I have a strong affinity for my parish (even though I think I’ve been away more this summer than I’ve been there)! I’ve been registered there for 8 and a half years – working there for 4, working at OSV for 4 and a half; and I’ve grown tremendously in my faith because of the ways I’ve been grown and stretched. There’s one thing about our associate that I’ve never experienced before.
He is radically available. (That’s a term I made up, btw, trademark pending!) He’s being doing this since the moment he was ordained (it’s been a little over 2 years now) and was assigned to our parish. His is available for whatever you need, however long you need, after every single Mass – daily, weekend, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, random afternoon you see him walking around, etc. There are times he has an appointment and has to run quickly – but he lets us know during his homily. The general norm is that he’s available to bless holy objects, hear confessions, be a listening ear, talk to you about a question about the faith, help you understand a teaching of the church, etc. after every Mass, every day.
I’ve taken advantage of this a few times. Once was a Thursday where I’d come to confession the night before and the line was too long for my impatient self. The most recent was a few Sundays ago when I was having a very rough emotional moment after Mass. I was super grateful for his radical availability. As I was praying after Communion, I felt the pull toward going to Confession and told the Lord that I would go if I ran into a priest before I left the building. (I’m great a ultimatums with the Lord.) I sat and prayed extra long to see if maybe I could miss Father and avoid the uncomfortable situation of ugly crying in front of someone.
After the extra long after communion thanksgiving prayer, I was walking back and almost collided with Father walking back into the sacristy after greeting everyone at the door and quietly asked, “Father could I bother you for a few minutes to go to confession?” He didn’t blink, didn’t even think before saying, “of course, let me see if the sacristy is empty.” He turned off the mic, took the batteries out, and waved off the Deacon from de-vesting until we were done, and my soul was fresh, new, and white. Five minutes and a lot of tears later, I was relieved of my burden and sent on my way.
Why does this matter? It matters because it’s inconvenient to be stopped at any moment. It’s hard to create a culture where our busy priests are available for your emergency. What I had to get off my chest wouldn’t be considered a ‘spiritual emergency’ to anyone but me. The general trend is that our priests, staff, and ministry leaders are “just soooo busy.” When you called to make an appointment with Father when I worked at the parish, that was the first thing you heard when you requested a time – “Oh, let me see, Father’s schedule is very full, he’s so busy with work at the parish, the diocese, etc.”
Father’s busy schedule isn’t the reason why we’re losing people, it’s not even the most important thing we should be focusing on. However, this radical availability is another way that Father is living out his role as persona Christi. We experience the Lord through the way we experience the priest, the parish staff, ministry volunteers, and the Church.
I’m not advocating for a “Church culture of consumers” … however, our parishes should be a place where people can find the Lord through those serving. “Those serving” includes all of us who volunteer for ministries in any fashion beginning with the pastor and down to the usher.
To see what the parish culture is like, we ask the below question on the Survey in the Vision Planning process.
In our planning meeting, I’m always intrigued by the pastor’s reaction. Will he be offended we even want to ask? Will he defend his busy schedule? Will he think this is a necessary question? Will he become upset when people respond with the second option?
Most people (I’d say less than 50 people in more than 25 surveys have ever chosen b) are able to talk with Father at times of need or have never had the need.
Regarding my associate’s “radical availability,” I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m sad it’s a rarity, but I’m happy it’s true at my parish.
What about yours? How easy is to grab Father for just five minutes after Mass for confession, to have a rosary blessed, or talk about something that struck you in the homily? How does your parish balance the hectic schedule of just one priest to “do all the things” and being available for people who need a spiritual Father for a few minutes?