As someone who works full-time, teaches part time, and is raising two young children with my wife (who also works full time), I can often say that my vocation and avocation (my work) is tiring and I grow weary. I am up daily around 5am and sometimes can be up past midnight preparing a lecture or talk for the next day. If I take a “day off” from work, it seldom feels like a day of rest but rather an opportunity for me to catch up on my ever-growing list of things to take care of with the house. So yes, I am tired. On the one hand I can be jealous of priests who can truly take “a day off” (although they don’t always have that leisure). My children do not take sick days, they are up and ready to go each day regardless of when I go to sleep or how I am feeling. This can be likened to the life of a priest as well…it’s tiring.
A diocesan priest has to juggle many responsibilities. He can hold various positions or even be asked to do much in parish ministry. In a single day, a pastor can preside at daily Mass, hold a youth group meeting, oversee a parish finance committee meeting, deal with a leaky roof in the rectory, visit Faith Formation classes, and receive a call to anoint someone at the hospital (among many other unforeseen things that may come up during the day). It is not uncommon for a priest to “clock” over 12 hours of work a day. On top of this, the priest also needs to balance his own personal life – family, finances, and personal well-being. It is so easy for a priest to become tired and weary.
In his homily during the Chrism Mass on April 2nd this year, Pope Francis beautifully reflected on the weariness of priests. He described three main types of weariness a priest can experience: a weariness of people, weariness of enemies, and weariness of self. The Holy Father explained that when he himself is feeling tired he prays for priests as they “labor amid the people of God…many…in lonely and distant places.”
The priest’s work, Pope Francis explained, is more than a typical job. The work of the priest includes being with the people in the ups and downs of their lives – rejoicing and suffering with them. This in and of itself can be “exhausting” the Pope exclaimed. This would fall under the category of “Weariness of the people.” Although tiresome, being with the people brings about an unexplainable joy, which the Holy Father likened to the “smile of a father rejoicing in his children.”
The priest must also guard himself and the people entrusted to him against evil. This is certainly no easy task and cannot be taken lightly. It is through the priest’s faith in the power of Christ’s victory over evil, which we celebrated this and every Easter that allows the priest to work through this “weariness of enemies.” It is the priest’s job to constantly remind himself and others of Christ’s conquest over sin in his own life and the lives of others.
A priest can become blinded to all of the good work he does and can be “dissatisfied.” Pope Francis said that this type of weariness of self can be the most dangerous of all since it can lead to the “toying with the illusion of being something different.” This toying with something different is commonly felt in all vocations—priesthood, single life, married life, and religious life. The famous adage “The grass is always greener,” can apply to all of our lives. It is because of this that an ever more increasing confidence and conviction must be fostered in our discussion and discernment of our own vocations.
God does not call men to the priesthood to reduce their joy, but to abundantly fulfill it (John 10:10). He does not call men and women to married life to raise a generation of miserable complainers, but instead to bring about a new culture of life and witness to the joy of God’s love. When God calls, when He invites, He asks that our yes mean yes and our no mean no. He asks that we are open to His yes and His no as well. We must continue to say yes with conviction—when we are weary, when we are tired, and when we start to think about the grass being greener on the other side.
For the Lord has said “come unto me all who are weary and heavy burdened…I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)
Through our work for the Lord and allowing time for rest in Him, He will let us “lie down in green pastures aside quiet waters…He refreshes our souls.” (Psalm 23)
“Let us never forget that a key to fruitful priestly ministry lies in how we rest and in how we look at the way the Lord deals with our weariness. How difficult it is to learn how to rest! This says much about our trust and our ability to realize that that we too are sheep: we need the help of the Shepherd.” – Pope Francis
Please pray for priests and an increase in vocations to the priesthood.
For Pope Francis’ entire full homily, click here