On the "Long Black Line"
In the meantime, though -- and, admittedly, a day late -- yesterday's feast of the Curé of Ars calls on us all to send up a word of heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the "long black line" in our midst, especially those feeling the brunt of these difficult times in one way or another.
Even if most still find themselves to be "living the dream" in ministry, beyond a doubt -- and well beyond the scandals that've taken a toll of their own these years -- the truth remains that these are not easy days to be a priest… and, no, that's not to speak of a persecution complex.
In the trenches, both at home and abroad, falling numbers have made for drastically increased workloads, morale can easily run thin, and amid all the demands of ministry, burnout -- or simply a dangerous excess of overdrive and the lacking care of oneself that can lead to -- is running very high.
Until, in some cases, it's tragically too late, this isn't the story you see in the papers, but it's one each of us, whatever our own vocation, needs to be just as mindful of. It's frightening that the last month has seen pastors in Alabama and Massachusetts take their lives, and even if other factors were seemingly at play, it'd be hard to not see the widespread "perfect storm" of added strains on the job as having at least a part in it.
All that said -- and, granted, even if some already understand it too well -- for the sake of the silent, selfless majority out there, the message bears repeating: guys, take care of yourselves and look out for each other. Each of you is needed and loved, probably more than you realize, and your people want you around for a very long time, but only you can make that happen… so whatever it takes, whatever you need to do for that end, don't wait for anyone's permission -- please, just do it.
Lest anyone finds that a bit much, a quick last story. A few weeks back, I was on the phone with a very longtime friend -- a tremendous pastor, and one who's already a veteran of one quadruple bypass in his mid-50s -- and, knowing how he can be, asked if he was getting away a bit before the parish and school revved back to life from the summer slowdown.
He said he could use a couple days off-grid, but wasn't taking them… and that after admitting that he was "blown out."
I couldn't help but shoot back "It's the dead of July -- if you don't get away now, you never will." Still, as this is the kind of priest who needs to be dragged away from the parish before he'd do something for himself, I just couldn't help but think of the many others for whom that's the case… and that's just among the many guys I'm blessed to know thanks to these years.
You know 'em too: the kind who keep the rest of us believing in the midst of the storms. Admittedly, I worry about them a good deal, and hopefully you do, too -- if nothing else, remember, church, that such are the times that their replacements aren't exactly growing on trees.
With another Sunday upon us, on a human level, a little appreciation tends to go a long way, so hopefully those of us in the pews will keep that in mind when saying "hi" on the way out the doors and back into the world…
...and especially in light of Vianney Day, for those whose devoted service leads us unspeakably well day in and day out, regardless of the joy or challenge of the moment, while no words can say sufficient thanks for everything you do, hopefully this brief reflection is a useful reminder of what, at its heart, it's all about:
God love you lot forever... and to one and all, Happy Friday and a blessed and easy weekend.