Why I Wish I Were A Priest


 

Word Magazine  November 1964  Page 3-4/6

 

 

WHY I WISH

I WERE A PRIEST

 

By Andrew McDermott— Belleville, Mich.

 

 

 

Learning that a shortage of priests is a serious problem threatening the welfare
and future of our Orthodox Church undoubtedly has caused considerable concern in
many people. With me this alarming news immediately sparked some serious,
earnest, but generally ineffective thinking about what could be done. Soon my
reflections were only brief and occasional. Unexplainably most of them ended
picturing myself as a priest  —  something quickly dismissed with an inward
smile as humorous and a whimsical flight of the imagination. Eventually, without
conscious effort, my thoughts on this vital problem became frequent, lengthy
meditations on duty and reward, and the element of humor gave away to serious
self-examination of personal interests and qualifications. As a result, for some
time now, I wish I were a priest because the Church needs priests, the rewards
are so very great, the work interests me, and because of the perhaps immodest
opinion that I am reasonably well qualified, except for training.

 

The purpose here is to interest others in the priesthood by pointing out rewards
and duties that attract me so strongly to this highest of callings open to
married men. Of course interests are for the individual alone to evaluate, and
qualifications mainly will be left to those better able to list and explain them
completely and accurately. I do however plead that all pious, intelligent,
ambitious men curb their modesty enough to prevent their being too quick in
deciding they are not qualified. Like explaining qualifications, the final
judgment of them in each individual is the right and duty of others specially
charged with such responsibility.

 

The rewards of an Orthodox priest and his family are both spiritual and
material. It is important to realize that this statement can be made about very
few occupations, and none of the others offer even a fraction of the spiritual
rewards. Also, non-material (but invaluable and very real) benefits enriching
the lives of a whole family are infrequent and small (usually non-existent) in
most of the other vocations.

 

It is freely admitted that material rewards are greater in many of the other
vocations. However, even if you insist on being “practical,” happily more and
more Orthodox Americans and Canadians are facing up to their duty of providing
satisfactory material rewards for their clergy. (At least I believe this is
generally the case in and around Detroit, Mich.) As a result, today most rectory
families have comfortable homes and can afford to maintain a standard of living
that compares favorably with that of an average family. Compensation and
financial security in general continuously are improving too. Finally, a
pastor’s being almost entirely free of concern over the possibility of complete
privation for his family is a strong material inducement. Even in the severest
of business depressions it is inconceivable that his family would have to do
without at least a life sustaining amount of food, clothing and shelter. Such
dire hardship has been and could again be the lot of people in other, more
lucrative professions.

 

Most important — the spiritual rewards are very great. Even though they are far
more important than material rewards, I am at a loss to list and describe them
or to any way convey clearly my estimate of their immense value. I can and do
reflect on the awe, joy, and satisfaction of participating so fully in the
sacred services, administering the sacraments, teaching, counseling, and
comforting. However, much the same as the Holy Mysteries confessed by the
Church, I believe that the nature and worth of spiritual rewards defy being
accurately and fully explained to another. Because of implicit faith alone that
the spiritual rewards themselves would repay me and my family many times over
for any demands made on us, this bright promise is the foremost  reason I wish I
were a priest.

 

Although material compensation and security have been discussed first, these
actually rank third in importance as inducements for me. Depending on my frame
of mind, sometimes the spiritual rewards must compete with a sense of duty as
the most important reason I wish I were a priest. Whether it ranks first or
second, fortunately this matter of duty does not go so far beyond the limits of
language and human understanding, although it is possible to fall into faulty
thinking on the subject.

 

Duty can be summed up in general by stating that a man is doing his duty if he
is truly Christian to the fullest extent in every phase of his life. This
certainly implies a great deal, but rather in brief, I think we can agree this
to mean he regularly attends church and receives the sacraments; he supports
parish and other worthy groups financially and with active participation he is a
law-abiding citizen. If he is married, he is a kind, loving, faithful husband.
If also there are children, he is raising them Christian — happy, fair, and
well-adjusted; he will make a sincere effort to prepare them to be worthwhile
adult members of society. Much more — but finally, he provides the financial
means for all this doing some sort of honest, worthwhile work.

