Things I’ve Learned as a Priest

Dear Folks,

Last week I wrote a bit about my experience as a priest, and I mentioned that I have learned a great deal. Graduating from the seminary is like getting a complicated piece of IKEA furniture with no directions. I had components, but no idea how they fit together. It has taken some time and some trial and error (and error and error), but I have made some progress.

My priority should not be maintaining the status quo of the institution, or even forming the institution, but forming people in the faith, helping them build and nurture a relationship with God and helping them serve God. That will do the most to help the institution.

There will always be a hundred gazillion tasks nibbling at my ankles, but priesthood is not first and foremost about tasks, but about relationships (you still have to do tasks, though). Without putting relationship with God first, none of the rest of it makes sense.

It is not enough to say something that is correct; how you say it matters at least as much.

That is an art that takes a lifetime.

As long as the work of the Church is better off with me than without me, self-care is a sacred duty.

In building a vision for accomplishing things, I need to have lower expectations short-term and higher expectations long term (God is mighty, but it can be frustrating how patient He is until we remember how much we depend on His patience).

Lessons are often like spices. They have to simmer for a while before they can have their full effect.

However much patience I think I have learned, God seems to think I need to learn more.

I keep finding more about how the world is a mess, the Church is a mess, and it goes very deep (other words than “mess” spring to mind, but I’d better stick with that one). This leads to anger, disappointment, frustration, and several other reactions. I must avoid the twin temptations of being in a constant state of rage on the one hand, or giving up, doing the minimum, and waiting to retire on the other hand.

Learning from experience is not automatic. It requires will to take the effort and skill to do it well. We must look at what happened, analyze it honestly and clearly, then strategize how to do better. This is an art worth a lifetime of effort. This goes double for learning from our mistakes.

Looking back on my life, I can see how God had been at work, forming, shaping, and preparing me. It did not make sense at the time, but it looks much different in the bigger picture.

The more I learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the more wonderful I find it is and the more anxious I am to learn more. God is at work, and I think He is planning something wonderful. If we accept the challenges that face us, the road will be hard, but leading to a glorious future.

I have more, but I better stop now.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

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