There is no “typical” day for a priest, because so much depends on the needs of the people and the particular gifts of the priest. Nevertheless, Fr. Tom Farrell of Ss. Peter and Paul in Danville typed up what he did over a recent weekend.
On Friday afternoon, I drove up to Wilmore to visit a parishioner at the Veterans Home, and got him talking about his time in the Navy (in the 1950’s) and his work at Corning(which brought him to Kentucky). It was a good pastoral visit.
Then I drove on up to Lexington to see a retired priest friend who’s in St Joe’s East because of a recent fall. It was another good pastoral visit, though a brief one, as he fell asleep during the course of our conversation.
On the way back to Danville, I stopped at Marksbury Meats to pick up something for the grill on Sunday evening, and had a pleasant conversation with the man behind the counter, who seemed to know who I was, though I didn’t recall ever meeting him (That happens to me a lot).
I got home just in time to change for dinner. A couple celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary had invited me to join them and two other couples for dinner at the Owl’s Nest in Harrodsburg. It was a great evening, with spirited conversation, much laughter, and a chance to find out what the wedding ceremony was like 55 years ago (I had asked the anniversary couple to tell the story of their wedding day).
On Saturday, I rose early to do the Office of Readings for the Feast of the North American Martyrs (a group of 16th century French Jesuits in the New World with whom I’ve always been fascinated). I had planned to get some work done on the deck(cutting back vines and clearing debris in preparation for winter), but it was raining on Saturday, so I had to shift gears and do something on the inside. I decided to go online, and before long, I found myself in Auriesville, New York, at the Shrine which marks the spot where three of the North American Martyrs were killed. I found a video from Boston Catholic Television and watched it. It took me all over the grounds of the shrine, and inside the church that was built there in 1930. After that, I went, via internet, to Midland, Ontario, to the Shrine where the other North American Martyrs were tortured and killed. I learned more about the North American Martyrs than I’d ever known before, and I felt as if I had been on a pilgrimage, even if it was only a virtual tour. I was truly inspired by the courage of these priests and their companions who sowed the seeds of Gospel faith in the New World, and who paid for it with their lives.
Once back from Ontario, I drove down to Speedway to purchase some gift cards for fuel that make it possible for me to give something to those who come by periodically asking for gas money(I don’t give anyone cash, as there are conmen and other unscrupulous people out there who will tell a clergyperson anything to get money for drugs or alcohol). I purchased those cards, by the way, with funds from the monthly service collection. While making the purchase, I overheard the clerk waiting on me share with a friend behind me in line that she was suffering from prolonged depression and did not know why. Before leaving, I offered to remember her in prayer. She silently mouthed her thank you, I could tell she had been touched, and I was grateful for the opportunity to reach out to a stranger.
During the afternoon, I prepared for the baptism that would take place at the 4:15 Mass, and went through a mental checklist to make sure I had the robe and candle and oil and everything else out and in place that would be needed for the ceremony.
At 3 PM, I got vested in alb and purple stole and situated myself in the Reconciliation Room, in case there were any confessions. Initially there were none, so I decided to duck over to the rectory to get my breviary (the Liturgy of the Hours) so I would have something to read. I didn’t even make it to the front door when a woman I did not know approached from the handicapped parking area and asked if she could speak to me. She said she had to take her son for surgery to a Lexington hospital on Monday and did not have the money for gas. Could I help? I asked her to wait, I went and found one of those gas cards I had bought earlier, and I gave it to her with a promise of prayers for her son. She took my hand and humbly expressed her gratitude. Once again, I was grateful to be in a position to help, and I believe she was sincere in her story.
There was a penitent waiting for me when I got back to church, the first of several, so I spent the next thirty minutes or so hearing confessions. It’s a privilege to serve in the role of confessor, and to know that people are leaving the celebration of the sacrament with a burden lifted, their hearts lighter and at peace. Peace, as the song in the hymnal goes, was “flowing like a river” on that October afternoon.
