Year for Priests: Grateful to serve, despite challenges

By Father Kenneth J. Doyle
One in a series

On June 29, I posted my first blog regarding the Year for Priests.  I confess to having been a bit surprised at the reaction, termed by one observer a “minor firestorm.”

In that entry, I described a “typical” day in the life of a parish priest, which often becomes a whirlwind of meetings, appointments, phone calls, crisis management, etc., in addition to celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments and praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  I made a plea for carving out a 10-minute “sacred space,” preferably at the beginning of the day, for quiet conversation with the Lord.

Several of the respondents considered this a “minimalist” approach and noted that the priest must be, beyond all else, a “man of prayer.”  I did anticipate those comments and, believe me, a more extended period of quiet would be a real bonus; but the reality is that much of a priest’s day is spontaneous and dictated by events beyond his control.

What surprised me, though, was the reaction from a woman who called my “typical” day “bleak and soul-deadening” and worried that her son would find no joy that might attract him to a similar calling.  (I did mention the need for “play” and that I was looking forward to attending a Red Sox game with a couple of old friends, but maybe this reader was a Yankee fan!)

I just don’t believe that “busy” equates with “bleak” because the very reason I became a priest was to be busy with the Lord’s work.  And it’s no coincidence that study after study describes priests as among the happiest and most content of all American males.  (This result is consistent in every survey I’ve read about over the last two decades, including those done since the avalanche of publicity on the tragedy of clergy sex abuse.  Evidently most priests are embarrassed and angry about those crimes but feel that parishioners are savvy enough to assign them to the vast minority of priests.)

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said that if  Christians really believed what they say, they would smile more than they do.  I guess that I probably smile a lot, because I believe in what I do and I like doing it.  (I’m reminded of Stan Musial, who said that he felt guilty being paid for playing baseball, something he enjoyed doing so much.)

I once read that the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is this: an optimist wakes up and says ‘Good morning, Lord” while a pessimist, upon waking, says “Good Lord, morning!”  I wake up each day grateful for the chance to serve God’s people as a priest.

Father Doyle, a priest of the diocese of Albany, N.Y., has served as pastor of a large suburban parish for the last 17 years; he is also chancellor of the diocese for public information. Ordained in 1966, he has also been a high school religion teacher, editor of a diocesan newspaper, bureau chief in Rome for Catholic News Service, lawyer/lobbyist for the New York State Catholic Conference and director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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2 Responses

  1. Well, if you had included some of these more positive statements we might have concluded otherwise about your “bleak” day. I did say I was glad you were going to the baseball game … a healthy option.

    Having attended 3 years’ worth of Vicariate meetings, the overwhelming first response is being busy with non-priestly duties (their term) – paperwork, administration, receiving emails and faxes from Diocesan offices and serving on Diocesan committees and attending meetings. They would love to be ‘busy with the Lord’s work’ – counseling, hearing confessions, house visits, hospital calls. Our pastor had a habit of responding to our “How’s your day going, Father?” with a “plastic smile” … we knew what that meant and couldn’t fault him for it. It only made us pray that much harder for him.

    Think positively!

  2. Dear Father
    You have no idea how happy I am to find you!!! I have long search for you hopping to find you. I do not think anybody has had so much positive influence in my life as you. I do hope you remember me I was one of your students long long time ago at the Doane Stuart School. You made us feel at home all those years away from home.
    Thanks for all those wonderful stories you shared with us, and for bringing us closer to god every day.!!

    Have a blessed day!!
    Thank you father Doyle

    Liliza

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