Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 14, 2004
Reflecting on a Christian career
The solitary priests is expected to create community
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
The other day, I realized that I've been a priest for almost 40 years. It was a bit of a shock. Where have all the years gone? I remember when a priest celebrated his 25th anniversary of priesthood how very old he seemed to be.
Yet being older and perhaps a bit wiser, I have had a fairly good run at my life as a priest. But I'm sure of one thing: I'm not ready to throw in the towel. I love being a priest and intend to continue to serve for many more years, God willing.
Since I'm generously offered this space in the Western Catholic Reporter, I thought of sharing my thoughts about the priesthood. In the process, I hope to both honour and also share issues and experiences regarding the priesthood in the Church and in society.
I've known many priests on my journey and have learned from many of them how to honour the call and how to love and respect God's people. I will include some of them in this column and visit with them a bit, seeking their much-needed counsel.
I believe that a priest is a man of God. He's all about holiness although he may be no angel. He is above all a man, a human being with his own struggles, weaknesses and failures.
But he has been set apart by God, to lead God's people into the paths of love and kindness. Yet he finds himself struggling to stay on the good path himself, finding it hard to be faithful to a call that can seem so unnatural.
A man set apartWhen God created us he created us man and woman. We are created to be intimately connected with another person. Yet the priest is a man set apart, single and oftentimes lonely in the midst of crowds.
His main job is to create community, yet his lifestyle is that of a solitary individual bereft of human intimacy, carrying on without human love and affection in order to proclaim John's claim that God is love (1 John 4:7-8), that God is a community of persons, and that we're all made in God's image and likeness.
In spite of his failures, the priest is called to holiness and he's called to bring the good news of hope and love to all. Yet the priest is often a victim of depression and discouragement, experiencing doubt and sin, needing his daily dose of good news himself in order to go on.
When I was pastor in northern Alberta, serving a few First Nations communities, I had my fair share of blue moments, of setbacks, loneliness and discouragement. But I also discovered that God had not abandoned me entirely. Probably out of sheer need to be with people, I started to visit families, introducing myself as the new priest.
Before I knew it, I had a cup of coffee in my hand and a crowd of people eager to engage in conversation and sharing that lifted my spirit and left me with a profound feeling that I belonged, that I wasn't a solitary old bachelor, but that I had roots, that I had family and friends all about me.
I left that house promising the family that I would be back soon.
Returning to my solitary rectory I felt different. I wasn't alone anymore in the midst of strangers. I had important, life-giving connections. These good humble people unknowingly gave me a life and they gave me wings.
This visit which was renewed in many other homes was like a life-giving sacrament by which Christ gave himself to me as food for the soul, love for the heart, uplifting hope for the spirit. And thus this priest experienced that God gives his priests a lifeline, a meaningful connection to hope, love and a future full of positive dreams.
God's lifelineAnd this lifeline that helps overcome loneliness is nothing less than the common folks God created in God's image and likeness to be our dear brothers and sisters, faithful friends, life-sustaining companions on the journey, all of them. The priesthood founded by Christ has its roots deep in God's being, a God who is a community of loving persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And being a Christian and a priest I am surrounded with people, strangers perhaps, but all of them part of my intimate loving family. They are the people who gave us life, people that we met or will meet, who also share the same roots as I do, born to be a reflection of God, the Trinity, the divine family whose life we share, to whose unity we all belong, and whose mission of love we're committed to. We all share these common blessed roots in God and that makes us all kinfolks and people of God. The priest has received a special call to be God's special servant, as well as the servant of God's people. A daunting task surely, a task that we are to share with God's people.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.