Winter 1983, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 319-335.

Peter J. Drilling: Fellow Pilgrim and Pastoral Leader:
      Spirituality for the Secular Priest

The secular priest's religious development occurs through immersion in the daily living of the people of his congregation to whom he is bound by ties of affection and service.

Father Drilling, with degrees in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome and the Toronto School of Theology, is currently assistant professor of systematic and pastoral theology at Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, New York.

SOME types of Christian spirituality have their historical origin in outstanding personalities. They became the founders of movements within the Christian church. These movements became institutionalized in religious orders, congregations, or societies. One thinks readily of Benedict of Nursia, Dominic de Guzman, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola. The secular priesthood, however, does not share the usual origins of the prominent Christian spiritualities. It did not begin as a spiritual movement generated by the powerful force of a founder. It began, and has persisted since, as a role to be fulfilled for the good order of the church, developing to combine in one person the ministry of leadership in the local church and the ministry of priestly presidency at the eucharistic liturgy of the local church.

Perhaps because of this difference it has not infrequently been thought that there is no spirituality proper to the secular priest, and that instead each secular priest should adopt for himself the mentality, feelings, and exercises of one of the major Christian spiritualities derived from the great historical founders and adapt this spirituality to his circumstances. Naturally such a practice could and, in fact, did lead to the devaluation of the spiritual possibilities afforded by the secular priesthood itself as a way of life. Indeed, Thomas Aquinas considered that the priest actively engaged in the care of souls should consider it a call to a preferable way of life to take the vows of a religious order or congregation.(1)

It should be noted in the interest of a balanced perspective that some attention in past eras has been paid to Christians who have not chosen to make the Christian pilgrimage through life by following one of the outstanding spiritual movements. Whether by choice or by force of circumstances these Christians, in each age, have remained in the everyday world to work out their Christian existence there as best they are able. Thomas a Kempis and Francis de Sales wrote in aid of the everyday spirituality of such Christians, and their writings have been considered highly appropriate for the secular priest. More specifically, the Cistercian monk, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard wrote The Soul of the Apostolate at the beginning of this century precisely for the priest engaged in pastoral ministry.(2) And in the years since Vatican II an American effort to discover and foster a proper spirituality of the secular priest has seen the light of day in the Emmaus Spirituality Program of Frank Bognanno and the Ministry of Priests Program of Vincent Dwyer, both of which have been implemented with some success in American dioceses. The former program's retreat experiences emphasize prayer and fraternity among priests as the focal points of the spirituality of the secular priest, although a booklet prepared by the initiator of the program addresses other elements of pastoral priestly spirituality as well.(3) The latter program has a threefold thrust: "Re-introducing priests to the meaning and dynamics of spirituality within our rich Catholic tradition, . . . helping them to create within their diocese a priestly community . . . , enabling priests to utilize modern psychological and social-scientific instruments in order to facilitate self-discovery."(4) The two programs seem to be similar in their objective of community among priests as fundamental to the spirituality of the secular priest.

To determine whether there is a proper Christian spirituality of the secular priest is to determine, at the start, whether there is a specific difference that characterizes his life in a way that is peculiar. A determination of this sort does not start with a search for what pertains in a strictly exclusive way to the secular priest, but rather with a search for what dominates the spiritual development of those secular priests who strive consciously to be faithful to the spirit and teaching of the gospel and who achieve some measure of a sense of well-being in their life's work as secular priests on this basis, and who are appreciated by others as men who live the examined Christian life.

In conjunction with the phenomenon of the evangelical secular priest, the classic New Testament texts on ministry also provide articulations to test the adequacy to the gospel message of the style of living that is the secular priesthood. The paradigmatic descriptions of servant, leader, shepherd, pastor, priest exercise a guiding control over the church's consciousness of priestly ministry. In addition, the New Testament descriptions of church and world also lend intelligibility to the secular character of the secular priesthood.

The method, then, which is used in this article is a variation of phenomenological analysis. The author is himself a secular priest of fifteen years, living out ministerial priesthood mostly within parish ministry. The presently proposed notes on secular priestly spirituality have been submitted for critique to secular priests and seminarians who have participated in the author's course "Studies in the Spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood." The object is to describe in an orderly way, and judge the adequacy of, the attitudes, mentality, feelings, and spiritual exercises that actually pertain to contemporary secular priests, and to do such description with the further help of the scriptural paradigms for ministry mentioned in the foregoing paragraph.


The priest who is ordained without any attachment to a religious congregation may be named a secular priest. He not only does his pastoral ministry in the world but also lives out his Christian existence entirely in the world. The present age, the saeculurn, is the locus of his Christian being. Heidegger has demonstrated that every person, of course, lives out of some way of being in the world (in-der-Welt-sein).(5) That is the meaning of Existenz: to choose who and how one is to be in the world.(6) Thus, the priest who is a member of a religious order, congregation, or society is choosing a way to be in the world. But the difference of the secular priest is that he chooses to live in the midst of the this-worldly pursuits of other Christians who have not appropriated one of the spiritualities that have been institutionalized in religious life. The secular priest, then, lives wholeheartedly with the ambiguity of the world, sometimes embracing, sometimes tolerating, sometimes challenging the world, but rarely rejecting the world for a spiritual existence apart and withdrawn.

