The full update can be found in a printed booklet available in the gathering space of the church or here.
So, I’ve now shared five updates and this will be the last. It is my assumption that we are moving every week closer to functioning as normal, which will allow me to use the bulletin to keep everyone updated.
In this article I want to talk to you all about the vision for our parish, the future and how I believe I can best serve you as your priest.
In terms of the vision of our parish, it is my sincerest hope that we form a Holy Family. I desire that each of us, through the work of the sacraments and the grace we find there, grow in holiness. It is by daily and transformative contact with Jesus that you and I find the strength and ability to be like Christ out in the world. We will be Christ to the world by our holiness, our obsessive care for the poor and vulnerable, and our willingness to sacrifice whatever is needed to help families who need help. It’s that simple.
I’m not a big fan of trying to be a successful parish; I don’t think business models or “efforts to grow our parish” are the key. I believe that the best thing we can do as a parish is be holy and let that do the work of “growing the parish” if it is God’s Will.
I believe the best thing I can do is focus on those things only a priest can do: Mass, confessions, baptisms, etc. I am not a trained CEO, CFO or COO and the more I try to immerse myself in these roles, the less time I have to serve you in the manner God made me to. All of my training and all of my experience have taught me one simple, brutal truth: my highest priority as your priest is personal holiness. If I am not holy, I will fail you in ways that do lasting damage.
I absolutely must make sure I am praying faithfully everyday. I need to go to confession at least once a month. I need to stay faithful to my sharing and accountability group of priests and I need to make sure to check in with my counselor regularly. I need to make sure I am keeping up on my readings and that I work hard on homilies. As a priest, I recognize that I am given too much power and I need to make sure I am giving as much of it away as possible so that I do not grow arrogant or into someone who is difficult to work with.
I need to recognize my limitations: I am not a professional counselor. I am not a spiritual director. Beyond what I am trained to do (sacraments), I recognize that I am a good teacher. I’ve taught a lot: high school and college and I’ve offered teaching opportunities here that people seem to enjoy. If I focus on these things, as well as the daily things that I am required to do business wise, that is a very, very full and life-giving week.
To be blunt, I also need you to recognize my limitations. My inability to serve as a counselor or spiritual director has caused some of you pain, but long, hard experience has taught me that the greater pain comes when I pretend I am capable of doing these things and then inevitably fail. I am a limited human in so many ways. Please keep that in mind.
In terms of the future, this is where we need to be brave, flexible and trust that God is at work. While it is true that a smaller percentage of Catholics participate in regular Church life than in the past, there are simply many more Catholics in this country than there ever have been. While they do not go to Mass regularly, they do expect us to offer their weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc. They still call us when they get sick or need help.
This need is tremendous and, at the same time, there has never been a bigger gap between the number of Catholics and the number of priests in our country. Priests are experiencing a tremendous amount of pressure and, frankly, burnout and health crisis are becoming an issue for a lot of my brothers.
Our future as a Church is going to be dictated by this reality: we will have fewer priests and more Catholics every year for some time. It is clear that the issue of declining number of priests versus rising numbers of Catholics in our country is not going to change soon. Even if we end up with a huge influx of seminarians next year, it takes ten years to make a priest.
I would imagine there will be monumental moves by the diocese to try to address this reality in the next year and I ask that you pray we respond well. Whatever the particulars of that response, one thing that seems clear to me is that priests will need to be hyper focused on the things they can do that no one else can and humbly hand off the rest to Lay Employees. For a lot of priests, it can be hard to find people that can afford the low wages that come with working for the Church, but we are blessed here with a great many competent and generous people who are working for us, knowing they could be making more money in the secular world. I hope and pray you honor them for that.
In the meantime, we will adapt to whatever reality God gives us because God is bigger than any of our circumstances. The Church absolutely experienced explosive growth when it was composed of nothing but 12 priests, all of whom happened to be saints. I will, by the grace of God, fight hard to be a saint. I am a sinner, I am broken, but I also know I am loved and empowered by God.
As my mother often said “I do not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future.”
I can’t wait to see where Jesus takes us.
I love you all. I can’t believe I get to be your priest.