success stories

Priests as Stewards of Their Time

From Grace Under Pressure: What Give Life to American Priests
National Catholic Education Association, Washington, DC

A common problem for priests is the constant demands on their time. Priests love their work, but they also treasure their time off. Neil, 39, a diocesan official from the East, notes that "What has sometimes been a struggle over the years is the expectation: ‘But you are a priest and you are supposed to . . .' At times I have been real honest with people and just said, ‘I recognize that but this is what I can do.'"

Don from the Midwest talked about talked about the attraction of being busy: I remember in my younger days, people would ask me ‘How are you doing?' And I would say ‘Man am I busy.' And underneath that, I think I was saying to myself and hoping others would say to me, ‘You are damn important. You are really important. You are really important because you are so busy.' Later I would ask guys around the country, ‘How are you doing?' And they would say, ‘Man, I am tired. I'm busting my butt.' That is the theme all around the country these days with clergy.

Well, I came back to the parish bound and determined I was going to learn my limits and live with some limits. And I really have worked at writing a job description for myself, trying to choose what I'm going to do and what I'm not going to do. It's going to be damn important for us to choose what to do and what not to do as the job shifts and changes and possibly expands.

Don said he struggles with one-to-one ministry versus leadership or ministry to the system: I used to think that one-to-one ministry was most important. There is no question that it is a potential graced moment. But I believe the hay is made in the system of ministry. Building a system where people can connect with each other, where the values are truly held up, and where people have the opportunity to be who they are. I have decided for example, to never meet with the same person more than once in a counseling situation. I will talk with them one time, then refer them. And that is a hard decision. In some ways I don't want to make that decision, but that is an example of the kinds of limits that I think you have got to make if, in fact, your primary ministry is a system of ministry. Don said he received a "pearl" from someone concerning this issues of balance and burn out: "If it is God's work, God will give you the energy. If it is your work, you are probably going to get tired." Jack, a four-time pastor from the Midwest, echoed Don's comments on busyness.

This year on retreat I got hold of the fact that there is something addictive about being so much in demand and so busy. When I walk in the office they are coming at me from every direction. Everyone on the staff wants to see me. The phone is ringing. And you don't get done half of what you want to get done. I began to realize the problem is not the job. The problem is your need to be there. The place runs fine when you are not there. You can take your time for prayer. It was my need to be needed. It was addictive to me. Is this really the need of this ministry or my need to be in the middle of everything? I go off on vacation for two weeks and come back and everything happened that was supposed to happen. All those phone calls were dealt with. So maybe I don't need to be there as often as I think I do.

Peter from the South said, Time by myself, time to be alone gives me life. Whether it's time alone in prayer, in travelng, in cooking, in the garden, or in the office just closing the doors for a few minutes. I need the opportunity to simply rebuild and renew myself by stepping back from all the contacts I usually have and taking time for myself to look at thing or sometimes to do nothing but vegetate really . . . It's a very active life, but I also need a life where I have time by myself.

John from the West said, "Sometimes I think some of us get so consumed that we think the Church is the world. There are other things besides ministry. We have to get ourselves in perspective. There is more to this than hanging around the rectory doing good.'

The first habit in the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is "Be Proactive." We are responsible for our own lives; our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. The priests in our study have this habit; they are intentional about life. They are available but it is an intentional availability. They are good stewards of their time. This is an effective style of ministry, but it assumes that "I don't always have to be there for Church to happen or for God to effect anything."