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August 18, 2016

The Fainthearted Need Not Apply to the Priesthood

Eugene Hemrick

Compared to other vocations, the priesthood would seem to be an idyllic calling to a life that is devoted to heavenly pursuits. Rarely is the strict discipline and enormous physical stamina a priest needs to possess discussed.

The ancient Greeks believed that a sound mind requires a sound body. This applies doubly for those in today's priesthood.

A number of priests I know are like well trained athlete when it comes to keeping up their spirituality. Even though they may stay up late attending to parish duties, they rise early in the morning to pray their breviary and meditate. They consider this their most sacred time for being alone with God, and where they receive their greatest energy to carry out their work.

Although maintaining one's spiritual life may not sound physically taxing, it is, requiring enormous will power and physical strength it takes to make it work. It is often very tempting to sleep in, justifying to yourself the need for rest, or to put off prayer to later which often leads to never doing it.

Once a priest's day begins, more often than not it goes in unexpected directions. Someone might happen into the sacristy after Mass with a problem needing immediate attention. Listening to personal problems is extremely taxing because to fully appreciate a person's pain requires entering into it. To shoulder pain is to shoulder its weight and the fatigue it generates.

When a priest is not handling personal problems, he most likely will find himself facing everyday mundane problems. They come at the most unwelcomed times, like the janitor announcing a major crisis in a parish building requiring immediate inspection, a quick evaluation of available parish funds, and finding an honest and reasonable person for making repairs.

Responding to the unexpected doesn't stop here. As often happens, a call may come in that someone has been rushed to the hospital or has died, and "father" is needed. Everything is dropped and father finds himself rushing off.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of pastoral duties priests experience. Like an emergency teams on constant alert, they must be prepared to react on a moment's notice whether it be attending to a homeless person, distraught wife or husband, or a mixed up teenager appearing at the door needing help.

Most priests accept these unexpected disruptions as an integral part of ministry, but what really taxes their energy is working with those who should be their greatest support, but who are more of a hindrance. It may be a parish council that creates more roadblocks than builds roads, a diocesan office that weighs them down with extra curricular responsibilities or financial burdens,.or disgruntled parishioners who want everything their way.

More taxing than this is the fact that priests live a fish bowl existence in which every move they make is constantly monitored by people who have nothing better to do with their time. No matter how strong a priest is, their little jabs eventually take a heavy toll.

There is much, much more than the above to weigh down priests and drain their energies. Most will tell you that this comes with the territory and accept it. And most will tell you they could use double or triple the energy they have. This is why today's priesthood is not for the faint hearted or physically weak.