Recently, someone asked me what it is like to be a priest. I responded, “it is very busy.” Indeed, it is a very busy lifestyle. There are tendencies in the single, celibate life to overwork, overcommitment, etc. The institution of the Church can view you as “available labor” and fill up your time with institutional tasking. This is especially true in this time of priestly shortage. Things can become very busy, yet at the same time, somewhat solitary as well. A lot of people need you as a priest, until they don’t need you anymore. All things considered, availability is the key to a happy life as a priest. When the Church makes its priests so busy that they are actually unavailable, this is a self-defeating decision.
At Cathedral Prep (the high school at which I work) there is a prayer up on the wall of the Sacristy. It says (and I am paraphrasing) that a priest “belongs to everyone, yet posesses no one.” I think that this is so true. Because a priest belongs to everyone, he is involved in everyone’s life. Everywhere he goes, he will see people he knows: people he married, people whose family members he buried, whose confession he heard, who he taught in school, etc. He is a part of their life for certain, but not in the particular way of family. Of course, how could anybody belong to everyone as if he was an actual member of their family? That would require the priest to buy way too many Christmas presents……
A priest “belongs to everyone, yet posesses no one.” That is a lot like the life of Christ, isn’t it? He belongs to all of us, yet we do not posess Him, as if we have a claim on Him (he’s my Jesus, and no one else’s! – a silly thought!) That is what makes the life of a priest both a perpetual sacrifice and also a wonderful gift. He is available to all in a Christlike way. In this secular world, filled with choice, sensuality, materialism, and base selfishness, there is still a desparate need for Christlike, priestly men (and consecrated women as well!). These are men and women who are available to all, posessed by none.
In past generations, when young people saw priests and nuns in public or at school, they probably thought (maybe even subconsciously), “there goes someone who will care for me when the time comes.”With fewer and fewer religious and priest in public life, does the current generation have the sense that there will be someone there for them when that “time comes”? What will happen if that priest or nun isn’t there? When that scenario happens, we are all poorer for their absence.
What will the world be like when everyone looks to their own private interests, and there is no one to tend to the needs of all? What will the world be like when people feel as if no one will be there for them when that “time comes”? Maybe we are there already? That is why answering your vocation generously is so important.