Year for Priests: No longer on the front lines

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

One of my favorite “one-liners” comes from Precious Blood Father Anthony Gittons, who wrote, “We cannot transform ourselves, but we can create the space for transformation to occur.”  Over the years, I have applied this to my life on an almost daily basis, but recently I have begun to understand it in the context of those to whom I minister — or my “audience.”

One of the very quick lessons I have learned is that, as a priest, I am no longer on “the front lines.”  As I walk around campus and around town, I am very aware that I am set apart, not because of my own actions or preference, but because that is what people need (despite the objection of some, by far I have found the majority of people want their priest to be different — to represent an alternative way of life).  The collar I now wear around my neck is a sign and at times a barrier that does not allow me to be as close to people as was once possible.  However, I do not see this as a negative; rather, it has caused me to shift the audience of my ministry.

If the ministry of the priest is modeled on Christ, then it seems my primary ministry is to those ministers who are close to me, for it is they who will go out to live and work on the front lines long after I have moved on.  Though I continue to speak to the “masses” on certain occasions, I have realized — at least for the moment — that my job is to be a minister to the ministers.  After all, this seems to speak to the spirit of Vatican II that emphasizes the role of the laity as those who bring the Gospel into the world around us (see Gaudium et Spes or Apostolicam Actuositatem).

At its very core, I am discovering that ministry is relational and reciprocal.  The ministers with whom I work every day know me as Chris, with all of my gifts, weaknesses and quirks.  They are close enough to see the finesse and the nuance — things many people in the Sunday congregation do not want and are not ready to learn.  Likewise, my priesthood is shaped by them.  So much of what I do in ministry seems to concern creating safe environments for people to encounter each other and touch the Divine.  In the context of ministry, I think this is what Father Gittons meant:  “to create the space for transformation to occur.”

I should add, by the way, that these are working thoughts.  Should you have any thoughts on who the audience of a priest is, I would love to hear them!

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.

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5 Responses

  1. (despite the objection of some, by far I have found the majority of people want their priest to be different — to represent an alternative way of life).

    Fr. Chris,what do mean by alternative way of life?
    I was more expecting to see “A holy way of life”

    ” Holiness attracts souls!”
    And this will make you to be always in the front line..the Target!

    While if you fail in your calling,you know for sure that you carry your Mark of Ordination across the veil? again you’ll be a Target.
    God Bless You.Fr. Chris,I’ll pray for you..

  2. What a joy the dedicated religious to the heart of Mary and Jesus?
    A holy priest answering their higher calling!
    But a legally ordained priest, by the exercise of his free will can bring souls to God or to Lucifer..

    The laity need to pray for their priest….continuously..

  3. May God, Bless you and your ministry.
    Especially as you minister to the young.
    God Bless you.
    Frank

  4. Father, start requiring them to call you “Fr.Valka” and you will be much closer to the truth. The Church simply doesn’t want this vague and confused co-mingling of the concept of ministry.

    Peace Father!

  5. I think it is wonderful that you have a close relationship with the ministers you work with and that they call you Chris. Perhaps at some point you will feel comfortable in sharing more of your “weaknesses and quirks” with your congregation. You say that they “do not want and are not ready to learn.” You might be surprised to find that this is not necessarily the case. At any rate, as a member of “The Church,” I disagree with the commenter above who thinks you should “start requiring them to call you “Fr.Valka.” These are your friends and associates and “Chris” sounds just fine if you ask me!

    Peace,
    Rosemary

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