I had lunch today with a friend of mine who was ordained earlier this summer (Hi Father!). He asked me for advice. I had two thoughts. First, OH HOW I LOVE to give advice and share my opinion. I’ve got a lot of thoughts. Second, who am I to give advice?
Want to know what I said? Sure you do, I know you’re going to keep reading and will either be shouting at your screen by the end or nodding along.
Who to follow?
Take time to learn from the people and the other priests at the parish, but don’t be formed into their image (or form people into yours). Be formed into Christ’s image, and then help your people be formed into Christ’s image. There’s nothing more disappointing to me in a parish than a ‘cult of personality’ or even a priest who caters to the whims of the people. Both are destructive to the Church and a disservice to the Savior. We aren’t there to become the spitting image of our pastor – except in the ways that he emulates Christ.
You’re going to leave someday.
Whether we like it or not, our pastors and associates won’t be our pastors or associates forever. It is very rare (and I would even argue unhealthy) for a parish to have the same priest forever. If our faith is dependent on one fully (and only) human man leading us, then it is a faith in that man, not in Jesus Christ. Don’t form a community in a way that only you can shepherd them. As my pastor once told me, “You’re not irreplaceable, Katie.” He was giving me advice about how the parish would continue on if I chose to get a new job (it did). He also said, “I’m not irreplaceable either” (the parish has continued after his leaving too).
Need feedback? Find people you can trust.
He’s a new priest and therefore new to preaching. I shared that (for me) homily delivery can be separated into two things: content and delivery. Most priests I know get the content pretty well. He has the general gist of what’s going on and is giving good spiritual advice. However, someone with great delivery is rare. The homily isn’t the most important thing about the Mass, but that doesn’t mean working on the art of giving good homilies isn’t important. Ask people to give you feedback on your delivery. Ask people to let you practice if that would help.
Don’t hold tightly onto the opinions of others.
No matter what the issue though (homilies or not), not everyone’s opinion counts the same. Rachel Hollis (personal motivation speaker) repeats something her therapist told her years ago over and over and over again: “Other people’s opinions about you are none of your business.” This doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want. It does mean that we can’t change course based on what people think of us. As a priest, a lot of people are going to hate the things you say. That doesn’t mean we stop teaching truth. Most of the time when people have an issue though it’s their stuff. Meaning, that’s something they’re struggling with (or refusing to deal with). No one is going to like us all of the time – people hated Jesus and He was perfect. I’m imperfect so what makes me think that people will like everything I do?
Use the experts.
There are so many times when we expect our priests to have all the answers about everything in the universe. Which HVAC company should we use for our new installation? Ask Father, he’ll know. Do we need a new cleaning company, which is the best? Ask Father, he can decide. Which fabric should we use for the new curtains? Get Father’s opinion. I know that my pastor is in charge of the parish, but to expect that one man has all of the answers to everything in the universe and actually needs to make the decisions is absolute madness! Does Father need to learn to delegate these decisions? He sure does.
Give yourself time to grow.
You don’t have it all figured out yet. That’s okay. It’s going to take time to figure out what life as a priest is like – you’re new to it. The Lord gives the grace, but the experience takes time. It’s been two months. I won’t say he’s a ‘baby priest’ … but if he had it all figured out and wasn’t open to learning, then we’d all be rolling our eyes (I know some priests like that, it’s not a quality to emulate). It’d be like the couple celebrating their 1st anniversary being the same as the couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They may both have the grace of the sacrament to live their vocations, but their life experience has afforded two different levels of wisdom. Accept that you don’t know everything yet, and that you probably won’t. Instead of learning ‘all the things’ focus on learning the next thing and developing trusting relationships with people who can help you with the rest.
It seems like advice we could all take, doesn’t it? Follow Christ. Be formed in His image. Remember it’s not about you. Determine whose opinion matters. Build a team of experts to help you. Give yourself the grace and the room to grow.
Let’s try to support one another on the journey!