francis Phillips (PA)

I was talking to a priest the other day. In late middle age, with no close living relatives, he tells me he entered the seminary straight from school, aged 18, and was ordained aged 24. He is loyal to his vocation but admits that “when you are 24 you have no idea what you will feel like at 54.” Although he did not say so, I sensed that life is something of an uphill struggle for him. There is the loneliness of the presbytery, the knowledge that you are out of step with the times (we spoke of the recent legislation on marriage and what it is like to be a priest in a post-Christian society) and sometimes out of step with other members of the clergy. What about sharing a house with other priests, I suggested. He felt that might be worse than living on his own. He came across as orthodox and conscientious, telling me he could not have imagined not being a priest and adding there had never been a time when he doubted his faith. “Without daily prayer you are lost”, he commented.

I think there are probably many priests of a similar age in his position in this country: loyal to their vocation, yet more isolated than is healthy, overburdened by the demands made on them and certainly misunderstood and treated without respect in the wider community. An article by Peter Jesserer Smith in the National Catholic Register last week addresses this same question. Entitled “Priests battle the pouring dark of loneliness”, the article concerns America where most US diocesan priests are living alone, working all day for their parishioners and then returning to an empty presbytery in the evenings.

Smith writes that “living alone at a parish is an experience that seminary talks about, but seminarians live in community and only come to know what the experience is like first hand as priests. Some priests end up as casualties of isolation: where the temptations of loneliness can lead to addiction, burnout or seeking intimacy in all the wrong places.” Two priests interviewed in the article emphasised that there are three key factors in living a happy priesthood: engaging in priestly fraternity, developing a strong prayer life and integrating themselves into the life of their communities. They mentioned the need for priest support groups such as Jesu Caritas, where clergy can meet up with colleagues once a month for a Holy Hour a meal and socialising.

Fr John Trigilio, president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, believes that ongoing spiritual, theological, pastoral and human formation is essential for a healthy and well-balanced clergy. He observes that “Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two, not one-by-one.” Another priest, Fr Joseph Ilio, is working alongside Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco to establish a community of diocesan priests in an oratory, where they will live together with a superior and have a rule of life that includes common prayer, meals and activities alongside their ordinary parochial tasks.

Having some contact with the Oxford Oratory, which William Oddie described so positively in a recent blog about its former provost, now Bishop Robert Byrne, I can see how such a community of priests can flourish. Meanwhile, there must be many diocesan priest in the UK whose lives are similar to that of the priest I talked to: growing up during the upheavals of Vatican II, during which thousands of an earlier generation of priests left the priesthood; entering the priesthood themselves just as the country was becoming increasingly secularised; faced by congregations, a generation of whom who have never been taught any catechesis and who have little understanding of their faith; growing older with few younger clergy coming forward to assist them.

Some studies from the US such as this article from The Catholic Spirit challenge the rather pessimistic account I raise here. But there are cultural differences between the two countries, as well as the new support networks in the States that I have mentioned, and I am supported by blogger Fr Ray Blake who wrote rather bleakly in a recent blog, “Most Catholics don’t know why they should baptise their children or how to pray with them, what to say in the confessional and why, what marriage is, what the Church is or even how to die well. It is no wonder that in most dioceses in England and Wales, cities like mine with a dozen or so semi-active priests, within two decades will be down to one or two if they are fortunate…”

It reminds me that praying for our priests (and for future priests) is not enough; we must actively support them, sustain them and let them know how much we value what they do. If, as Newman once observed, the hierarchy would be lost without the laity, we lay people are also lost without our priests.

  • Man In Black

    The local priest didn’t know how to get my child instructed and confirmed, saying he only was responsible for First Communions. The Bishop responded that there was only one book in the Diocese for such purposes which had gone missing, but I could have it if it was located. I am still waiting 15 years on!

    I live in a similar tourist trap, but I am deeply shocked by your account !!!

    I grieve for your local Church.

    Please do all that you can to give what you can of the supernatural Faith to your child, and may God have Mercy on the Souls of such pastors.