Another great privilege is the chance to proclaim the Gospel and to give a homily after sitting with the Word of God all week and letting thoughts that will eventually become a homily percolate and simmer. I gave a homily on the Sunday readings at the prison last week, but I did not preach at Ss Peter and Paul, as it was the deacon’s turn to do so, and it was a pleasure to sit back and hear someone else’s inspiration and take on the readings of the day! I had not heard of the country music singer to which the deacon referred in his homily, Collin Ray, and made a mental note to look him up on Youtube on Sunday afternoon.
Then came a wonderful baptism, for which I thought I had so carefully prepared. There was no way, however, that I could have arranged for a beam of light just at the moment of his baptism (as several people, tongue in check, later suggested I had done). That was a surprise, an unexpected gift, and one that reminded me that, no matter how carefully I arrange for the celebration of a sacrament, I am not ultimately the one in charge. Someone else plays the major role in what is going on; and the grace of God cannot be contained.
After greeting the People of God as they left the 4:15 Mass, I walked over to CVS Pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions. It was great to be out and about on a cool, crisp autumn evening. Then I made my way, by car, to the home of a couple who were hosting the SCAFF get-together that night (for people in the parish who are forty or fifty something). There were twenty-five or thirty people at the event, most of us were concentrated in the spacious kitchen, there was lots of good food, conversation and laughter, and once again, as on the night before, I was happy to be included in a social event that builds community and strengthens the bonds of friendship within the parish.
I left early, or at least earlier than everyone else, as it is one of my goals to get enough sleep on Saturday night so that I bring the energy that is needed to the Sunday morning liturgies.
Partly because I retired so early, I woke up at 3 AM on Sunday, and got up to do the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (this early rising doesn’t happen every week, just on occasion). I felt I was in sync with the monks of Gethsemane, who begin their day by chanting the psalms at 3:15. I took advantage of the hour to go out and look at the stars, and spotted the Big Dipper immediately. The sky was crystal clear, and you could see your breath.
Went back to bed and got an hour or so of rest, then rose once again to do Morning Prayer, again from the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours, consisting of psalms, Scripture readings, and petitions, is the Church’s official daily prayer, and it’s a way not only to sanctify the day, but to remember the people who’ve requested that I pray for them.
Had a light breakfast, warmed up the voice with vocal exercises, then got cleaned up and ready for the first Mass. I like to be vested and outside to greet people, on the rectory side of the church, as they arrive for the 8:15.
When I walk down the aisle during the Entrance Procession, and as we sing the Opening Song, I feel we are moving into a different realm of existence, and we are, for together, at the very outset of the Mass, we pass over into the realm of Mystery. The proclamation of the Word, the gathering of the people who form the Body of Christ, and the celebration of the Eucharist all represent a presence of Christ that is intangible yet real. It is a privilege to lead the celebration, and it invariably turns out to be the high point of the day. It was this past Sunday. Twice I got to lead the People of God in worship, and in between (moving out of the realm of Mystery), I went down to the Hub. The work of the morning ended with greeting the people from the 11:15 Mass as they left on the Main Street side of the church. I spent the afternoon working outside on the deck (getting done what I had hoped to do on Saturday), and inside the office writing this column.
Well, there you have it. A capsule view of the weekend. From the perspective of the priest. I hope it gives everyone a window into my world; I also hope it gives someone food for thought as they ponder their own vocation, and what God may be calling them to do with the rest of their lives.
From Church Documents
“Upon ordination, my life became someone else’s: God’s. “
“For me being a priest is being conscious of the Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Father working in my life and the lives of the people I serve, leading us, providing for us and saving us with His Grace, through ordinary events to extra-ordinary events.”
Who a priest isThe priesthood changes a man, reconfiguring his very essence into something new.
Personal life of a priestPriests serve the people of God, but this doesn’t strip away who they are.