Working with our shepherds
In this Year for Priests, Tim Flanagan says now is the time to honor priests . . .
I have the great blessing to spend several weeks with my grandkids down in the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year. The house is packed with little ones (and not-so-little ones) who constantly amaze me with their astute observations and inquisitive natures.
One day this summer I was finishing up a conference call regarding how Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) might support our Church in celebrating the Year for Priests. One of my grandsons, eager for “Pop-Pop” to take him to the beach, crept into my room and stood listening to my conversation about the importance of supporting the priesthood. As I hung up the phone, little Jack gave me his discerning look and said, “Pop-Pop, why do you do all this for priests?”
As CLI brings its clergy leadership training program, Good Leaders, Good Shepherds, to more and more dioceses across the country, I have the privilege to meet countless priests who are proactively investing in their own professional development to better serve the People of God. I’m constantly impressed by the incredible demands upon our shepherds’ shoulders. Priests ordained two or three years are being named pastors of massive parishes. Some pastors are leading more than three parishes at once. I met with one priest who was responsible for six churches and two schools in a 100-mile radius. He literally drove around with an air mattress in his car and would sleep wherever he ended up.
Inherently, the life of a priest is characterized by the “extreme diversity of ministries they perform,” Pope Benedict XVI reminded priests on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney earlier this year.
As Legates, we can relate to the complexities and challenges of running a successful organization. However, at the end of the day, we go home. A day in the life of a priest tends to extend much longer and can fluctuate wildly. They can facilitate a staff meeting one hour and then celebrate a funeral Mass the next. They are at the hospital comforting a grieving family at 2 a.m., and seven hours later they are at the pulpit explaining the mysteries of our faith in a homily for a congregation that ranges in age from two to 92. These aren’t just “busy weeks” or “crazy times” for our priests — it’s all part of their lives of service and sacrifice.
Priests are called to come into our lives when our hearts are the most vulnerable and when they are most alive, when they are most on fire and when they are in the most despair. I have often heard priests describe it as a rollercoaster ride. But in the same breath, they say that it’s also a gift —one they wouldn’t trade for the world.
How blessed we are. What a grace-filled gift from the Almighty to have men who answer the call — and who are “consecrated for the salvation of the world,” as the Pope explained. As Legates, we are even more fortunate to have phenomenal priests and bishops who, despite their very full plates, recognize the importance of our organization and serve as our chaplains. They help us grow in our faith as business and community leaders. In Philadelphia, Monsignor John Close always makes time to ensure that Christ is front and center of our efforts as a Legatus chapter, and it makes a difference. It’s a gift.
As with any gift, the priesthood is ours to cherish and steward as well. I feel so called to Catholic Leadership Institute’s ministry of providing the best in leadership development to our priests because they deserve it. And they want it in order to serve us as best as they can, in order to serve Christ as best as they can.
As I reflect on the importance of this Year for Priests, I think of the Legatus leaders who have played an integral role in bringing CLI’s ministry to more than 1,000 priests in over 40 dioceses. I think of the numerous other apostolates that exist to support vocations and spiritual formation. I think of the everyday Catholic leaders who invite priests for dinner at their homes, who remember their birthdays and who provide support to them in their hour of need.
Not only as business leaders — but more importantly as Catholic parents and grandparents — I think of how important it is not only for us to support our priests but also to pass along to the next generation how important our priests really are. I am grateful for every day God grants me, but I know there will come a time when I won’t be able to sit next to my kids and grandkids and listen. I won’t be able to give them advice and comfort or remind them how much God loves them. I am working to making sure that a priest can.
That brings me back to Jack and his question: “Pop-Pop, why do you do all this for priests?” I replied, “Jack, I don’t do all this for priests. I do this with priests … for you.”
Tim Flanagan is the founder and chairman of the Catholic Leadership Institute. He co-authored “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” (2007, Ascension Press). Tim and his wife Terese are member of Legatus’ Philadelphia Chapter.