Maybe not forever, but at least 55 years! Yesterday I celebrated my 55th anniverasary as a Catholic priest. On May the 26, 1956, along with a dozen classmates, I lay prostate on the floor of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston, Texas, and was ordained to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. I rose to face what I could not imagine- an extraordinary life filled with faith, love, conflict, misunderstanding, poverty, litergical celebrations, and divisiveness that so tragically marks the human condition.
I found that my priesthood lent itself easily to all of those situations. I have never known a set of circumstances, new opportunity or even tragic situation that the fact of my priesthood could not lend itself beneficially to the moment.
I loved the work, and God knows there was enough of it! It has often seemed to me that while the modern world organizes itself around the 40 hour work week, the priests I knew either worked 80 hours or 10. In a large parish, you never really get “off duty”, but of course, you can hide. When that happens, it’s a tragic, misspent life.
Most people love their days off, and live for that glorious vacation of several weeks in the summertime. Did you ever think that if a parish priest is going to take a day off, he has to leave the rectory, and cannot enjoy a stay at home vacation? Many priests have this in common with doctors! When people approach you with a crisis, you cannot say “I’m sorry, it’s my day off”. Therefore, the only real way to have a bit a privacy is to be elsewhere. Please realize this, and bite your tongue before you tease your priest on Sunday morning and comment “today is your only day to work!”
Back to my 55 years, though. While I have worked in many parishes, I was only the pastor in three of them, but I also served in some very interesting administrative roles at the diocesan, state and national levels. All in all, those 55 years were a magnificent mix of human experiences, endured most of the time with laughter and optimism.
I’m on to year 56!