Our parish priests have a staggering amount of responsibilities. Between Mass, confessions, baptisms, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, and managing the parish staff, their days are filled to the brim. And that doesn’t even take into account their own need for prayer, rest, and building relationships with their parishioners.
So often priests are the ones we turn to when we are struggling. But who can our priests turn to when they are struggling themselves? Though they have a special role by virtue of their ordination, priests are human. They can experience burnout, loneliness, and discouragement just like everyone else. So how can we support our priests when they are struggling?
Dr. Scott Hahn, a renowned theologian and founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stopped by A Closer Look™ recently to share how he is working to help priests receive the support and renewal they need.
Hahn and A Closer Look host Sheila Liaugminas both understand the importance of priests in the life of the Church, and the fact that priests are human. Sheila has a son who is a priest, and Hahn has two sons currently in the seminary.
Sheila said of the dynamic between priests and the laity, “We know that we need them. We need them for the liturgy, we need them for the sacraments. We need our priests, but perhaps the vast majority do not realize how much they need us.”
While priests do get vacation time, sometimes they have to choose between doing something that will help them learn more about sharing the faith and getting the rest and renewal that they need. Hahn shared that he recently helped lead a retreat that incorporated both, and the response he received was astounding.
“Last month … the St. Paul Center, the Busch Foundation, and Napa Institute, co-sponsored this priest’s retreat for the second year in a row. The St. Paul Center has been sponsoring 12 of them in the last 10 years or so. It was really exciting, because what we do is we focus not just on the Bible, but how to really read it in a prayerful way. And at the same time we provide a lot of recreation, a lot of renewal.”
“Throughout the day, I was talking to the priests and Tim [Busch] was too, and one priest said to me, ‘I’ve been a priest now for 37 years. This is far and away the hardest year. I’ve also been on 36 other priest retreats, and this one was better than all the other ones combined, to just recharge my batteries.'”
In gathering feedback from more than 200 other priests on the retreat, the most common responses were how helpful it was to have an experience that was a time of rest and renewal in mind, body, and spirit. It was so well-received that they already have another retreat planned to take place in Oglebay, West Virginia this July.
Hahn said, “We’ve been encouraging lay people especially to scholarship the spiritual fathers of theirs, so that they can be renewed, they can be reinvigorated, they can have their batteries recharged. We all need a vacation, but even more priests need to have that renewal of body, soul, and spirit.”
“This is something of an ongoing effort that the Church needs so desperately, but the effect is so extraordinary,” he continued. “I just thank God for the opportunity to not just talk about it, but actually do it two or three times a year with 200-300 priests for each of these retreats.”