 

This last requirement is the one most closely related to the Church’s problem,
and in it is to be found a good explanation of why there is a shortage of
priests. Faulty thinking arises here if doing one’s duty means only that the
work is honest and worthwhile. I believe that this work (regardless of what it
is) also must make the best possible use of one’s interests, intelligence,
skills, and talents. In applying only some fraction these precious gifts of God,
particularly in earning a livelihood, I believe a person is guilty of neglecting
a most important duty.

 

The occupation that provides a man’s livelihood often accounts for more than
half of his waking hours. This is his career, his service to mankind for the
glory of God. This is what gives him a personal identity more than any other one
thing. In his vocational career above all is where he is obligated to — deserves
to use his God-given faculties as fully as possible — for love of his fellow
man, as an example for his children, and for the fullness of his own life.

 

The square peg in a round hole is a widespread and age-old affliction of
society, and I admit there are usually sound reasons that keep men out of
occupations better suited to them. However, some of these men should
be and almost as many could be the priests our Orthodox Church needs. With
enough interest, ambition, and courage most of them could find the means to set
aside now seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  A special few might need and
deserve some unusual extra assistance from others.

 

I doubt that any occupation is not a mixture of advantages amid disadvantages —
of pros and cons. However, even aspects of the priesthood that might appear
unattractive on the surface are really ones that can provide a man some of his
greatest satisfaction. Also, any man who aspires to the priesthood must be
realistic about these so-called “cons,” admit their existence, see in them vital
duty and intriguing challenge, and even be eager to deal with them, confident of
the fine rewards they offer.

 

A pastor’s becoming quite intimately involved with the sorrow, suffering,
depression, and difficult personal problems of others is an inescapable part of
his work — something usually not too tasteful to those not genuinely suited for
the priesthood. At one time or another almost all (if not all) of his
congregation will go through periods of considerable emotional stress, and in
most instances he will share their lot to the degree necessary for him to
furnish the comfort, counsel, and support it is his duty and desire to provide.
He must be able and willing to lay aside his own cares, become one with them in
their troubles, yet almost miraculously remain objective enough to provide the
wisdom and strength they need.

 

This is truly a noble duty, and having put forth sincere effort to do it well,
the satisfaction would have to be profound and lasting. It also follows that
such special duties as these require something special of the men discharging
them. Yet no man who is suited otherwise should disqualify himself because he
fears he might not be capable of enough sympathetic feeling and thus not be able
to involve himself enough emotionally to be effective and fully accepted as a
comforter, protector, counselor, peacemaker, or whatever is needed. At the other
extreme, a man should not consider himself unsuited to such duties on the basis
of believing himself to be too sensitive, too easily moved, or too
demonstrative.  I don’t believe either of these extremes in themselves
automatically disqualify men who for every other reason should be priests. It is
impossible for me to visualize a divinely gifted and called man being too
sensitive or too much the opposite; too objective or not able to be objective
enough. Rather, I am certain there are places in the ministry for many very
different types of men, even including these extremes.

 

What then is the source of the “something special” that is so necessary? Again I
fall back on my faith — faith in the sacraments here. I have faith that special
grace is added through Ordination and that a part of this additional grace is
that “something special” needed — an extra measure of wisdom and strength
mysteriously provided at those times when a priest must have them to be the Good
Shepherd his calling demands him to be.

 

Another “con” could be attributed to certain persons that probably are to be
found in every parish and the problems they create. These are the well-meaning
but too helpful and misguided, the non-reasoning critics, the reactionaries, the
lazy, etc. There are times when they menace a parish’s unity and progress to
some degree and can cause the waste of a considerable amount of time much better
spent in other ways. Here is challenge — to combine humility, tact, and
resourcefulness and then use them with the patience yet firmness of a wise and
loving father. The problems here are actually petty more often than not but
seldom seem so to the people involved. By the nature of the trouble they cause
there is a good indication they need the Church more than most people, so a most
rewarding sense of accomplishment certainly would come out of dealing
effectively with the problems they create.

