5/22/2014 9:00:00 AM SEMINARIAN'S DIARY Shadowing a pastor
This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. To read previous installments, see "seminarian's diary" under "specials" at www.evangelist.org. If you have any questions on studies for the priesthood you'd like answered in a future column, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY BRIAN KELLY
One week after I finished my internship at Christ the King parish in Westmere, Albany, I find myself reflecting on what type of priest I hope to be in the future.
Far too often, priests are labeled as being either conservative vs. liberal or an over-spender vs. a penny-pincher. I think there is room for a certain balance within these two categories - but the more important label to concentrate on when deciding what kind of a priest I hope to be, I think, is whether I am available or not.
Do the people see me or not? Am I willing to be there for people anytime, day or night? Am I willing to pick up the phone or answer the door in the middle of the night? If I find myself saying no to any of these questions, that should tell me that I need to work on a few things over the next two years.
I'd say I need to take the time to discern why I'm becoming a priest in the first place if I'm unwilling to say yes to these types of questions. To say I'm available only during a certain block of time isn't right for one who is dedicating his life to God and serving God's people.
That being said, in order to give yourself each day, you need to take time during the week to recharge and relax for your own well-being. Only then could I begin to give myself more fully to the people I hope to serve.
My experience over the last 10 weeks with Rev. Jim Fitzmaurice, pastor of Christ the King parish, has helped me reflect on this by allowing me to shadow someone who is truly happy as a priest, available to his people, knows them well and is willing to answer when called upon.
The people's response and gratitude was something I saw firsthand each Sunday morning as Father Jim welcomed them, asked how they were doing and said if they needed anything, to not hesitate to call. The genuineness and authenticity of this response of a call to mission was one of the greatest lessons I learned there.
Throughout our time at seminary, we are reminded that priests are there for the people in the best and worst of times. What we cannot learn in the classroom, however, is that those times when we least expect it, are tired or busy can be the greatest experiences for a priest. These moments can be where God is speaking the most to the priest, solidifying their calling and giving them much more than they ever expected.
As a seminarian being immersed in the parish and shadowing a priest throughout each day, I found myself feeling overwhelmed with a sense of grace at the most difficult of times. Those moments where I'd normally hesitate, I found myself more willing to say yes, to go out without hesitation and even eager to do more.
The people in the parish whom I had come to know very well encouraged me and energized this willingness; being able to work with them as they ministered to each other taught me volumes about one who is living out their faith. The willingness to be available and present to one another and the pastor showed me how the people don't just ask to be "given to," but, more often, give of themselves. The availability that the people ask for in return is therefore no more than they themselves are willing to give.
As I approach my third year of theology at Mundelein Seminary, this entire experience has left me with a new sense of zeal about saying "yes" to God's call. It has helped me understand further the joy of being a parish priest who is there for the people, to recognize the value that each parishioner adds to the parish as they share their gifts and talents through their own ministry.
Most importantly, it has reminded me, through my own willingness to be present, just how much I can learn from the people, how much God can speak through these experiences and how much my own vocation can be nourished.
(Brian Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)