A friend recently asked me, "So Father Jim, now that you are in the parish, what is a typical day like?" I was tempted to reply that as soon as I have one, I would let them know. In time - perhaps - I will come to know what would describe a typical day in the life of a parish priest. Only a few months ordained, I can readily share with my family and friends that the unpredictable nature of my days remains a point of excitement. I guess the three decades in the business/tech world dealing with mission critical systems and crisis management was a fit for me because I enjoy the variety and challenge of unpredictable events.
The life of a parish priest most certainly includes the unpredictable events, not just for me, but more importantly the unpredictable, disruptive events in the lives of those I am lucky enough to minister to each day.
I take great joy in celebrating the Eucharist. This begins, for me, sitting in the back of our chapel for about 15-20 minutes before Mass. I learned to do this from Father Mike last year, just by watching his preparation for daily Mass. I might pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the day; I always run through a list of names and intentions for that day, family, friends and strangers. A few sacred minutes of that time are spent intentionally looking at the people gathering for that daily Mass ... and I pray for your intentions, whatever they may be.
I occasionally surprise people at Mass, by offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation afterward ... unexpectedly, not on the schedule, something different from Saturday at 3:30 in the afternoon. I remember Bishop O'Connell's advice to the five of us when we received our first assignments, when he told us to be merciful in the confessional, and similar comments came from my other boss, Pope Francis this week in his address to priests, too.
My mentor last year, Father Sam, shared some insight with me some 30 years ago when we first met, when he was a newly ordained priest; he spoke of the uncertainty that comes from the unexpected doorbell or phone call in the rectory. He spoke of expecting the unexpected. In my role as a parish priest now, his comments make a great deal of sense. When the parish staff call my office and say, "Father Jim, there is someone here who would like to see a priest," I am most grateful to be able to respond that I will be right there.
Sometimes the day begins at 2 AM with a phone call; sometimes it ends later than expected. This week it included a call for an anointing where I said to myself driving to the nursing home, "Curious; I know some people with that name, old friends of my in-laws," only to arrive and find out that I know this family with that name, and I get to minister to friends as a loved one is called to God.
A day might include a sick call, or a funeral Mass and burial, a Mass with school kids, a meeting for spiritual direction, a wedding rehearsal, or writing up bulletin announcements; some days might include all of the above, and others have just a 9 AM daily Mass.
I'm not sure I have nearly enough experience as a priest to answer what constitutes a "typical day," but I do know that I am loving every minute of the unexpected, atypical, unpredictable days in the life of my parish ministry. My friend Monica during my pastoral year gave me a gift of a "clinging cross;" she received it from someone else in the parish, and shared it with me when I commented on it one day. It is often on the seat of my car as a way to hold tight to a prayer on my way to visit someone who needs a priest. It is a reminder that what is common to all lives of faith - for both priests and laity - is the need to hold tight to Jesus, to hang on to The Cross, and to let God provide the wisdom, the love, and the mercy in every encounter.