Dreaming Big Dreams
I have a friend, a priest, who whenever I ring him and ask, ‘How are you?’ responds, ‘Living the dream’. No doubt there is humour in his reply, but nevertheless such positivity is always uplifting.
Recently, I have come across items in the media where people from various walks of life spoke about how they enjoyed their work. Work is an important part of our lives and we need to derive satisfaction from it if we are to be fulfilled. That led me on to reflect on my own life and ministry as a priest. What do I enjoy about what I do? What are the good things about being a priest?
Let us begin with the big picture stuff. I draw energy from the fact that as priests we address an area of life that might well be forgotten otherwise. The great German theologian, Karl Rahner, SJ once wrote:
‘But must not some one of us say something about God, about eternal life, about the majesty of grace in our sanctified being’.
People of faith invite us to dream big dreams about spirit and soul, eternity, salvation, glory, human dignity, beauty, divine love, forgiveness without limits and so much else. Our world would be so much smaller if we didn’t make room for these things. At different stages in their lives, people vary in terms of what they prioritise but everyone at some time or another feels the need to raise up their minds and hearts and dream big dreams. Continuing a tradition centred on inviting and helping people do this is a privilege and a joy.
Flowing on from this, I enjoy being with people at key moments in their lives. I like celebrating the sacraments. Baptism, first Holy Communion, confirmation, weddings and funerals punctuate the lives of families and individuals. These are occasions when people lift their gaze from the ordinary and experience something of the Spirit. The joy, pride and hope present in the eyes of parents and grandparents as they see their children take a step forward in life always reminds me that God has not lost hope in the world. Couples asking God’s blessing as they pledge to live out in love the promises they make to each other, is another sacred and inspiring moment. Being with a family at a time of bereavement gives a privileged insight into their love for the deceased and their appreciation of the blessings they received through sharing in her/his life.
I enjoy the daily routine. In normal times, it is lovely meeting people at Sunday Mass or maybe casually on the street or in a shop. People are friendly and appreciate any effort that is made. People are also realistic and realise that things are changing as we group parishes into pastoral areas served by fewer priests working closely with lay people. There is great generosity present among people. You see it in the willingness of people to contribute to the liturgy or as members of pastoral, finance councils, liturgy groups and so much else. People are also honest and increasingly give feedback when needed.
There is great variety in life as a priest. Ministry can take numerous different forms: parish, hospital, military, missionary, family, education, youth, urban, rural, on-line, media, emigrant, seminary and many others. A single day can range from a visit to a school to meeting a couple preparing for marriage to financial administration to a pastoral council meeting. Serving in different parts of the diocese allows priests to get to know various communities and make friends. Many of our priests have ministered abroad in such disparate places as England, Perú, Paris, Rome and Zimbabwe.
While ministry can at times be busy, nevertheless it affords opportunities for prayer and contemplation that few other people enjoy. Much of a priest’s daily work is built around reflection. The stillness of walking into a near empty church on a weekday morning calms the soul. Preparing to preach at Mass, the liturgy of the hours, praying for and with people all allow us to pause and welcome God into our hearts. Priests have the opportunity to go on retreat each year. In our contemporary and at times frenetic, world these are blessings that many people wish for.
There are ups and downs in every way of life. Nobody lives the dream all the time. Still, it is good every now and again to pause and contemplate the good things. The negative will always find ways to come crashing into our lives uninvited. I have enjoyed reflecting on and naming some of the good things in my life and work for this article. You too might well enjoy reflecting on what is good in your own life and work.
Fr. Albert McDonnell lives in Kildysart. He is Vicar Forane for Radharc na nOileán Pastoral Area.