 

No doubt most clergymen would like to be free of those details of parish
management that could and should be attended to by laymen.  Like me, probably
most prefer to be only a pastor in the strictest sense (certainly this is a
full-time job) and not have to be too concerned with any “non-priestly” details
except as a casual overseer and occasional advisor. However, I am realistic
enough to face the fact that for some years to come most pastors must expect to
be combination business executives, chief fund-raisers, treasurers, bookkeepers,
stenographers, publicity men, mail boys, assistant janitors and gardeners,
part-time repairman, etc.

 

For quite awhile this was another “con” as far as I was concerned.  However,
once again faith reassured me and provided me a different viewpoint. This new,
broader perspective showed this matter like all the others to be unattractive
only on the surface, and that the satisfaction of doing what must be done would
be enough to compensate for the extra time and effort. This faith even provides
confidence that again mysteriously I would be provided a surprisingly keen
interest in and the energy to do (within the limits of my skills) whatever had
to be done for the good of the parish.

 

Probably all of us at times have found or remembered  verses from Holy Scripture
that are particularly related to some special problem or event in our lives.
Sometimes passages that warn, comfort, inspire, or command make the startling
impression that they are addressed to us in an especially personal way. Any
qualified man who in any way senses as personal such words of Our Lord as “You
have not chosen me.  I have chosen you,” should give long, serious, constructive
thought to becoming a priest. Pious, intelligent, industrious men who find a
personal nature in the command “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,”
should make a great effort to leave their nets (hammers and saws, drawing
boards, stethoscopes, law books, students, plows, etc.) and prepare for the
Orthodox ministry. Such men who are especially moved by the plea are especially
moved by the plea “Feed My Sheep” should become the priests our Church needs so
urgently.

 

Young men aspire to be physicians, teachers, counselors, social workers, and
business managers. Instead of taking all of their training at a college or
university, why not take the latter part of it at a theological seminary and
become a bit of all these instead of just one? Many different ambitions can be
redirected and guided toward being even more fully satisfied by a career in the
ministry. The welfare and future of the Orthodox Church here in America and
Canada depends on more young men awakening to the incomparable satisfaction to
be found in a priestly career and then redirecting their ambitions accordingly.
I pray for this, including the petition that some older, career-settled men also
will respond to the call of duty and find the desire and means to change their
occupations to that of priests.

 

I have long since found the desire but not yet the means. This is
disheartening, but my rather lengthy struggles to make priesthood training
possible has made me realize that there is much more involved than desire,
qualifications, and loyalty, even when these are combined with strong pious and
humanitarian motives. This is a calling to be approached with both courage and
fear —the courage to undertake that which is fearful, great and sacred
responsibility — something a few of each generation must do. Equally important,
I think there must be an uncommon need — a need to give in an uncommon way.

 

Perhaps my being unable to solve the problems that stand between me and seminary
training only proves that after all I am not really qualified for such fearful
responsibility or have no uncommon need. I beg of all men in similar
circumstances not to be hasty in coming to a like conclusion and then abandon
all hope and effort. I find it more comforting and cheering not to admit defeat
and being unsuited while continuing to trust that providence will intervene
before I am too old and further bless me with added wisdom and courage, a
different means to my goal, the special help of others, or whatever else might
be necessary to make this greatest of dreams a reality.

 

At one time, whenever pondering the sacred nature of the responsibilities, the
physical, mental, and emotional demands, and the time and energy required to
prepare for the priesthood, I often prayed as Our Lord did — “that this
cup pass from me.” Besides wishing for many other reasons that I were a priest,
a haunting sense of guilt that somehow I’m neglecting a great duty brings this
prayer to mind only when occasional doubts about my worthiness arise. “That this
cup pass from me is not what I really want. I don’t want to be like the servant
in the parable of the talents who buried what his master had entrusted to him.
Instead, like all of us, I want to earn that greatest of tributes — “Well done,
thou good and faithful servant.” How certainly a man (and his wife and children
too) would earn this tribute by serving God well through the ministry!

 

The men who answer the urgent plea of our Church will be fortunate and happy
that they did. So will their families. They will be able to “Rejoice and be
exceedingly glad” more fully and lastingly because of choosing the most
charitable and richest of all earthly lives. Surely, too, they could rightfully
expect greater eternal blessedness and joy for there would be special meaning
for them in God’s promise “great shall be your reward in heaven.”

 

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