Padre Paul's Ponderings: Reflections on 10 Years of Ministry

It was about a month ago when Patty, our Director of First Impressions and Jill of All

Trades, asked me about my anniversary of ordination. She wanted to have a little

reception for me as she knew it was coming up. I hadn’t intended to mention it to

anyone. Maybe when I hit 25 years, but typically on my ordination anniversary I get

together with family, but keep it pretty low key.

I do believe the cat is now out of the bag though, and this upcoming weekend I’m

honored that Patty and others on staff kindly put together a reception to celebrate with

me 10 years of ministry.

It’s hard to believe where the last 10 years went. Hopefully I’ve got a lot left in my

ministry as a priest. Like with any vocation, there are peaks and valleys. And this week,

I thought I’d use this space to share some as I look back and look ahead.

I entered seminary right after college, about three weeks or so after I got my degree

from the U of M in political science. I gradually discerned in college that this might be

where God was calling me and that I could find fulfillment and happiness as a priest.

Seminary was 6 years, and while the classes were good and there were many

blessings, at the time it did seem like it would never end. I remember wanting to be out

there in parish life, as not too many people spend 11 years in school after they finish

high school.

As ordination day approached, we were invited to the archbishop’s for lunch for our first

assignments, and I opened the envelope to see I was headed to Holy Name of Jesus in

Medina. I hadn’t heard of the parish, but quickly found it was a great fit. In many ways it

is quite similar to Saint Joe’s. From there I went to Saint Hubert’s in Chanhassen,

became a pastor serving Saint Peter’s and Saint Joseph’s, now Saint Maximilian Kolbe,

of Delano for four years, and now I’m here at Saint Joe’s. And I’m very happy to be

here.

So what to make of a decade? What have I learned since seminary? I suppose that

could fill a book, but here’s some thoughts…

For one, prayer is so important. Priests and deacons commit to say daily the Liturgy of

the Hours, a series of prayers from the Psalms, readings and other prayers. It’s the

universal prayer of the church. Like everyone else, I can get a bit busy, and it could be

easy to let prayer go. Prayer helps me grow closer to God and gives me spiritual

strength.

I’ve also seen how it’s important to work as a team. I’ve never been a “control freak,”

and I think that’s because I’ve seen what happens when people micromanage or just

don’t care about other’s talents. It’s not good. In the parishes I’ve been at, I’ve seen how

people work so hard to make them thrive. As the saying goes, many hands make for

light labor. I realize that “help” is not a bad four letter word. A priest knows how to do

some things well, but we all have gifts – something we’ll think about as Pentecost

approaches – and people use those gifts to make our parish great. A big part of what I

do is consult – I get opinions from people who help make not only the parish better but

help me to become a better priest.

I’ve learned that you are a work in progress too. This is something I stress in my

preaching; all of us are trying to learn how to become better and grow in virtue. I

realized quickly while seminary taught us much, there’s much you learn in the parish

and that helps form you as we learn from our successes and failures.

I’ve learned you have to be comfortable being who you are. The priest is a very public

person. Some will like you; some won’t; many will be indifferent. Some will not like you

because you are too liberal. Or too conservative. Or not like your predecessor. Or your

predecessor’s predecessor. Some won’t like how you say Mass, or your preaching. Now

as I said, I’m a work in progress, so when I hear about things that are critical I do think

about them and change if needed. But really, as they say, you won’t keep everyone

happy, and you can’t try to do that. I’m comfortable being who I am, and that’s important

if a priest is going to be authentic.

I’ve learned once you become a pastor you ultimately have to make tough decisions at

times, or put on your “big boy” pants. Associate pastors sometimes serve as a means

for others in a parish to vent about the pastor. Pastors don’t get that option. To be sure,

the vast majority of people are supportive. But a pastor has to do tough things; hirings,

firings/layoffs asking for funds, closings, building projects, giving direction to staff &

volunteers, etc. Believe me, among some circles, people will be upset because you

lowered the thermostat by a degree or changed the lightbulbs to a warmer or cooler

shade of white. But there is no hiding from decision making – unnecessary brooding is

actually contrary to the virtue of prudence. “Kick the can” is not a game we can play, nor

should any of us play with decisions in life. So you pray, consult, discern and act and try

your best to serve a parish.

I’ve learned of the incredible power of love and amazing power of the Holy Spirit in

people. I celebrate this each time at Mass, but people never cease to amaze me. The

love of people who come together at the great moments of life like a birth and baptism,

and the heartbreaking moments when we face death. The love of people for their

parish. The love teachers have for their students in our school. The love the staff has for

the church not seeing as “just a paycheck” but a vocation. People never cease to

amaze me in how they reveal the power of God’s love and the Holy Spirit.

I’ve learned support is so key too. Having other priests to talk to, good friendships, and

seeing family who have been so helpful and supportive along the way is important,

because among them you can truly be yourself and not feel like you are “on” and truly

unwind, not being “Father” but just being “Paul” and get advice and counsel too.

I’ve learned that listening is one of the most important tools of the trade. Certainly in

confession, but in one-on- ones you have with people whether it’s with a staff, or in a

meeting or in a committee. It’s a lot easier to talk, especially these days with social

media, texting, email, etc. But listening takes true work – but when we listen, we gain

insight into how to do our job better, but also into what a person is truly trying to tell us.

I’m also continuing to learn you will make mistakes, and you will have to let things go.

It’s easy to have 20/20 hindsight. It’s also easy to not forget some of the frustrating or

negative things that you experience. But we aren’t meant to stay focused on the rear-

view mirror of life. Accept the fact that you are human, try not to hold a grudge, because

it’s just not worth it, and move on, using it as a learning experience.

Archbishop Flynn once said to our class that if he had a 100 lives to live he would live

them all as a priest. I’d have to say the same. I hope and pray for many more years of

ministry, and I have no idea where the road will lead. But I will say ten years in, I am the

happiest I’ve been as a priest. I work with a great staff, I’m in a parish where people

truly care about their parish and have yet to run into “cliques” or “I’ll do this for you but

what can you do for me?” types. Here at Saint Joe’s now for 2 years, I realize each day

how blessed I am with this assignment. People here are remarkable, and what an honor

to be with the parish as we turn 150. Thank you for your prayers and support!

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

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