Let me start off by saying that I have not burnt out, I am not unhappy, I am not miserable, I am not depressed, I am not in bad shape overall. Crisis Mode is acknowledging an impending crisis and taking prudent measures, rather than being haplessly swept into it.
The irony is that I am going to have to curtail my ministerial service over the next several months, coinciding with Lent when people typically give things up. It will be summed up in a few areas: The ministry assigned to me by my superiors, my current family situation, and the gratuitous ministries that I have chosen to limit. Things will not get better magically, but they will ease up on me by summer. Let it be clear that I owe it to everyone I will ever serve to commit to the summer vacation I am currently planning.
Pray for your priests!
This is obvious. Even for those devout Catholics who do seriously care about your priests, and would jump at a chance to help them, and support them in any way, my experience is that the majority of Catholics expect their priests to be impervious to pain, suffering & stress. That, and the needs of the People of God never end. Sometimes people will expect the priests to drop everything that they are doing to minister to them, even drop solitary prayer… Yet, all people still expect all their priests to spend a considerable amount of time in daily prayer.
Since I am a Young Priest, or merely a priest without grey hair, belly, wrinkles, or balding head, I have been in demand. This is not due to any excellence on my part, as for lack of viable alternatives. For instance, I go to various youth ministries or young adult gatherings scheduled on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays when Pastors are at their busiest. On campus, when there is a need specifically for a priest, I am not likely the first (or second) person that is requested.
The work of a Religious Priest, particularly one in a High School was very different before the Council. I often find myself jealous for priests of that era. They could spend all week in front of a crowd of teenage boys, then spend their Sunday mornings facing an alter, offering, and tabernacle. They did lesson plans all week, and weren’t expected to have a homily every Sunday. It is impossible for me to not feel incredibly worn out to be expected to stand in front of an assembly of Catholics, who often imagine that my entire priestly ministry is their exclusive right, and not the students that I have been assigned to serve. I rarely go to Parishes for Sunday Masses.
700+ teenage boys under my Pastoral Care
This ministry is important to me! It really is! Even though the needs of the People of God never end, If I gave myself half-heartedly to fifteen different ministries, where’s the value in that! I have been committed to giving myself whole-heartedly to one particular ministry. Any other ministry I do ought to not interfere with this one.
Catholic High School ministry is a real priestly ministry. Because I am not presiding at several Sunday masses, several baptisms, marriages, quinceneras, etc., it does not mean that I don’t have a full priestly ministry. It boggles the minds of many young Catholics that I am not saying several Sunday Masses in several parishes every Sunday. Each month I coordinate a retreat, that includes: planning, training leaders (many of whom are teenage boys who need a lot of coaxing), cajoling faculty members into participating, booking sites, booking buses, booking catering, chasing down students who don’t hand in permission slips and retreat related reflections. This involves more yelling at kids then I ever imagined my priestly ministry would require, and I think this is because everyone expects the young priest to be more like a sports coach than a spiritual sage. I merely remind people that their pastor keeps the Sabbath Holy on a weekday, I do it on a Sunday.
But let me conclude by saying that I really enjoy doing this. Working with these kids is really meaningful for me. I want it to be clear that I am grateful to be where I am at. Despite their being a full work load, NOT AN INORDINATELY OR DISPROPORTIONATELY HIGH WORK LOAD, this is totally worth every minute. This ministry, all by itself, will probably not burn me out.
My dad’s health crisis and family situation
If you look back to these posts in October & November, you can get some details about this, and maybe see how this has been a psychologically exhausting issue for me. My dad got West Nile Virus in September, recovered from the infection in October, bedridden for a couple months, recovered a bit in November, but since Thanksgiving has shown minimal recovery. Let me make it clear, West Nile Virus infection does not cause permanent physical damage.
My dad has taken a long time to physically recover, such that he will take a really long time to recover. It could be six months, it could be a year. At least he is recovering. This has confronted our family with several very difficult financial decisions. One small mosquito bite has altered the course of my family forever, and there is no return to the way things were before any of this.
For myself, it is a challenge to drive up to LA from SD every weekend when I am free. It is a challenge to spend more time running errands for him than actually spending time with him. It is a challenge to have to get a few voice mails from him every day.
I am sure that people might wonder if I could request a reassignment to something closer and less demanding. Yet, I am filling a position in an institution, and if I leave, the lay administration at school will have to hire someone. I cannot get a substitute for several months. Besides, this would still be quitting, and that is hardly good discernment. A lot of the challenges my family faces will ease up by the time the next school year starts, so I even think it would be incredibly imprudent to just run away and start a whole new stressful transition in life.
Immediately before all of this happened, I was committed to hearing confessions for a large youth group. I lost track of this. A month ago, I got a request to attend a small bachelor party retreat in a small rental cabin, the groom to be was more a friends friend than my own. All week long my dad was calling me asking me when I was going to visit, and I hadn’t been up in several weeks. I know is seems selfless for me to answer the need that someone has for a priest. Is it not also very selfish and egotistical of me, to pretend to be an invulnerable superhero, who neglects his sick father and students who he has been assigned to minister to?
First Fridays, I assist a young adult ministry. Adoration, Confessions, Benediction, Mass, Praise & Worship, Social & Talk are included. Typically I take Confessions, and concelebrating Mass. I preside a few times a year. Unlike Parishes on a Sunday, this has been the only regular ministry outside of school I find consistently refreshing. Practically, Fridays are the time I can finally drive up to LA to help my dad. Although I might be able to show up at some point over the next few months, I am no longer in a position for them to rely on me. There are a few other reasons.
All Catholic Young Adult Events are off the list. sometimes exhausting, because, even if I go, I am placed on a pedestal, while simultaneously being expected to serve. I can only go to these sorts of things to serve, and never to receive or be refreshed, what a way to end a long day of serving 700 adolescents! One time I remember being asked to give a blessing at the end, only to turn around to find a short line of people in attendance asking for their own special blessing. I am tempted to remind them not to mistake my youth for actual genuine holiness.
Women are another reason. Priests who have abandoned their ministry for a woman have actually hit a crisis, perhaps like the crisis I have. Sometimes I am exhausted at these young adult things because of the looks I get from them. I do remind myself that this shallow affection isn’t for me personally, but for what I do or what I wear. I would rather withdraw than pretend that no risk exists. There are several women I know and trust that would protectively give a talking to to any immature desperate girl who tried to take advantage of me at this time. Since I am not actually required to be here by holy obedience, I don’t see why I would be imprudent in that regard.
Unfortunately, I may also have to limit my activity on this blog.
I do live in a Religious Community, and having them has provided me with much of my sanity. How good and how pleasant it is! Also, I have several awesome friends who have been good to me during this time. Since I really like what I do, and want to have many years serving the people of God, it is urgent that I be mature in this regard. I am sure there are many other priests out there much holier than I am, many priests who are much better at it than I have been in my 19 months, who could do more than I can.