  • Mutley

    Mike, with all due respect, and I am sure you have good intentions, but you seem to be living in “cloud theory land”. You keep telling us what the book says, and what we should do….even me, who hasn’t been around since forever, I have tried quite recently to no avail. Some of the people commenting on here have been around since the year dot and have seen it all first hand. I think before you try to tell the oldsters what they should do it might help if you listened to their stories of what actually happened. Understand the realities that caused their bitterness before you slap them on the wrist.

  • MIKE

    Just how old do you think I am? You know what they say about assuming. :) But thanks for the compliment.

    What have you tried to do, and where do you need help?

    Using Church docs when dealing with Bishops and Priests is the best way to get their attention, and they can not have a personal opinion against them. In some cases it can amount to accomplishing something appropriate or being brushed off when there are no Church teachings/laws used.

    The Code of Canon Law was updated in 1983. (31 years ago).
    The CCC was promulgated in 1997 (17 years ago).
    And of course the Bible was translated by St. Jerome in 382 AD, (1,632 years ago).
    This is not new stuff (yet some Catholics have never read them).
    What is newer is the participation of the Laity, over the past several years.

  • James M

    The unholy ghost of V2 strikes again ! To transform a thriving Church into the burnt-out thing it now is, should be regarded as the RoncaTini’s miracle.To be regarded as Saints for blighting, sterilising & irradiating the Church with Agent V2, should be reckoned a further miracle. Who says they haven’t worked miracles ? What Hitler & Stalin & Mao could not do, they did – now that is how to destroy the Church. Brilliant. Maybe the wrecking of the CC should be entered for the Turner Prize – it is a work of art (in its way).

    “It reminds me that praying for our priests (and for future priests) is not enough;” – It would be nice to have bisbhops who are Catholic, rather than crypto-Anglican. A Catholic Pope would not go amiss – one who actually builds up the Church, punishes wicked bishops & evil priests, canonises Catholics & not indifferentists, offers the Mass in a Catholic way, and is generally Popey & Catholic: that would be good. But all that seems most unlikely in view of the developments mentioned in this article:

    “…As the Archdiocese advertised on their website that week:

    Catholics from across the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this Sunday and remember his timeless call to achieve peace through service to one another.

    Cardinal DiNardo will celebrate the Archdiocesan MLK Mass, and Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza will preach the homily…

    Praise dancers will perform just before the start of Mass at 3 p.m….”

    ## When a Cardinal – of the CC, not from the Ruling Council of the Cardinal-Time Lords on the planet Gallifrey; not the bird, and not the US sports team, but a supposedly Catholic Cardinal of the Church founded by Christ the Lord – offers Mass in honour of Martin Luther King, and is not rebuked for so doing, it is not likely that the CC will have Catholic clergy. With Ponces of the Church like DiNardo, there is nothing for the devil to do. And these men whine about the “culture of death” ! Castrating the Church as they have guarantees its sterility – what else did these idiots expect ?

    The Society of St. Pius X has its problems, and these have been widely publicised; but with all its faults, real or imagined, it is inconceivably far more Catholic than the “Catholic” Church, which is becoming ever more Catholic In Name Only with every month that passes. If the rot becomes much deeper or much more abundant, it will be too deeply corrupted to be salvaged. For the Church-in-name-only to call the SSPX schismatic is Pharisaism of a very degree: 32nd, most likely.

  • Mutley

    Haha….I have no idea how old you are. :-D I was going by the fact that I believe you said previously that you returned to the Church more recently…lapsed maybe? I got the impression you might have missed some of the goings on.

    I tried to get my pp to have an occasional TLM in our parish (with a fair amount of support from other parishioners) and would have settled for a Latin NO (which he said was the only option he was prepared to consider….but come the point he jumped through every hoop imaginable to avoid having to do so).

    I could have pursued it…printed off SP and waved it in front of his face…but to be honest, I can’t be bothered. It was too obvious he didn’t want it and I’m not pushy enough to fight where I can see a clear intention to thwart it. And, of course, he had the liberals on his side.

    I am lucky….I have SSPX just up the road.

