Letter to Ann T. Clerikuhl continued. (This section is remarkably confusing and much of it is fine print that can be glossed over.)
When I was first a pastor, the principal of the school, a formidable woman strode up the side aisle of the church where she found me reading my breviary. She glared at me saying. “There is no heat in the school!”
To which I responded, “In all my years of seminar, I took not one course in boiler maintenance.” I then put down my breviary, got up, went to the basement, started randomly pushing buttons, and, voila! The heat kicked on.
What is the job of the priest? In brief, whatever you want it to be at the moment. One of the questions most frequently asked of me, “Where is the bathroom?” The next statement is usually, “there is no toilet paper in the bathroom.” I remember a call at 10:30 PM one night, the caller asking if perhaps her purse had been found in the parish hall after bingo. The answer was “No, not to my knowledge.”
“Father could you down to the hall and look?”
Again, good priest guilt kicks in. You may think, “How hard was that?” You have 2.3 children who are always losing things. It makes you crazy. I have a thousand children. I could sit by the phone all night waiting for interesting phone calls.
When I first came to this parish, the drunken stalker of a long dead pastor called a few times a night demanding to know his current telephone number. The good priest sleeps next to his phone, so that he can rush to the hospital in the middle of the night. I must admit that by this standard I am not a very good priest.
We have this image of the radically available priest waiting by the phone and coming to the death bed for the last minute conversion. This happens. I have actually done this a number of times. The number of drunks calling the rectory in the middle of the night is far greater than the repentant sinner at death’s door and after a while Father gets pretty tired. The life of the priest, as portrayed by popular culture and imagined by those who don’t actually know priests, is not a life that can be lived for a very long time. So what are the duties of the priest? They are very well spelled out in canon law beginning with canon 273. You can skip the fine print if you want to, but I thought it might be interesting. (You can find them in their entirety in the Code of Canon Law available on the web, and a real page turner.)
Can. 275-2. Clerics are to acknowledge and promote the mission which the laity, each for his or her part, exercise in the Church and in the world.
Can. 276-1. In leading their lives, clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since, having been consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders, they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people…..they are to nourish their spiritual life from the two-fold table of sacred scripture and the Eucharist; therefore, priests are earnestly invited to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice daily and deacons to participate in its offering daily; (they) are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours daily. They are equally bound to make time for spiritual retreats. They are urged to engage in mental prayer regularly, to approach the sacrament of penance frequently, to honor the Virgin Mother of God with particular veneration, and to use other common and particular means of sanctification.
Can. 277-1. Clerics… are bound to celibacy.
Can. 279-1. Clerics are to pursue sacred studies and to attend pastoral lectures, theological meetings, and conferences.
Can. 281-1. Since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve remuneration… by which they can provide for the necessities of their life.
And here are some the duties of pastors:
Can. 528-1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.
Can.528-2. The pastor is to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful. He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the sacraments and, in a special way, that they frequently approach the sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and penance. He is also to endeavor that they are led to practice prayer even as families and take part consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy which, under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the pastor must direct in his own parish and is bound to watch over so that no abuses creep in.
Can. 529-1. In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care.
Can. 530 The following functions are especially entrusted to a pastor: 1/ the administration of baptism; 2/ the administration of the sacrament of confirmation to those who are in danger of death 3/ the administration of Viaticum and of the anointing of the sick; 4/ the assistance at marriages and the nuptial blessing; 5/ the performance of funeral rites;6/ the blessing of the baptismal font at Easter time, the leading of processions and solemn blessings7/ the more solemn Eucharistic celebration on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
Can. 532 He is to take care that the goods of the parish are administered according to the norm of canons. 1281-1288. (these canons talk about the duties of the good householder and his employment of people to maintain the facility)
Can. 533-1. A pastor is obliged to reside in a rectory near the church. §2. Unless there is a grave reason to the contrary, a pastor is permitted to be absent from the parish each year for vacation for at most one continuous or interrupted month.
Let’s sum it up: I have to pray the breviary daily, to share the word of God, offer Sunday and Holyday Masses, make sure the sacraments are administered, to get to know the faithful of ONE parish, to continue to study and pray. I am invited to say daily Mass, though not required. I am required to say the breviary. And oh, I get one month’s vacation every year.
There is a word that weaves its way in and out of the text. That word is FAITHFUL!!!! I am not an evangelist. That’s the job of the laity. I am not supposed to administer sacraments to the UNFAITHFUL, no matter what you’ve seen in a made for TV movie. One of my major jobs is to get you to do your job. What’s your job? It’s to live a holy life, praying, participating in the Eucharist, studying, performing the works of mercy and above all being Christ in the world. I am not a vending machine of sacraments for the marginally religious. I am supposed to bring the lapsed back to the practice of the faith, not to gloss over the fact that they haven’t darkened the church door since the Nixon administration.
And here is one of my absolute favorites:
Can. 515-1. A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor.
Hmmm…..A community of the Christian FAITHFUL. Did you read that? FAITHFUL??? Again let me say “FAITHFUL.” You catch my drift. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” (Ephesians 4:11). The sooner we know the difference between pastors and evangelists, the better off we’ll be. The faithful need shepherds. The faithless need Christ. Parishes need to be restructured to admit the current reality instead of living in a black and white Bing Crosby movie about the “Bells of St. Delilah’s.”Next week: more of this stuff, but aimed at deacons