Wednesday, January 02, 2008
THE PRIEST SHORTAGE
As lay Catholics we know what it means when there aren't enough priests, but we seldom look at this shortage from the perspective of the priests who remain.
Fr. Joseph Looney, of the Hartford, Connecticut Archdiocese, describes what this shortage has meant for priests and one way they are combatting it:
Over the years, Looney has learned to fend for himself — "The microwave has been the greatest invention for priests," he jokes — but he also took matters into his own hands by joining the local chapter of an international group called the Fraternity of Priests, which has helped combat the loneliness and other struggles priests face.
Looney's group, which has met every Monday afternoon for the last 20 years, is the only Connecticut chapter. Its 12 members observe what they call the "kingdom disciplines," which are to pray for an hour a day, meet once a week with other priests, honor other priests, keep a journal, and tithe, which means to give 10 percent of your income to the church or charity.
The group meets privately so the priests can talk openly about what is happening in their lives, pray together and then eat dinner together.
"We take the arrows out of each other's backs," Looney says. "If we can have the meal and the meeting in the same place, it's wonderful because we can be more relaxed. It's good for the priest who lives alone to have a meal with someone else."
Pushpanathan, who is also a member, says the meetings might be the only time in a week he sees another priest. They have been especially helpful to him as he has been assimilated into a new culture.
"I was actually in need of the fraternity very much," Pushpanathan says.
The fraternity is planning a conference for other priests who might be interested in joining. It will take place April 6-10 at the Montfort House in Litchfield. Looney urges priests from other dioceses to attend if they need the company and support of other priests.
"There's been a sea change in the world. It's not just the priesthood," Looney says. "It's a challenge to remain relevant to others, but especially to yourself. That's what the fraternity helps us do. One of the things we talk about is holiness, being set apart for God. And we sense God working in the world."