  • James M

    The Presbyterians are evangelical – they adore Christ, and see all things in His Light. “[F]ar too many catholic priests, when they do ulster radio talk for the day, just can’t do God, never mind Jesus.”

    ## Since to preach Christ & make Him known as Saviour & Lord is the purpose of the Church’s foundation, such priests are – God knows what they are ! Not Christian pastors, at least. The Church is pointless, if priests “just can’t do God, never mind Jesus”. It would be far better to become an Evangelical – a Church that can’t do the very thing it was meant for, is no better than one that is non-Catholic. An unbelieving Church founded by Christ has no advantage at all over a body born in schism whose members seek to love & adore Christ. Catholics are probably safer if they leave the CC, than if they stay – why must they die for lack of hearing the Church preach Christ ?

    We get “this embarrassing saccharine humanism” because the Church adores itself. There is a deadly cocktail of tendencies that have combined to bring the Church to its present state, including:

    1. authoritarianism
    2. absence of accountability of those in high authority
    3. a Papacy that is exempt from all checks and correction, even in the Church
    4. concern with validity, to the extent of ignoring the importance of the distinctively Christian graces
    5. careerism
    6. Infant Baptism – that results, as it can hardly avoid resulting, in filling the Church, not with believing Christians who have made a free personal commitment to Christ because they have received a living faith in Him, but with baptised atheists. Priests without faith in Christ, cannot share their faith in Christ. They can be supervisors of doctrine & conduct, but not Christian pastors.
    7. The Church has also neglected the Person of the Holy Spirit – He has been eclipsed.
    8. The Church’s failure to immerse itself in the Bible & to think Biblically
    & to raise a Bible-loving People, has weakened it immensely. It would be absurd to say that love & knowledge of the Bible would solve all problems – but at the very least, Catholics would be far better equipped to live & think as Christians. One of the great strengths of Evangelicalism is its love of the Bible – if Evangelicals can be bothered to become familiar with the Bible – why can’t Catholics ? Of course, if the Church wants Catholics not conversant with the Bible to be flummoxed & convinced by non-Catholic preachers, as happens in Latin America, by all means don’t train them in love & knowledge of it: no doubt the sects will be delighted to gain members.
    9. Evangelicals preach the Gospel. If Fathers like St Augustine or St John Chrysostom had preached as priests today do, the Church would have died of anorexia. The great Evangelical preachers are a well of life; They make Christ attractive, or rather show His attractiveness.
    10. The CC does not know how to combine liturgical worship with evangelical zeal. By emphasising the former & ignoring the latter, it has left itself defenceless when the former is in a bad way: it has no resources to fall back on. It is not even really liturgical – nor has it been for a long time. The Liturgical Renewal before V2 was genuine, but not yet matured – and V2 aborted it, to replace it with a changeling.

    Having women priests would not significantly improve matters – nor would
    allowing Roman Rite priests to marry; the problems go too deep for such
    (relatively) superficial changes to bring much improvement, even if they raised no problems (& they would).

  • saintlymark

    I can’t help thinking that those wishing to bash Vatican 2 on this really rather miss the point on this issue. Priests are less isolated, less burnt out than before (or at least good are!)

    It’s also ridiculous to refer to the church of the 40s and 50s as thriving. The council after all was in part set up to breath new life into the church. Vocations were already declining as were congregations. Vatican 2 May not have solved the problems but it didn’t create them either.

  • jenny

    I would encourage priests to go to pre-confession to a woman- they will learn to be more realistic …..

  • Rae Marie

    Because many do not know what the Holy Spirit gave them. They do not reflect on it and it gets lost in the background noise. I can’t remember the last time when anyone went up to a priest and thanked him not for a good sermon or a nice favor but for simply being what he is. They don’t know what they are.

  • Rae Marie

    Very true!

  • Lane

    Teaching can’t be lived without the power God gives us to live the teaching. That comes from the Sacraments. A man who knows his Faith can live without teaching if he has the Sacraments. Preaching brings us to the Well, but the Holy Eucharist IS the Well. He is the Well, the Water, and the Power to drink. That unfortunately, isn’t found in the protestant churches. Leaving the Catholic Church isn’t the answer.

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