For the last 20 years or so, the Church has been heavily focused on the New Evangelization. There have been new ministries, new religious orders, new media, new programs, and new art all created for the purpose of bringing the Gospel and our Faith to the world as it is now. Decades into this project, it is time we start looking back and asking the question: how is it going? Tackling this question means taking an honest look at where we are at now, how we arrived at this point, and what we can do to positively impact the Church and her mission to the world.
Most priests, I imagine, would tell you that they are not reactive, that they are thoughtful in their day, that they pursue the most meaningful things, that they are developing themselves and the responsibilities to which they are assigned. That they have a more or less active prayer life, that they eat well, more or less, and that they have, more or less, meaningful relationships which are not ministry related. Furthermore, those priests are committed to care for their parish. They want to be present to their people, many of the priests do. They want to share the love of Jesus in the world.
How often have you gotten to the end of the day and been totally exhausted and unfulfilled? You’re tired, but not because you spent time counseling a couple preparing for marriage, or because you spent an hour in the confessional after several pastoral visits, or because you visited the parish school and had to dominate on the basketball court. You’re tired because in between each of those personal moments of encounter so many tiny logistical and administrative things had to be taken care of that you know you weren’t as present as you could have and should have been.
When it comes to parish life and evangelization, we need to talk about the elephant in the room: there isn’t enough time. Between celebrating the Mass, pastoral visits, marriage prep meetings, visiting the parish school, giving a talk at a Theology on Tap, and somehow finding a moment to pray, priests barely have enough time just to make it through a normal day. Having lay people on staff and in various ministries is extremely helpful, but even they can often be overworked. Plus, at the end of the day, there are certain things only a priest can do and a presence only a priest can have.
Life for new associate pastors can be crazy. Not only are they adjusting to a new public life as a priest, they are meeting hundreds if not thousands of new people, trying to figure out the workflow of the parish, learning how to follow the guidance of their pastor, administering the Sacraments, and trying to be fully present each step along the way. It can quickly become overwhelming. Take for example, the story of one young priest and a demanding pastor.
Woe to the solitary person! If that one should fall, there is no other to help. So also, if two sleep together, they keep each other warm. How can one alone keep warm? Where one alone may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken.
Simple gestures build community
Anyone who has presided at, or even helped coordinate, a wedding knows that they are likely going to feel overwhelmed at some point. The amount of the details from the flowers to the number of people in the wedding party is often incredible, not to mention the forms, the readings, that special request. Simply put, there’s a lot going on. So for most of us, after the wedding comes and goes, we wipe the sweat off of our forehead, and say “Thank God that’s over.” And then we move on to the next emergency. The hard reality of parish life is that there is no let up. A priest may have a funeral, baptism, wedding, and fundraiser event in a single day (not to mention the emergency call to go to the hospital).