In his 2010 Letter to Seminarians, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors – today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.” The world does need the priesthood – more than ever. Yes, priestly ministry is a profound privilege. However, today’s priests face several challenges.
1. Today’s priests are busier than ever.
According to Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes (Liturgical Press), “44 percent of the country’s 20,668 Roman rite parishes and missions share a pastor.” Today’s priests are expected to do more and more, and many priests are doing more and more in multiple parishes. Today’s priests are busier than ever, and all that busyness has an impact upon a priest.
2. Many priests define themselves by what they do.
Formed by our American culture more than by the seminary, many of today’s priests define their identity by what they do. They feel good about themselves when things are going well in the parish; however, when the success of the parish flattens, many priests take it personally. Their identity is determined by what they do. However, is this the truth? Is a man’s identity, a priest’s identity, dependent upon success? Who is he? What does it mean to be a priest?
3. When priests get busy often the first thing to go is their prayer life.
While preaching during the 2006 Chrism Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The priest must above all be a man of prayer. The world in its frenetic activism often looses its direction. Its action and capacities become destructive if they lack the power of prayer, from which the waters of life that irrigate the arid land.” Many priests know far too well the “frenetic activism” the Holy Father speaks of. When life in the parish gets busy, many priests cut corners in their prayer life. Their Holy Hour becomes littered with problem solving or homily prep and soon it feels as if prayer is dry. As the schedule presses forward many priests stop praying. Eventually priests long for the God they once “felt” so close.
4. All priests know about Jesus, yet many are hungry to know Him more intimately.
In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI said, “It is necessary to enter into real friendship with Jesus in a personal relationship with him and not to know who Jesus is only from others or from books, but to live an ever deeper personal relationship with Jesus, where we can begin to understand what he is asking of us. … Knowing God is not enough. For a true encounter with him one must also love him. Knowledge must become love.” Later in his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father echoed, “The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough.” Many priests desire a more intimate relationship with Christ, but far too many don’t know how to grow in desired intimacy.
5. Surprisingly, many priests don’t consider themselves experts in the spiritual life.
While addressing priests in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI urged clergy as he said, “The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life.” More and more of the lay faithful are rediscovering the rich tradition of Catholic spirituality. Many of them desire spiritual direction from their priests. Even Blessed John Paul II urged parishes to become “schools of prayer” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 33). With the many demands already placed upon priests, many clergy shy away teaching or spiritual direction because they feel ill-equipped. Priests desire to know more about the spiritual life, but who is there to help them?
Undoubtedly, these and many other difficulties challenge priests. The Institute for Priestly Formation is here to help. Click here to learn more about who we are and how we can help you …