I love having deep, heart-to-heart conversations with brother priests. I love being able to talk about what gives us life, be honest with one another about our current struggles, and support each other in their priestly ministry. Even though many of us desire this heartfelt conversational opportunity, we do not always get to open up our hearts to one another. Perhaps we are afraid of being misinterpreted or misjudged by others, scared that what we have shared in all honesty could be used against us in gossips or lesser conversations, or because we have not given enough time to open up our hearts to each other beyond the typical conversational pieces.
We do not get to open up our hearts often because “venting” about the pressures of the parish or priestly life seems to be the usual mode of conversation. Talks seem to be about typical matters like fundraising, finance, administration, relational struggles or ministry stresses, the cathedraticum or annual diocesan appeal, liturgical or theological matters. While those things are easy, typical, relatable, and usual topics when priests get together, they are not life-giving nor truly genuine. Perhaps we have learned how to be in small talks and deflect when it comes to true matters of the heart that we tend to focus our conversations elsewhere. Yet, what many of us have seen in recent times is that many of our priests are struggling.
Many are struggling to cope, not only with priestly ministry pressures but also how to embrace the creative tensions that are in the Church right now. Many are struggling on how to embrace their priesthood in a positive light when there are so many doubts, questions, and hurts formulated from distrusts of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. We seem to get caught in the middle and feel the pressures in the trenches because we do not have an answer that would satisfy everyone. When we say, “It’s above our paygrade!” — and what we say is true — people do not think we are speaking the truth or think that we are only making excuses. They think that we should be able or need to do something instead of “sitting around and do nothing.”
Yet, what many people do not know that what seems to be an “indifferent” attitude and or “lack of action” is only an exterior part of many personal struggles, sleepless nights, prayerful wrestlings with the Almighty to find the appropriate response as shepherds in the Church. We keep doing what we are called to do, moving on with our given responsibilities because we want to be faithful to the vocation and call given to us by Christ Jesus. We have been called different names, we have been put on different blames, we have been suspicious of many things, yet many of us are still here, faithfully caring out what has been entrusted to us even though we might be personally struggling to find appropriate answers and healthy ways to embrace the creative tensions that exist.
We are not saying that we are perfect, but many of us are really trying to be shepherds with what we have on hand. We know that we are not always up to par with what is expected of us, perhaps not many people know that we do have our own messes and personal struggles to embrace on top of our regular duties and expectations as available, loving, compassionate, respectful, wise, prudent, and any or every quality that is expected of us by the people around us. We know that there are many caring people around us who are supporting our ministry. However, there are things that we cannot share with our people because they would not understand or end up misinterpreting things so we keep many things close to our hearts. Unfortunately, some have bored so many pains and pressures that they just gave up. Their physical, emotional, and psychological healths got affected by the trials, tensions, hardships, or struggles. Some went down dark paths or made poor choices because they did not find the appropriate help or could not be vulnerable to those who care for them. Some just walked away because they cannot take it anymore. I am not saying that all decisions by priests are right, but we can see that many have reacted or decided things differently with what was presented to them.
That is why I really appreciate it when priests have the opportunities to be honest and lift each other up genuinely! One of my good priest friends said in one of our recent conversations, “It all comes down to prayer. If I look outside at all (at the Diocese, at the Bishop, at the people’s expectations), I am left with nothing but fear. [However] Inside with God is where the fear rests, but I am surprised at how hard I have to work to remember that.” I deeply respected what he had to say because he underwent many trials to learn the valuable lessons of what it means to put our trust in God. This man’s words have substance because he was tested by many negative situations in order to come to the understanding of his personal identity in the Almighty. He continued in our conversation: “Hard to let go of the ego, really let it go, and say it is about Him. I still want the pats on the head that I am a ‘good boy’ and doing well. [But] As you say, be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Which I take to mean as perfectly dependent on Him, to surrender… Not anyone else’s idea of perfect.” All I can say is that I am so proud of my (priest) friend and where he is today! His sharing was full of wisdom, enlivened, tested, and tried, and it lifted me up tremendously in my own journey.
I am sharing a part of our conversation with you because I can relate to many things that he has shared. I hope you can find his wisdom relatable as well! Even though I know what needs to be done, but as a human being, I still forget and allow the things of this world occupy, control, or define me at times. It is hard to let go in order to truly be perfect in my love for God, to truly surrender and depend on Him.
Too many times, we have allowed society and the people around us tell us what we have to be in order to be loved, accepted, or successful instead of trying to listen, seek, and embrace who we are as God wants of us. Our only true peace is found when we are able to rest in His love for us! So, let ask yourself this honest question, “Who does God say that I am?” Do you know? Have you spend the time to really understand your theocentric identity or are you still trying too hard to create your own in the world (being everything else except your true self)?
To know begins with the ability to listen, be humble, honest, transparent, and vulnerable to God and with ourselves! We cannot pretend or make excuses… We can only seek to be healed, loved, and transformed as we are. We can only be who God wants of us instead of what others want from us. All of my life, I had found myself distraught, negative, or on the edge of being burnt out, pushed people away and isolated myself when I cannot be honest with who I am in His eyes. I lost my ways when I was trying hard to win the favor of others, trying to be in control, or allow others to tell me who I am. Only in surrendering myself as I am — broken, imperfect, but loved by God — did I allow myself to accept love as it is instead of only focusing on how it should be. Only in radical abandonment of my petty will and desire to have things my ways did I find out that His grace is enough for me!
I have seen so many people coming to me, asking how to be happy but they are not willing to let go in order to be content. They want to find true peace but they are not willing to surrender their control in order to be totally dependent on God as to become what He wants of them. Too many people are too worried about having this or that thing, knowing this or that person, being affirmed or be told by this or that matter to be happy; however, we are not really happy until we let go of lesser things or people telling us what they want from us out of codependency instead of what the Almighty desires of us out of love.
Again, ask yourself the honest question, “Who does God say that I am?” Do I really know? If I do not, am I willing to learn and seek to understand who I am in Him? We can all begin the journey in letting go, going out of our comfort zone in order to seek, understand, and embrace ourselves as we are in God. It is scary and challenging at times, but we are not alone. Do not be afraid to seek help from others around us as well, especially those who are wise in spiritual matters! All we can ever do is be honest, transparent, and humble in seeking help beyond the typical, redundant, recurring, and apparent issues that give no life nor have any substance. Let us try our best to be perfect in loving and dependent on the Almighty — one step at a time.