By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series
Some of the more humorous conversations I have had with other priests concern the things we wished they would have taught us in seminary, but never did.
Most of us spend at least five years in seminary contemplating the mysteries of the faith and learning how to celebrate the various sacraments, but we are never exposed to construction and re-construction terminology, finance and investments, volunteer management, or the basics of communication and technology (to name just a few). While I have also struggled with these issues, one of the greatest challenges I have found as a new priest concerns the politics that accompanies the organizational and administrative qualities of ministry. As I have discussed these issues with others, I have found that the politics and more “human” elements of priesthood are difficult for many new priests to accept.
To be sure, all priests hold one piece of advice in common — at some point near ordination, we have all been assured that we are ready, despite the overwhelming feeling that we are not. “Who am I to (fill in the blank)” is a phrase that goes through the head of every priest with whom I have spoke as they contemplate what lies in front of them.
To this question, the answer is simple — the priest is who he is because of God and what God will do through him. The practical challenge this recognition presents often lies in the finer points of ministry and control. I have found that “allowing God to work through” versus “God being present in” is a subtle, but significant difference that I am not sure I will ever master.
One of my favorite paragraphs of Scripture comes from the First Letter of Peter where it suggests that we always be ready to give witness to our hope (1 Pt 3:13-17). In fact, this entire book offers Christians practical wisdom and focus as to how we might overcome the sufferings and smallness of spirit in our lives. And it is in these thoughts, where I find comfort — my role is to speak about the goodness of God. Though I may be overwhelmed by the tasks in front of me and tempted by the gossip and negativity that surrounds me, the discipline I must practice focuses on the hope and happiness I find in ministry.
Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and will be teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan beginning in late summer.