Bruce and Jen opened the discussion by asking why parish priests feel burnt out, and Fr. Tony cited two causes 1) less priests so they are working longer hours and have less time with brother priests, and 2) more administrative work than they are trained to do or should have to do. “Burnout is not caused by doing the sacraments or hearing Confessions. I never hear priests say how burdensome that is. As a matter of fact, that is the joy of our life. It’s always the administration part.”
Fr. Tony explained, priests aren’t trained to do all the administrative work that running a parish requires, and that tends to put a strain on their energy. In addition, there comes a feeling of isolation, like “I’m the only one working on this problem.” He continued, part of that comes from our consumeristic society; so many of the laity tend to look at their priest as a purveyor of goods and services, instead of seeing their priest as a spiritual father of the parish family.
Fr. Tony stated that the laity has many gifts that can assist their priests for the betterment of the parish, but especially in larger or multi-parish settings, the priest may not know about your gifts, so make sure you let him know how you can help. He stressed to keep offering your help even if the priest is hesitant; he may use your help in the future.
Priests also benefit from the support of other brother priests. Fr. Tony explained, “…there is something about talking to another brother priest – they’re living our life, they’re walking in the same shoes we walk in, there is something about that connection. I’d like to think it’s that common priesthood and that connection is Jesus himself…” He continued, it is so refreshing to get together with brother priests, whether in a small group, or a diocesan convocation, or on a national level such as NFPC’s National Convocation of Priests. Upon Bruce’s request, Fr. Tony shared the overview and details of the NFPC Convocation, and reviewed dates and speakers [see NFPC Convocation tab].
Jen talked about the importance of praying for your priest, and your bishop, and Pope Francis, and that most of the laity probably need to do more of that. Fr. Tony said “Trust me, we feel it. We know when we are being prayed for and we know when we are being criticized.” He encouraged that if you don’t get along with your priest or always agree, that’s even more reason to pray for him.
Fr. Tony shared an idea for great surprise gift to give a priest. He suggested that if his mother has passed, have a mass intention at your parish for his mother on the day of her death. “Personally, I don’t see the mass books, so I don’t know what my intention is until I get to church that morning. And what a gift it is for a priest to know that someone thought enough of him to have a mass said for his mother…or father.”
Bruce said that many people think their priest is so busy that he couldn’t come to dinner or even just get together. Fr. Tony said that the answer to that is, just keep offering, and don’t assume he will never have time. He continued, some times of the liturgical year it is virtually impossible for the priest to have a few hours free in the evening, but for the most part there are high times and low times like everyone else. He thought that the lull after Easter would be a wonderful time to invite your priest over, maybe for a cookout. “Father doesn’t want a big old spread, you don’t have to put on the dog, Put on a hotdog! We just want to have that feeling of being part of a family for a couple of hours.” It helps prevent burnout because “1) we don’t feel isolated, 2) we feel valued and 3) we feel a part of the family.” So just keep asking.
Jen said that when things are going good, priests need to hear that too. Fr. Tony agreed, “Priests are tough to give a compliment to. It’s kind of embarrassing. But it does feel good.”
Jen continued that being with brother priests can help spiritually, intellectually, and pastorally. The NFPC Convocation is a great way to do that. Fr. Tony promoted that statement, “In addition to the great speakers that we are going to have, that I just mentioned, we really have some great times of just fellowship… That’s really where the fun part of the convocation is, over the meals and during the liturgies…just to be with your brother priests, to share some stories, possibly get some networking, some fresh ideas on maybe a challenge that both of you have and how someone else worked on it….just to sit and be with your brother priests is really a great thing, and the fact that there is a number of them from all over the country, you get to really feel the flavor of the universality of the church.”
Bruce encouraged all laity that have been blessed financially to learn more about the Convocation on the NFPC website and tell their priest about it: tell him that you want to send him to Chicago and make a donation to pay for registration or the plane or whatever it takes to get your priest to attend this wonderful event. That way you’ve taken away all his objections. The NFPC Convocation doesn’t even conflict with weekend masses. It is so important to encourage your priest to take that time for rejuvenation.
Jen and Bruce reminded all to pray for their priests and pray for more vocations to the priesthood. Fr. Tony closed at Jen’s request with a blessing for all.