success stories

Posted May 21, 2003

Seven Top Recommendations Made by Priests to Insure the Future Health and Effectiveness of the Priesthood

This is the SEVEN of the seven recommendations that will be posted daily on our website. The recommendations come from the study: Evolving Visions of the Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century by Dr. Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger. For further information please e-mail Dr. Dean Hoge at hoge@cua.edu.

Recommendation 7: Encourage prayer and the use of spiritual directors.

[For an excellent article on spiritual direction see: Spiritual Direction and the Experience of Healing by Fr. Paul Wachdorf University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL on our website in the Articles Section]

The priests offered two main recommendations for strengthening the spiritual life of priests: encourage priests to pray and to use spiritual directors. A 40-year-old priest:

"If you love God and are spiritual in your prayer life and in seeking guidance, people see that. And they're attracted to that. And they know it because you will live that out in our life, not just by what you say but by what you do. I think that's important. So you've go to make sure that guys are spending time in prayer and that they are seeking spiritual guidance. And I think too many guys think once they're ordained, they don't need it anymore."

A 68-year-old religious priest emphasized prayer:

"I think it is so important to be a person of prayer, to know Jesus intimately, to love Him ardently, and to follow Him closely! And to do this on a daily basis in one's prayer. It spills over into the liturgy, the celebration of liturgy, Eucharistic liturgy, and it spills over into apostolic work."

Several priests recommended that all priests have a spiritual director to encourage conscious effort to develop and nurture the spiritual life. A 40-year-old diocesan priest stressed the necessity of spiritual direction in forming a solid prayer life.

"I think we need to encourage guys to find spiritual directors and do spiritual direction. Too many guys are out there that don't seek spiritual guidance. And I think if you're not grounded in spirituality, then your priesthood is fake. You have to have a strong spiritual life, because if you don't, you're up there blowing wind. Who should believe you?"

A priest in a focus group:

"I think spiritual life doesn't just happen. A person needs to be proactive with it. And all the stuff that has been written about continuing formation, I was doing it before it was written down, because that's the way my seminary was in our formation, showing the importance of having an advisor and spiritual director or both at the same time. I continue that in my priesthood, and that is part of my spiritual life. And I think that's why I'm still a priest to a certain extent, because I took a proactive approach, therefore I met with a person . . . . But I think we could do a better job of making it known who are spiritual directors here, or who are older pastors who would be willing to be spiritual directors or spiritual mentors. I think it would be a good thing."

A 40-year-old religious priest:

"Make sure that men have a spiritual director, someone they can trust, someone they have a good relationship with who knows them well, and their sinfulness and their giftedness, and is comfortable with them. I think that is the primary relationship. And, if it's not the same person, a confessor to keep you grounded. And education and fun social activities to get them together so they can find support in that. That is very important too, because they forgot how to have fun, or that we're allowed to have it."

From the various suggestions made by priests in interviews and focus groups we gleaned the above seven recommendations. The priest's two main suggestions to seminaries were to increase the focus on prayer and spirituality and to prepare seminarians better for the practical aspects of parish life. They felt that the demands of ministry and the need to be a role model cannot be managed without a solid prayer life and a growing depth of spirituality, the groundwork for which had to be laid in seminary. Reliance on prayer did not blind them, though, to the practical realities of parish life.

Their suggestions to bishops were focused on the practical issues of daily life. Priests see a need to separate their work and living spaces and to create living situations that encourage priestly fraternity and alleviate loneliness. As fewer priests serve a growing Catholic population, they are finding themselves with more to do than they can manage. They would like their bishops to help them adjust to the new realities.