I was reading an America piece on Pope Francis, his supposed criticism of critics. What struck me most was not his deserving to be criticized because he is a sinner, but his concern about young priests who want to veer off and do their own thing. (The 60s slang there is intentional, I assure you.)
“There are young people who after a month of ordination go to the bishop to ask for [permission to celebrate the Tridentine Mass],” the pope continued. “This is a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.”
He told the story of a cardinal who was visited by two newly ordained priests asking for permission to study Latin. “With a sense of humor, he replied, ‘But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me, and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.’”
Francis said that the cardinal made the young priests “‘land’; he made them return to earth.”
In my ministry life, I have been “grounded” by many factors. Before I married, I was able to go to school at my own expense and study as I wished. Once in church ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to study in modest morsels: workshops and the occasional conference. Every so often, my family has been able to join me.
Two pastors during my second Iowa sojourn (2008-2015) encouraged me to investigate a second degree. Pontifical studies in liturgy would have been delicious, but institutes that provide these make no accommodations (literally) for families. So I remained on earth. A few years later, I had a summer opportunity to begin a five-year process for a second MA in spirituality and a certificate in spiritual direction. Five weeks away was a trial for my family, and surprising to me, for the parish. It seemed our pastor’s three-month sabbatical allowed for smooth coverage and people working together. I wouldn’t have thought my absence would produce such bother and anxiety. So, I needed to land there as well.
These connections to solid ground are important. A true minister is not always able to call her or his own shots. There are tethers of love and responsibility: people, communities, and the greater need of the Church.
A generous bishop allows two young clerics to serve on Earth. Spanish allows for closer and deeper connection with the people who are in need. If someone offered me the opportunity to study Spanish–or something else–for the greater good of my parish and diocese, I’d certainly jump on that.
A desire to study is great. A mature adult recognizes the responsibilities presented by life. We don’t always get to do what we want. But it is infinitely more rewarding to get what is needed.