Spend Time in Prayer with Christ

Then the other stuff will fall into place

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AckermanA retired priest friend of mine often jokingly tells me that he is always in a good mood because he is no longer a pastor. Initially, I thought that was a sardonic statement, since it always seemed to me exciting and a great blessing to shepherd God’s people.

Now that I am a pastor, I can appreciate his sentiment much more. Since becoming pastor, overnight I seemingly have gone from an obscure figure to the most sought-after man on campus. I also had to become a quick learner in finance, accounting, maintenance, human resources, strategic planning and fundraising. It is quite a lot at once, to say the least, and I have read through more policies than an insurance agent.

One of the school families stopped by my office one day after classes and found me at my desk with a mountain of paperwork and checks to sign. “Is that all for you?” a young boy asked me.

“Yes,” I replied, “I am afraid it is.”

“Wow,” he told me. “I hope you still have time to pray.”

I have not forgotten his words, because it is easy to become overwhelmed and neglect prayer. Many times, on my way to prayer, I have been stopped by people ranging from well-wishers who comment on a good homily to people who are angry that we changed the flowers in the church without any consultation. Prayer can quickly take a seat on the back burner as the demands of ministry grow. However, as priests, we know that prayer is essential to what we do.

Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, “Counsel involving right and wrong should never be sought from a man who does not say his prayers.”

If we truly are to be shepherds modeled after the heart of Christ, then we must spend time with him. The avoidance of distraction is key, but good luck doing that.

One particular morning, I did not have much on the calendar. So I decided to have a morning of recollection. However, before I could get to my car to disappear for a few hours, a barrage of problems came forward. We had a pipe burst in the boiler system, which shut down the heat to the church, making it more than a little chilly. The alarm system in the chapel kept malfunctioning, and we had a hard time stopping it from emitting an incessant, shrieking noise. One of our maintenance people fell and broke a wrist, and we had two emergency hospital calls. I have had more recollected moments on the gaming floor of a Las Vegas casino.

Needless to say, I was getting quite frustrated and annoyed, and morning prayer quickly found a home in the afternoon. I was also very tempted to simply cut out my Holy Hour for the day until I read a daily meditation, which was a quote from St. Charles Borromeo: “Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul.”

That cut through me like a knife, and I found my way, albeit haphazardly, back to prayer. It never ceases to amaze me how God provides what we need whenever we need it.

If I am honest, I am still trying to get the hang of being a pastor. I am especially grateful to my brother priests who have served as mentors, confidants, supporters and guides along the way. All of them often ask me how my prayer life is going, and I am most especially thankful for that. Their support has kept me sane and has enabled me to take all things in stride with God’s help and assistance.

I still visit with a retired priest occasionally, and he makes that same statement with a little more gusto. However, he also asks me if I still pray and spend time with Christ. “If you do that,” he said at our last visit, “the other stuff will fall into place.”

And so, even when I am figuring out budgets, repairs, conflicts and campaigns, I realize that nothing can give comfort as solace as much as time spent with Christ. That surely puts a smile on our faces; whether we are pastors or not. 

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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