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Posted October 22, 2013

Book: Letters to My Brothers: Words of Hope and Challenge for Priests
Author: Stephen J. Rossetti
Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN. 2013. Pp. 180

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti is the leading expert on the state of the American Catholic priesthood. In this inspiring collection of letters to his brother priests, he both affirms their work and challenges them to renew their commitment to holiness and fidelity to their vocations, reminding them of the profound joy at the heart of their lives.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Becoming Solid People

As long as we think of prayer as a task or a duty, it becomes one more burden in our overburdened days. And then it becomes a source of embarrassment and shame. We know we should pray more, but we are just too swamped. We are indeed overfull with tasks. We are just too busy.

I recently received a nice Christmas card from one of my favorite priests, Father Phil Hearn. Phil is a generous pastor who has done much for many people. When I read his cards, I know I am not the shepherd this wonderful man is. Among his many duties, he is the pastor of two parishes, has several elderly priests in the rectory whom he literally cares for, is the bishop's regional vicar, and temporarily took on two more parishes with the unexpected death of another priest. He confided in me he had eighteen funerals in the last two weeks. That's unbelievable. The man willingly accepts all the bishop asks and bravely carries on. And oh, by the way, this exemplary priest is in his seventies! He is a saintly priest.

We have to do something about the workloads of priests today. We are getting older, and there are fewer of us, but the workloads are only increasing. It's not the bishop's fault. If he could make more priests, he certainly would. It's not the fault of the priests. It's just the way it is. It is the sign of our times. But it is our responsibility to do something about it.

What does it require? We have to re-vision what it means to be a priest. We cannot continue business as usual without killing our priests. It means we have to begin with the acknowledgment that we priests cannot continue doing all the tasks that our predecessors did. We cannot go to every reception, attend every function, and be available 24/7 as did the great priest before us.

I think the re-visioning process ought to begin with priests sitting down together, with their bishop, and talking, praying, and reflecting. What is the Spirit asking of us today? What are the true needs of our people? What can we realistically do? One priest cannot make the changes by himself; it will take an entire presbyterate under the leadership of their bishop, to discern and to make it happen.

As a theoretical background, we ought not to fall into the temptation of looking at the Church using a corporate business model. This model, at times, unconsciously drives our actions. We priests are not simply trying to keep the wheels of the organization turning. Rather, we recognize that we are a community of faith guided by the Holy Spirit. We are each, individually and collectively, called to give witness and to serve the people as guided by the Holy Spirit. If we follow the Spirit without reserve, there will be blessings and grace in abundance overflowing for the needs of the community. This is not something a corporation would profess, but it is integral to our vision of Church and Spirit.

This presupposes that we are not simply efficient corporate officers. We are men guided by the Holy Spirit. All the activity in the world is useless unless it is in harmony with God's will. All the activity in the world is insignificant compared to one act done with the infused presence of the Holy Spirit.

You and I have experienced this truth. I am sure there is not one priest reading this letter who has not experienced hearing the still, small voice of God guiding his actions (1 Kgs 19:12). I have heard story upon story: a priest, feeling a "little push" of the Holy Spirit, decides to visit the hospital and finds a person struggling and in need of a priest; a priest about to leave the confessional decides to stay just a moment longer when a man who hasn't been to confession in twenty years stops by at the last moment; or on a whim, a priest calls on a parishioner "just to see how the family is doing" and finds them suffering and in great need. As the years pass and I try ever more diligently to allow the Holy Spirit to direct my life, I can more readily perceive how each seemingly small act has become a moment of meaning and a blessing. When we allow the Spirit to work through us, each of our actions yields much saving grace. When we allow the Spirit to work through us completely, nothing in our lives becomes chance or without purpose.

Table of Contents:

Thank you, Father

Sharing our joy

A descent into Hell

A voice that will never be silenced

Underestimating sin

Faithful in little things

Celibate lovers

Becoming solid people

One holy priest

A narcissistic minefield

The ultimate choice

Parish priest as exorcist

Be brothers!

Love the Church

Catching fire

A fallen brother

The bishop, our brother

Preaching the bad news

Grateful, Eucharistic hearts

A note to my younger brothers

Dream big

Brothers forever

One final note