The religious import of this choice to remain in close contact with the women and men whose lives are saturated with everyday pursuits is underscored in David Tracy's recent book The Analogical Imagination. There he notes the ambiguous character of the world for the Christian. The Christian relates to culture, civilization, institutions, and nature both with profound trust and loyalty because they participate in God's creation, and with suspicion because they are radically ambiguous.(7) The Christian loves the world with the love of a disciple of Jesus, that is, as it groans to be set free.(8) The priest who is named secular accepts for himself and by the ordination of the Christian community a way of life dedicated to this ambiguous world, precisely as it is present in the people living within this locality where he serves, for the sake of cooperating with the Spirit of God to set the world free for God. No withdrawal from the thick of everydayness both with its creativity and with its tedium is possible for the secular priest. His style of religious development is immersion into the everyday living of the people whom he serves.

At the same time as the secular priest is secular he is also priest, taking up a role that has evolved through the magicians, medicine men, shamans, and priests who have served from time out of mind to express in archetypal and anagogic symbolism the reach of the human soul for transcendent mystery. The secular priest has the peculiar role of standing for the realm of the sacred, not as a Byzantine icon or a lofty medieval religious carving stands for the sacred, but as a person of flesh and blood in the midst of the everyday. Urban T. Holmes, III, appreciates this highly charged symbolic role in his writings on priestly ministry.(9) For him the danger to the priesthood in a post-Enlightenment age is a rationalization of what must remain close to the feeling-toned images of the collective unconscious, where the angelic and the demonic have surprising affinity to one another. David Tracy has also argued for a retention of this sort of feeling-toned incarnate symbolism in his defense of the type of religious focal meaning which he names "manifestation" (religions with a mystical-priestly-metaphysical-aesthetic emphasis).(10) What must be emphasized relative to the secular priest as transcendent symbol is his presence to the everyday life of persons: in the neighborhood, homes, parish church, hospital, school; and in everyday moments of exhilaration, joy, grief, anguish, confusion, and other experiences. It is a presence within the everyday that invites acknowledgment and worship of the transcendent, specifically the Christian God, within which the meaning of mystery must ultimately be determined.

As Christian priest, the secular priest shares with all other Christian priests a commitment to the church. Ministerial priesthood is never for the sake of the individual who is ordained, but always a way of being on the part of the individual for the sake of the community. Priestly ordination is to the service of the koinonia, the communion of the church, specifically to the service of sacrifice and intercession, mediating in a sacramental way for the present congregation the finally effective act of self-giving of Jesus, the High Priest.(11)

A dimension of the spirituality of the ministerial priest of the Christian dispensation is always to be on guard against any ego-inflation that would tend to incline him to endow himself with intercessory qualities or sacrificial abilities which he does not personally possess, but only mediates sacramentally as servant of Jesus, the High Priest, and in service of the congregation that shares Christ's priestly reconciliation of humankind with the Father.


The secular priest is, in most cases, also a diocesan priest. Behind the canonical term diocesan there is a meaning for the priest's Christian spirituality. The diocesan priest commits himself to the local church. Theoretically he will exercise his whole priestly ministry in service of the see under whose auspices he is ordained. His commitment is to this geographical place during the span of years of his active ministry. This here-and-now character of his commitment adds an additional quality to the actuality of the secular priest's Christian spirituality. He is a priest in service of the local church in a particular diocese. The opportunities as well as the limitations of that locality help define the meaning of his Christian Existenz, not only in fact but by commitment, just as the actual qualities that one's wife or husband has help define the meaning of a spouse's marriage commitment.

Committed to the local church, the secular priest's first concern is for the people of that place, in the actual context within which they live out their daily lives. Their Christian faith both influences, and is influenced by, that context. The secular priest is committed to keeping in touch with that context. His role, however, is also to extend the sense of the local community beyond itself by keeping in contact with the values, truth, and meaning of global Catholic Christianity, and to some extent with the whole ecumenical church as well. Communication in such a situation depends upon an ability to coexist both within the transcultural horizon of Christian universality in terms of time as well as geography and within the cultural horizon of the here-and-now, and also to initiate and implement a cross-fertilization between the two.(12)

At the same time as his concern is for the local church, it is also possible to understand every priest's mission to be one of representing the interests of the universal church. This mission derive from the sacrament of orders, by which a priest is commissioner by the universal church. While the ordination of a particular per son requires, at least liturgically, the consent of the faithful of the local church, the actual conferral of the sacrament is always ordination by a bishop recognized by the universal church for the sake of serving directly this local community but always within the worldwide Catholic communion. The particular way in which this mission pertains to the secular priest is parallel to his mission to effect a cross-fertilization between the transcultural meaning o Christian faith and the cultural context of the local community The secular priest represents the reality of the universal church to his local community by keeping his congregation alert to the com mon good of the worldwide church, and to the worldwide church he represents his local community's experience in its needs anc concerns and in its appropriation of Christian faith. It may be inferred from this local-universal meaning of priestly ordination that the priest needs to develop an ongoing conversation with the situation of both worlds, and an appreciation of the plurality of local expressions of church community and theological reflection.

