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Posted May 6, 2005

Priests’ Spirituality Key to Pastoral Excellence

Taken from the CARA Report
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Priests who have been identified as excellent pastors say “prayer is the first thing” and “you have to be alive in the faith.”

These are among dozens of useful insights that resulted from a recent CARA study of pastoral excellence in the Archdiocese of Washington.

The purpose of the project is:

1. To describe the marks of pastoral excellence from the perspectives of pastors, priests, seminarians, and parishioners.

2. To understand the factors that have helped promote and sustain pastoral excellence among pastors who have been identified by their peers as “excellent pastors.”

3. To identify the types of ongoing formation opportunities that would help sustain pastoral excellence in existing pastors and foster it in others.

According to Priests and Seminarians Surveyed

– Sacramental ministry, pastoral ministry, prayer, and personal growth and development are the most important aspects of priestly life.

– Preaching and celebrating the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, tend to be the most important areas of priestly ministry for both groups. Being or becoming a pastor is relatively unimportant.

– Priests and seminarians identify commitment to prayer, commitment to service, and a strong sense of priestly identity as important qualities or characteristics for pastors.

– Priests tend to place more importance than seminarians on the ability to preach well, having a reverent liturgical style, and possessing administrative or management skills.

– Seminarians are more likely to say that commitment to prayer is one of the three most important qualities or characteristics in a pastor.

– Priests and seminarians agree it is particularly important for a pastor to understand the needs of the parish, know the people entrusted to his care, and inspire their spiritual growth.

– Priests tend to place more importance than seminarians on having a vision for parish, collaborating with others in ministry, and promoting action on behalf of social justice.

Commentary by Gene Hemrick

When this study speaks of prayer, what exactly is envisioned? If, for example, praying the breviary is envisioned, do we create an environment that fosters meditation, i.e., no music in the background, no outside distractions? Do we try to create a set time for prayer that is sacrosanct? Regardless of what the emergency is, do we set a time in which the possibilities of emergencies are minimized, and that we call our own?

Where do we best pray, in our room, in the church, outdoors, a monastery, a house of prayer?

When do we pray best, the morning, at noon, in the evening, in our car while doing ministry, while exercising?

Do we ever take time to study the scriptural meaning of the psalms we recite? How much are we growing in understanding them? How many books in our library do we have that help us in interpreting the scriptures? Are we on the constant outlook for the newest and best books on scripture?

Do we envision prayer as “in common prayer”, i.e., not so much alone, but with others? How often do we pray together with parishioners, other than the liturgical functions we perform that require prayer with them? How much do we ever pray with fellow priests or seminarians? Do we have a preference, and if so, what is it?

Do we use a particular spiritual “exercise” to help guide our prayer. For example, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, or the exercise of focus prayer?

Do we know the real difference between meditation and contemplation? Do we know what spiritual writers like Teresa of Avila teach us about the difference?

Most important of all, do we have a spiritual director? Are we even able to find one? Do we ever inquire with other priests or laypersons to learn if they have a spiritual director and how effective the director is?