For most lay Catholics, our only knowledge of the priesthood comes from observing our parish priests, week after week, as they offer Mass, hear our confessions, and preside at the occasional family baptism, wedding or funeral. If we’re at all active in our church, we may have the opportunity to get to know our priests a little better and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the inner workings of our parishes.
But it is a rare gift to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the inner workings of the priests themselves.
A Priest’s Life: The Calling, the Cost, the Joy offers just that: a peek into the heart and soul of not just one priest, but 30, from all walks of ministerial life. Each chapter is an essay written by a different priest, and among the authors are pastors, parochial vicars and associates, bishops, missionaries, scholars, teachers, chaplains, prison ministers, writers, editors … and one pope. (The final essay is the complete text of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 letter proclaiming the Year for Priests.)
What all these priests have in common is that they truly love God, they love the people whom they serve, and they love being priests. For example, Redemptorist Father Tom Forrest writes:
A number of times I’ve begun a talk by lifting up my arms and shouting out joyfully: “I want you all to know that I am a very happy man!” … I’ve been a priest now for 55 years, and every one of those years has been joyful and satisfying, and I hope fruitful as well.
From these essays, we learn that priests have the same need for spiritual friendship with fellow Christians (“I am still involved in Cursillo. I need it for my spiritual growth,” writes Father Paul Breau), that even priests sometimes find themselves “too busy to pray” (Father James Hudgins), and that our priests are edified and inspired by the humility we demonstrate when we go to them for confession:
The trust people give priests is inspiring. There are no masks in the confessional. … I see them at their best and at their worst. … I am surprised not only in what happens in the penitent but also in me. When I hear you share honestly and with complete vulnerability, I find my heart becomes very soft. … Your wrestling to forgive others, overcome your compulsions, and be sincerely devoted to God confronts me with my own struggles and helps me resolve to try harder and address the same issues in my life. Your honesty is a witness to me. (Passionist Father Cedric Pisegna)
The content of all the essays appears to be doctrinally sound, and all are heartwarming, interesting and well written.
Father Andrew Apostoli of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal concludes his essay by saying, “A priest must always remember that he carries the treasure of the priesthood of Christ in the fragile earthen vessel of his own weak humanity.” We may be tempted to see a priest as a man of action — all administration and liturgical rubrics — but, as this book reveals, beneath the business-like exterior beats a humble and loving heart formed after the heart of Jesus himself.
Clare T. Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.
A PRIEST’S LIFE
The Calling, the Cost, the Joy
Compiled and edited by Patricia Mitchell
Word Among Us Press, 2010
187 pages, $11.95
To order: (800) 775-9673