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DEAR FATHER | A parish priest’s daily work is rooted in prayer

What does a parish priest do all day?

Your question reminds me of a comment made by the librarian at a high school where I used to teach. Sister Francesca was a very organized person (a trait of most librarians) and she found it difficult when people distracted her from her work. She only found peace once she adopted the following motto: “My work is not interrupted, my work is the interruptions.”

That motto could work well for parish priests. While most days have a basic plan, every day is different and often the most important ministerial moments come by way of interruption. Trips to the emergency room, phone calls from people in distress, the person who drops by requesting the sacrament of reconciliation, small emergencies and major catastrophes — those are the times when our ministry is most needed.

As for the rest of the day, it never gets boring. For most priests, the first daily encounter with his people is the celebration of Mass. It is a rare day when there aren’t appointments with parishioners or parish organizations. If the parish has a school, there are frequent school-related activities. Priests visit the sick and minister sacramentally to people during their major life transitions: Christian initiation, marriage and death. The highlight of the week comes on Sunday when we gather with the larger community for Eucharist. Finally, the pastor is the chief executive of the parish, and that can be quite time-consuming. (For example, in a few minutes I have to mow the lawn.) A mix of talented staff members and parishioners is crucial to keeping the parish running smoothly.

There is, however, one non-negotiable that is part of every priest’s daily routine: prayer. We promised at our ordination that we would maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer and to pray without ceasing. That means setting aside a significant amount of time every day to spend with the Lord. When we are tempted to cut it short because of ministerial demands, we need to remind ourselves that prayer is part of our ministry. A priest who doesn’t pray can go a long time before anyone notices but eventually, it will start to show and his people will suffer as a result.

It really comes down to living our baptism radically, which is something every person is called to do. At the moment of our baptism, we were consecrated to God and our lives are no longer our own. Priests are certainly busy, but so are married people and all those who take their baptism seriously. Time is a sacred gift, and we use it to serve God and His people according to the vocation to which we are called.

Father Jones is pastor of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in St. Louis.

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