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Posted April 12, 2011

The Priesthood Today and Tomorrow

By Msgr. Steven Rossetti
Origins. April 14, 2011. Vol. 40. No. 44

The Introduction:

“Today with creeping secularism and ever militant atheism, it is not enough for us to be good priests; we must be more. We must become truly and completely holy,” Msgr. Stephen Rossetti said Feb. 25 in an address at a convocation of the clergy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY.

He said the priesthood of the U.S. is emerging from one of its most painful periods, due to priest shortages, the closing of churches, factionalism, a secular culture and especially the clerical sex abuse crisis. Despite these problems, research he and others have undertaken shows that priests generally are happy and satisfied. Priests must now move out of their comfort zone and engage the unchurched as part of the new evangelization. He said that simply opening the doors of the church and expecting new people to come in is not realistic in today’s culture. He said priests must ‘appear in the streets and at people’s doors and on their computer screens and must empower the laity to reach out to non-Catholics. He offered a couple of examples of how this is being done. “Changing our settled culture will be difficult, but it needs to be done, and now is the proper times.’ Instead of licking their wounds priests should get out and spread the faith, he added. Evangelization helps heal the wounds of those who receive the word of Christ and the wounds of those who spread the word.

Excerpts from the address:

Why is it that priests report such a high level of satisfaction and joy even during this difficult time?

The strong relationship of our priests to their God must be a major source of their happiness.

In Gaudete in Domino, Paul VI tries to find the cause of this joy. He asks, “What is the source of Jesus’ joy? He finds the answer in the Gospel of John. The pontiff writes, “If Jesus radiates such peace, such assurance, such availability, it is by reason of the expressible love by which he knows that he is loved by the Father.”

It should be noted that, as a group, priests are not burned out.

If workloads are up, why is burnout so low?

The answer is fairly straightforward. Burnout is not a measure of how much work one does. We all know some who do an amazing amount of ministry yet hang in there and cope pretty well. And we all know some who are overburdened with only a little to do.

Burnout is not a measure of workload. It is a measure of what is happening to us while we labor. Are we nourished or are we drained? Do we feel satisfied or emptied? Do we feel we are accomplishing something important or are we just spinning our wheels? Do we becme increasingly angry and cynical or do we find a sense of fulfillment and peace?

Despite there sometimes crushing workloads, priests reported a high level of satisfaction with their ministries. They like being priests. They especially like presiding at the Eucharist and celebrating the sacraments. They love being a part of people’s lives and being part of a Christian community. Overall, they find it nourishing, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Priests are not burned out because they like and are nourished by their ministries and their priestly lives. And they are nourished by their own spiritual life and relationship with God.