During a recent visit to nearby Diocese I had the pleasure of meeting three young priests. I accept that in our present times, the term ‘young’ has both a subjective and relative quality. As is common in such encounters, the three men shared their experiences of priestly life. One – a member of a religious order- spoke with humour and affection of his own formation experience and the realities and demands of community life.
The elder of the three spoke with a sense of humour – the hallmark of the passage of time with a droplet of nostalgia-of the guidance he had received and the sometimes trying encounters with senior clergy who were reluctant to create opportunities for community; including in liturgical settings.
With the narrative of the third, the laughter of shared experience gave way to expressions of incredulity. Incardinated within a difference diocese, he recounted how he was obliged to share a presbytery with the parish priest. As an arrangement, he had hoped it would bring both practical and spiritual benefits.
Any sense of collaboration and mutual concern was, he soon realised – fanciful. He was required to seek financial support from the parish priest for payment of his stipend; repeatedly requested but did not receive contribution for travelling and related subsistence costs and, was soon educated to the fact that the availability of food for consumption in the house was –and would remain- a matter for the sole determination of the parish priest.
It is too easy to receive a narrative of this kind and attribute it to the worst forms of controlling behaviour. In any other context, however, such conduct would be properly seen and recognised to be a form of ‘abuse’. Within the Church, the laity is frequently requested to ‘pray for vocations’. Implicit to this exhortation is the prayer for new vocations.
Perhaps the time has come for us to recognise in a more direct way, that an important role for clerics and laity is to pray consistently for the vocations which we have received? We must be astute to the fact that in our prayers to advance the faith, charity begins at home. As St Francis observed: “When you go out to preach; only use words if you have to.”