A priest gives Communion to parishioners during Mass at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster, Md. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

A Priest’s Life, Ever-Changing

External factors have a way of bringing about internal growth


Later this month, I will celebrate 31 years of priesthood. Tempus fugit! In some senses it seems like only yesterday when I prostrated myself before the bishop in the sanctuary of my parish church. While the memory remains fresh, the fact is that much time has passed — to the point that I am no longer “the young priest.” I am beginning to see just how old I am every time I see my parochial vicars who were ordained just three years ago. And yet I would not trade my experience or this moment in my life for anything.

Regardless of when any of us were ordained, it goes without saying that there are many things that the seminary never taught us that we find ourselves having to do now. This is not an indictment on our formation. Obviously, there is only so much that can be crammed into four or five years of formation. What is more, it is hard to anticipate what the issues will be 30 years after ordination. At the end of the day, I believe our formators did the best they could do for us at that time.

How many of us had classes in human resources, accounting or facilities management? Or how many of us had lessons in developing a parish mission statement, dealing with social media, websites, databases, legal matters, security concerns or ministering to one’s own family? Summertime is a good time to delve into these issues and learn more. At the very least, we need to discuss them with our brother priests.

During this past year I have had to embrace something for which I was never trained — namely, ministering to multiple parishes. Since Oct. 15, 2018, I have been pastoring two flocks, with the expectation to make them one in three years. As if that challenge is not enough, this is all being done following the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report right in my own backyard and the continual uproar of clergy sexual abuse across the globe. This is a hard time, and in many ways I do not remember it ever so difficult to be a priest.

By no means am I an expert in multiple-parish ministry, but I already have learned some important personal needs for this new challenge. First, I have felt a need to pray harder and more frequently. There are lots of emotions, questions and challenges within me and others. The best place to work through these matters is in prayer. Prayer reminds me that it is not me, but God working through me. Prayer also prepares one to listen more intently, which is critical for any leader in a time of change.

The second need I have felt is to be more organized. Planning ahead, time management and healthy boundaries have never been so important in my ministry. I think it is imperative to be forward-thinking. It may be Ordinary Time, but I have to be thinking about Advent and Christmas for two flocks. And I need to be as present as possible to each flock. I think I now have a better sense of what parents go through when they welcome their second child. They become stretched and have to be attentive to the needs that emerge at the moment. I also need to realize the value of collaboration and delegation. I cannot be all things to all people.

The final need in this time is to take care of myself. What good am I in ministry if I do not eat right, exercise, rest and relax, and surround myself with family and friends?

In the face of these changes, one thing that has not been altered is my daily prayer intention: “Lord, help me to be a good, holy, happy and joyful priest!”

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.

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