I may some day run off with some woman and go get married…we all have to always be open to the fact that we are prone to falling into all sin…but that being said, I really don’t think my greatest temptation is quitting the priesthood for a woman.
I once heard someone say that if the Devil can’t get you through things that are sinful, he’ll try to use things that are good.
And so I think, for me, the greatest temptation is to leave the path God has called me to for something that I perceive to be “good” and “holy”
Let me make some comments up front:
1) I’m not writing this for sympathy
2) I’m not in any sort of existential crisis
3) I’m not actually going to leave the diocesan priesthood
4) I’m writing this in case it might help other priests or seminarians struggling with this (I know several that are)
5) I’m also writing this because I think what I sometimes feel as a diocesan priest is also nearly exactly the same sort of thing that a lot of married couples feel after being married for a few years, and so maybe this will help them as well
6) I don’t think I’m better than anyone else
7) This also has nothing to do with my current assignment (I really do love both of my parishes and the university ministry!)
That being established, let me remind folks that as a diocesan pastor I am charged with caring for and working for the salvation of EVERY soul that lives in my parish boundary. For me, that currently is 2.1 counties in Indiana, and roughly 40,000 souls.
Out of that 40,000ish, perhaps 900 come to one of my 5 weekend Masses.
This percentage is about right for most pastors of most Catholic Churches in the USA.
And so I spend a lot of time asking and praying about “what is the way to reach the unchurched?”
(note: people will always reject the Truth, so I know not all will likely return to the Spring of Life, but the numbers are clear – we have a lot of work to do!)
So we have a lot of work to do. We have to go out and invite folks. We have to EVANGELIZE and knock on doors and engage folks kindly and let them know we want them with us. We have to celebrate the Mass the way the Church asks so that it will draw them in and not, as is often the case, actually repel those who do happen to come one time to check us out, etc. etc.
So my struggle, and the doubt that is certainly of the Devil, takes the form of something like this -
“I will likely be spending the rest of my priesthood at least spending the first 5-10 years at a new assignment having to convince people that:
1) Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist
2) mortal sin is a reality
3) I can’t receive Jesus if I’m in a state of mortal sin
4) I have to go to Mass on Sundays and holy days
5) confession has to be part of my spiritual life
6) because Jesus IS truly present in the Eucharist, flip flops and Colts jerseys and gum and cell phones and boat shorts probably aren’t appropriate attire and behavior for being in the presence of the King of Kings, given the fact that we dress up infinitely better for many other occasions in our lives
7) That you can’t, as a Catholic who takes their Faith seriously, vote FOR someone who votes in favor of abortion and/or same-sex “marriage” etc.
8) That pop music has no place in the Mass and actually has the function of reverse-evangelizing
9) That the priest ISN’T the center of attention at the Mass, nor is he an MC, but instead is to serve as an icon (read: get out of the way of Christ)
And so I think about all of this, and how long it takes to get today’s parish to understand the basics, and I begin to think:
“It would be a HECK of a lot easier, and a better use of my time, to go to a parish that already GETS the above listed concepts so that we, as a parish, could worry more about what REALLY matters – the call to go make disciples of all people who AREN’T at Church.”
Look, I know that religious orders that only staff parishes that do the Traditional Latin Mass and the orders that only staff parishes that do the TLM and the Novus Ordo Mass the right way, I know those priests have challenges. I know in those parishes people struggle with pride, some people want to go to confession every half hour, some people think Vatican II was demonic, some people think Pope Francis is the enemy, etc. Every place has its challenges.
But when I look around today, not at my own parishes but just at future potential parishes in general…man alive…am I really going to have to always fight over the basic stuff that a properly catechized kindergartener understands and believes? Am I really going to have to take down video screens, tell people for the first time that they’re supposed to be at every Mass, tell people they are supposed to NOT receive Communion if they’re in a state of mortal sin, that they SHOULD get an annulment and not, despite what the last priest told them “just go ahead and take Communion anyway”, and tell people that they’re NOT at a barbecue?
If I were an order priest of, say, the FSSP or St. John Cantius or something like that, I would be able to show up at a parish where I wouldn’t’ have to spend 10 years convincing people that
1) Chant does a better job of drawing people into the Mass than pop music
2) A Communion rail doesn’t “cut people out” it is highly catechetical
3) Mass on Sunday is non-negotiable (barring illness)
4) Mortal sin is real and it is in the Bible
5) Confession isn’t psychologically damaging, it is actually a Sacrament
6) Adoration isn’t “from the Dark Ages” it is actually edifying
7) The Church has never said Mass should be said facing the people
8) Mass with the priest facing the people has real philosophical, spiritual, and catechetical implications that DO matter even if most people don’t care
That’s why it is tempting to leave and join an order…because then I think in my mind I could get right to trying to go reach out to the 98% of my people in my future parish boundaries who AREN’T Catholic.
But, at the end of the day, I realize that this is very similar to a spouse that wakes up early one morning, and lays in bed staring at their beloved, and the sinking feeling hits them – “This person isn’t what I had in mind when I married this person.”
And I’m sure that my current and future congregations feel the same way about me at times – “who do we write to in order to get rid of this guy?”
And so, at the end of those days where I’m especially struck by thoughts about what COULD be, I remember that I made a vow, and that vows don’t happen on accident, and since I promised, before God, to be a diocesan priest for the rest of my life, that’s what I need to be.
Maybe I will get some future parish assignment where I have to spend 12 years convincing people of the basics, and I maybe that parish will do very little to reach anyone outside the walls of that parish, and maybe those 12 years would have been more productive for the kingdom if I was the pastor of a parish that already understood the basics…but a vocation isn’t first and foremost about production…we only measure the performance of machines by production…a vocation is a person’s particular path to holiness that God has called that person to…even when it seems like the grass is greener on the other side…
Let me end by saying I’m fine, I love being a priest, and I’m not asking for sympathy. If anyone has issues, it is me. I do not think I’m better or holier than anyone else. My current assignment is great.
The Devil doesn’t use our ACTUAL and CURRENT situation to discourage us, it is always some hypothetical future reality, because the Devil can only suggest thoughts to us about what MIGHT be.
If you are struggling with a fear about your vocation as a priest, a seminarian, a married person, etc…kick the Devil out of your head…press on…recommit your vows to your spouse…or your vows to your bishop…say a quick prayer…and then press on laboring in the field that God has given you to care for and quit worrying and thinking about hypothetical futures.
May we all be able to say, at the end of our lives,
“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me” (2 Timothy 4:7)