Sometimes when I describe my life as a priest to others, I explain that I often feel like I am doing constant triage. Those of you who work at the hospital or in the medical profession probably understand this best. I attempt to prioritize the many concerns in front of me and then take on the most urgent tasks first. Is someone seriously ill or dying? Who needs my time and attention the most? What are the things that only a priest can do—is ordained to do? Pope Francis mentioned something similar in a few of his messages: The church seems like a field hospital, where the first order of the day is heal the wounds, not measure people's cholesterol. I couldn’t agree more.
There are so many important, urgent matters that the church needs to face these days. I think firstly of the need to help bring people to God—to let all people see the love that Jesus Christ has for them.
In days gone by there might have been plenty for a priest to do by simply remaining at the rectory or in the office waiting for someone to drop by, seeking his assistance. Today, more than ever, I think the priest needs to go among his people, to seek out and to bring back those lost sheep that have strayed. Maybe this will involve visiting a home or family. Maybe a matter will be discussed over breakfast or dinner. To the consternation of some, I have never really been the type of person who simply remains in an office, at a desk all day. I tend to be on the go, out and about quite frequently. I realize that this might be frustrating for people who come to see me, who expect a call to be returned immediately or who are looking to obtain an instant answer from me. Sorry.
What do I see as those important matters where a priest needs to be spending his time? First, only a priest can celebrate Mass and offer this most perfect sacrifice to God. From the Mass we receive the Most Holy Eucharist, hear the Word of God proclaimed and preached, and worship as the Body of Christ—the Church. Second, only a priest—in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation—has the privilege to forgive sins in the name of Jesus. In my estimation, time spent hearing confessions is time well-spent. Again, only a priest can anoint the sick and dying in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. A priest should be called when someone is elderly, seriously ill, in danger of death, in the hospital, preparing for major surgery, etc. (We have a parish emergency phone line meant exclusively for this purpose.)
From my experience in the confessional and in various other circumstances, I have found that some of the most urgent needs of parishioners include the need to regularize marriages, the ongoing desire for healing and forgiveness in people’s lives, various addictions affecting people and their far-reaching impact, the increasing lack of knowledge, understanding and practice of the Catholic faith, and a general disconnect with many of the teaching of the Church.
I pray each day that God helps me to be an instrument of His Grace, His forgiveness and His healing. A priest needs to be Christ’s visible presence for others in the world. Imperfectly and unworthily, I attempt to carry this out daily.
Fr. Ed Namiotka