I can remember thinking one time in college that I couldn’t wait to be out in the “real world.” It was during finals and I was pulling another all-nighter writing a paper that was due at 8:30 a.m. Instead of being in a deep sleep at 3 a.m., I was pouring myself another cup of coffee and was on page eight of a 15-page paper on Anson Burlingame.
Since college I have only really done one all-nighter (not counting a couple of years of working overnight shifts in the 90s), yet deadlines have still been a challenge. That was the real issue in college (and still is among college students 20-plus years later!). That 15-page paper due at 8:30 a.m. had been assigned 15 weeks earlier. I had successfully put it off because I had 15 weeks, then 14 weeks, then 13 weeks, etc., until it was due. Now I was in the position that I had five hours left before it was due. As I am writing this, I am actually past the deadline for when it was due.
I am now in the real world, and I still find I struggle with deadlines and sometimes late nights and early mornings, which at 45 are similar to some of the all-nighters from college. I have been reflecting on this a bit recently. So much of our lives revolve around deadlines. Some presented by work or school (print deadlines, reports or tasks due at a certain time) or by life (have to have dinner ready at a certain time, need to shuttle one child to practice and the other to work by this time; need to take this medication at this time). Life quickly becomes going from one task to another. Even those things that are meant to relax us get caught up in the deadline world. We need to be at the airport by a certain time. We need to hurry here so we can get here by a certain time.
While we may be getting things done, we are missing life itself. We can miss seeing our kids grow up, or the opportunities to share an intimate moment with a friend or family member. We can put God on the back burner and even forget about Him totally.
I am reading a book that is a collection of Pope Francis’ words to priests on the priestly ministry. I will be honest, it is very challenging. For example, he stresses that the homily is the most important task of the parish priest and that time must be spent in preparing not only the Sunday homily, but the daily homily, the homily for the funeral and wedding and the brief comments that the priest may address to the group of parishioners gathering for a social event or meeting. Such preparation requires a commitment of time. He isn’t making this up himself, it is actually spelled out in the Church’s documents. It is a teaching that I struggle with. I am constantly dealing with issues far removed from the homily. Contracts, finances, personnel, maintenance issues, scheduling, meetings on all of these things. Even more important than those issues are appointments with parishioners, hospital visits, etc. Homily prep (time reflecting on the readings, researching the Scriptures and the catechetical themes and identifying the issues in the community and how Scriptures speak to them) gets pushed aside very often.
Here is the thing. Our identity is not based on what we do, it is about who we are. Yes, we need to take time for our responsibilities, but we also need to be sure that we take time for those things that connect us to ourselves, one another and to God. Otherwise, we ultimately do a lot and accomplish nothing.
I would like to conclude with a quote I came across recently that highlights this point and has challenged me greatly. While it is addressed to priests, it can easily apply to anyone. After all, we are each baptized into the family of faith, and entrusted to a share in the mission of the proclamation of the Gospel. So where it says “priest” insert “mom” or “dad” or “friend,” etc.
“If the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will be at least decent. But if a priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The Spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ,” (Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard).
Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.