Flipping through pictures from my ordination nine years ago, I couldn’t help but think: I look so young! I started to marvel that I survived my first few years as a newly ordained priest. In 5 years I had served 8 different parishes, moved three times, been involved in sacking two employees, and survived a school fire. I became pastor of three parishes and master of none. Priesthood has been a very challenging life. But I can honestly say I have never regretted being ordained a priest. At dinner recently someone raised the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have to work?” Um… I don’t have to work.
I am grateful for all the experiences I have had as a priest: both the beautiful and the challenging. I don’t regret any of the experiences. Well, maybe some of the hum-drum experiences of typing emails and sorting and filing papers. Actually I don’t regret those either. They have have challenged me and helped me to grow. I am very glad to have some experiences in the rear-view mirror. And I have a lot left to learn. But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or wiser.
There are wonderful people everywhere. Not everyone is wonderful, but every assignment has had wonderful people. Our church has plenty of them. And there are lots of wonderful people in the other churches and even outside of church (gasp!). I continue to be amazed and impressed with the goodness of people. And they have helped teach me how to be a priest.
I had hoped I would be successful as a priest. I have learned that being “a successful priest” is impossible. Oh, you can have a successful funeral or a successful wedding, or even rarely a successful meeting. But you can never succeed at being a priest. In that way it’s a lot like being a parent or a teacher. You don’t ever really “succeed” as a teacher. Success means you don’t stop showing up, caring, and doing your best. If you do that, years later you might be able to look back and realize that your career was fruitful. Some seminarians used to say, “The worst day as a priest is better than the best day as a seminarian.” The difference is that seminary was not very fulfilling. Priesthood, precisely because of the daily sacrifice, is much more fulfilling.
One important thing I have learned is that there’s nothing God and I can’t handle together. Life is overwhelming, and I know I don’t have all the gifts and skills I need to handle it. But God is good to me and has always been with me through good and bad. After I exhaust all other options, I find myself turning to God and saying, “Help!” And then, surprisingly, things always work out somehow. So when will finally learn to turn to God first? Fr. Matt Settle once told me, “I’ve learned that priesthood isn’t complicated. All you have to do is love God and love His people. It’s not complicated, it’s just humanly impossible.”
Nothing is impossible with God.
(Motto of Bishop David Zubik)