Flomax Express

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

May 5, 2011

 

Fr. Peter Daly talks about a road trip of four priests.

 

            I called it the “Flomax express.”

Four priests carpooling on the way to a reception hosted by our Archbishop. At 60 years old, I was the youngest in the car. The others were aged 70, 74, and 75.

Every twenty miles we had to stop. We planned our route around strategic pit stops, seeking the relief that plumbing can offer. That’s what happens to men of a certain age.  

Our car was a microcosm of American Catholic priests. We are old. Nationwide the median age of diocesan priests is about 60.  Two of us were retired. Nationwide, about one third of the diocesan clergy are already retired. About one half are within a decade of retirement.

Retirement is a big concern. Our pension and social security will probably total just over $2,000 a month. It will be hard to live outside of a rectory on that money. None of us have saved much.

            There were no monsignors in our car. We joked that it was a monsignor free zone.

All of four of us have spent our priesthoods laboring in poorer or more rural parishes. Those are not the sort of posts where they typically make you a monsignor. One of the retired priests said monsignors carry the title L.L.B.B.A.; “Looks like a bishop, but ain’t.”

There was absolutely no pretense in our conversation. It was the frank talk of old friends.

We have known one another for years. We know one another’s faults and failings, sorrows and successes. We have shared a lot of the same experiences and know many of the same people. When four such people talk, it is honest.

We were pastors, not theologians. So our talk was about our people and their problems, not books or theories. Yet we are still interested in reading. We just wish we had more time.

I did not detect much anger in our talk, but there was some real discouragement.

Pastoral life has made us realists.  We know that people of good intentions and sincere convictions sometimes fail. We know that people do not always color between the lines. Pastoring is not so much about enforcing rules as it is about building relationships with people and with God. 

People come into the Church; fall away from the Church; and come back to the Church.  We keep the door open and the light on.

Like any group of pastors we talked about buildings and business.  A big part of the lives of pastors is running the temporal life of the parish. But that is not the measure of our success.  

All of us were Vatican II priests. For us the Council was a defining moment in our faith lives. We have a positive view of culture and creation, but we know it is fallen. We see the changes of the last half century as basically good. We see ourselves in dialogue with culture, not at war with it.   

We also have a healthy awareness of the failings and sins of priests and bishops. We have lived through the last decade of scandal. It has left scars. We know our sins.

One other thing; we are all tired. Sometimes we have four or five masses on a Sunday. Priests who are still working are working harder than ever. There are fewer of us and more of the faithful.

Next year, if we are all still around, I hope we car pool again. That ride was the highlight of my evening. Four old friends, on a road trip through life. But next time we should plan a few more pit stops.  After all, it is the “Flomax express.”