Year for Priests: Different roles, common mission

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

As a young religious priest, I am often the anomaly living in houses with men who are as old or older than my own grandparents. In recent weeks I have had a number of conversations about the differences between my own ministry as a priest and the ministry my confreres knew when they were young priests. Since most people are familiar with the “traditional” ministries of priests as teachers, pastors and administrators of various sorts, I thought I would take the opportunity to share a bit of my own experience of the priesthood and religious life.

When I first met the Congregation of St. Basil, I arrived with a U-Haul full of possessions. Now I can barely fill the trunk of a car. My life has been a steady progression towards simplicity and re-defining what it means to be “self-sufficient.” No doubt, this is the natural consequence of moving to a new part of the world almost every year.

I have never known what it was like to live in religious house with dozens of my peers. Seminarians were the minority in my theology classes — most were lay ministers and women. As a result my approach to ministry reflects the need for dialogue and collaboration all the while respecting the authority of the church. I am well-trained in media and interreligious issues and have completed more psychosexual education than most of my confreres have had during their entire life.

I would estimate that 30 percent of my ministry occurs entirely online. I maintain a number of Web sites, write frequently, host and/or am interviewed for various radio, TV, and Web programs, and email often. It is quite possible that I minister to more people than I will ever see or meet. I have found the greatest asset to my ministry is availability. I am on Facebook, carry a smart phone, text as much as I talk, listen to podcasts and read just about everything in digital format. Though I have students frequently in my office (usually without any warning or appointment), they are more likely to reach me virtually than face-to-face (their preference, not mine).

As an extrovert, I am around people almost all the time, but after years of living in religious life, I have come to appreciate quiet time. The first cup of coffee (that I affectionately call Jesus-and-Joe Time) is sacred. As a distance runner and tri-athlete, I do some of my best thinking around between miles 5 and 10 and in the water.

Whether I am in a classroom, parish, coffee shop, pub, gym or running down a street in the early hours of the morning with friends, I consider myself a teacher and a witness of the Gospel. Though the particulars of my priesthood are very different from the priesthood of my confreres, we are bonded by our mission. As I listen to their stories, I am amazed at how hard they worked, which was magnified by their numbers. I must admit that I am intimidated when I think about the road ahead — one with more work and fewer priests, but I also take great comfort in the amazing lay ministers with whom I work. So while we pray for more priests, may we not forget to pray for more men and women to serve their church as professional ministers. In the end, I believe this is one of the most exciting moments in our history to be a Catholic priest and that my ministry is as limitless as my imagination.

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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Obama cites influence of Cardinal Bernardin, prepares to meet pope

(cross-post from our Web site)

UPDATED: Read full story here

SECOND UPDATE: Two more stories here and here

THIRD UPDATE: Obama says he wants to talk with pope about aid to world’s poor

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — President Barack Obama told a round table of religion writers July 2 that he continues to be profoundly influenced by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, whom he came to know when he was a community organizer in a project partially funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

President Obama at today's meeting with religion writers. (CNS/White House)

President Obama at today's meeting with religion writers. (CNS/White House)

Obama said his encounters with the cardinal continue to influence him, particularly his “seamless garment” approach to a multitude of social justice issues. He also told the group of eight reporters to expect a conscience clause protection for health care workers currently under review by the administration that will be no less protective than what existed previously.

In addition to Catholic News Service, the round table included reporters and editors from other Catholic publications: National Catholic Reporter, America magazine, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, Commonweal magazine and Vatican Radio. The religion writer from The Washington Post also participated.

It was held in anticipation of Obama’s audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican July 10. The 45-minute session touched on his expectations for that meeting as well as aspects of foreign policy, the public criticism directed at him by some Catholic bishops and others in the church, and the Obamas’ own search for a church home in Washington.

Obama said in some ways he sees his first meeting with the pope as the same as any contact with a head of state, “but obviously this is more than just that. The Catholic Church has such a profound influence worldwide and in our country, and the Holy Father is a thought leader and opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues. His religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic Church.”

He said he considers it a great honor to be meeting with the pope and that he hopes the session will lead to further cooperation between the Vatican and the United States in addressing Middle East peace, worldwide poverty, climate change, immigration and a whole host of other issues.

Several of the questions addressed the sometimes contentious relations between the Obama administration and some U.S. bishops, notably surrounding the president’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in May. The university’s decision to invite Obama and present him with an honorary degree led to a wave of protests at the university and a flurry of criticism by more than 70 bishops who said his support for legal abortion made him an inappropriate choice by the university.

Statements by the U.S. bishops also have chastised Obama for administrative actions such as the reversal of the Mexico City policy, which had prohibited the use of federal family planning funds by organizations that provide abortions or counsel women to have abortions.

But Obama said he’s not going to be deterred from continuing to work with the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, in part “because I’m president of all Americans, not just Americans who happen to agree with me.”

“The American bishops have profound influence in their communities, in the church and beyond,” Obama said. “What I would say is that although there have been criticisms leveled at me from some of the bishops, there have been a number of bishops who have been extremely generous and supportive even if they don’t agree with me on every issue.”

He said part of why he wants to establish a good working relationship with the bishops is because he has fond memories of working with Cardinal Bernardin when Obama was a community organizer, working with Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago.

“And so I know the potential that the bishops have to speak out forcefully on issues of social justice,” Obama said.