Suffering on the part of the priest in pastoral ministry can be caused by the failure of the local church which he serves to be sensitive to the concerns of the universal church, and by the failure of the universal church to be sensitive to the peculiar differences of his local church. Thus, he may be wounded deeply if his congregation persists in being racist or otherwise discriminatory in its attitudes despite his efforts (a rejection of the universal church's gathering of all peoples into communion); or, to cite an instance from the other side, he may be wounded by the failure of prevailing church policy to countenance pastoral solutions in local situations to problems such as divorce and remarriage.


Conventionally the English word priest translates two Greek words: presbuteros ("elder") and hiereus ("cultic leader"). In fact, in the Western church, priesthood has traditionally combined the roles denoted by the two Greek terms. Thus, the priest is both elder, or, in more contemporary terminology, pastoral administrator of a specific Christian community, and also the leader of the community's liturgical service. While some eras of Catholic church history have emphasized the liturgical aspects of priestly ministry to the eclipse of the pastoral aspects, a restoration of the latter is a characteristic of the perspective on the priesthood in our era.(13) This renewed appreciation of the New Testament emphasis upon the role of elder -- and of the related term episcopos ("overseer") -- is especially pertinent to an understanding of the secular priest's spirituality.(14) For most secular priests, like the bishop with whom they are associated, are called upon to administer a local community.

The history of the administration of local Christian communities by bishops and priests reveals that no single style of administration is de rigueur. In our own late twentieth-century American Catholic situation, however, it is strongly arguable that the secular priest in nearly every type of ministry needs to be a person with an ability to enable the several members of the community to uncover and express their talents for the benefit of all. This is a corollary to the recovery of an appreciation that all the Christian people, by virtue of their baptism, are called to some form of Christian ministry. The priest as pastoral leader in the American church currently may thus resemble an enabler and a coordinator.(15) To be effective in such a role a priest must be convinced that the baptism of each Christian includes charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, which, however, are often subliminal until someone perceptively awakens and evokes them to be expressed in the service of all. The conviction that all the baptized have some ministry to perform to build up the house of the church is greatly enhanced if the priest also has several personal qualities: security about his own self-worth, affability that gives him easy access to people, and talent (as well as skills) to mediate conflicts.

At the same time as he is pastoral leader, the secular priest is fellow pilgrim with those whom he leads. From early in the Christian era priests have often been caught up in the ego-inflation of clericalism which has its roots in an other-worldly spirituality(16) and was also given theological acceptability even by outstanding Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas.(17) Clericalism readily destroys within the consciousness of priests (and of other Christians too) three eminent qualities of a spirituality of the secular priest derived from the common experience of Christian discipleship. First, there is but one leader in the church and he is Jesus the Lord. Every Christian, including every priest, needs continually to submit in spirit to Jesus as Lord. Secondly, the priest, even as Christian leader, is very much a fellow pilgrim with the rest of his sister and brother Christians. No one is beyond walking humbly side by side one's sisters and brothers in the community. Clericalism, however, gives the priest a false consciousness of himself as superior to other Christian pilgrims. Finally, as did Jesus the Lord, so the priest is to serve the community of which he is pastoral leader; his role does not set him up as one to be served.


As is the case for all Christians, the priest's prayer should be a combination of liturgical prayer, extraliturgical communal prayer, and private prayer. The difference for the secular priest arises from his role as pastoral and liturgical leader. Normally, the priest presides at liturgical prayer. Just as often the community setting that provides the opportunity for extraliturgical communal prayer does not include fellow clergy or religious brothers and sisters but women and men whose everyday existence is filled with worldly pursuits, such as nine-to-five jobs and homemaking. Such persons rarely have the leisure or the preparation to develop elaborate prayer services. These two factors -- repeatedly presiding over liturgical prayer and worshiping with a community unschooled in sophisticated prayer styles -- influence the secular priest's manner of prayer over the years. As he develops a discipline of prayer for his life, these factors need to be taken into account explicitly if his prayer life is to become a relationship with God that is integrated with his pastoral ministry.

Specifically, it is a challenge to a priest's emotional enthusiasm and intellectual creativity to be called upon at least once daily, and often several times within the same day, to preside at Eucharist. The emotional and intellectual energy required for interested and alert eucharistic leadership is not easy for many priests to sustain through two, three, and four eucharistic presidencies on the same day, especially when this is required on a succession of days, as happens regularly in parish ministry.

Two suggestions are offered to help deal creatively with this situation. First, the priest can try to avoid falling into the attitude that his presidency is simply part of his job. The temptation to reduce leadership of the Eucharist to implementation of ritual in a mechanistic way may be an inevitable accompaniment as one simply uses up one's physical energy over the course of the day, day in and day out. Repetition strongly reinforces tedium. But the priest is surely to be of greater service to himself and to the congregation he leads if he uses each liturgical celebration as a period of personal prayer too. An added benefit is that on those days when time for private prayer may not materialize, communion with God will have taken place in any case.

Secondly, it seems to be time in the church to allow for more flexibility in the matter of daily celebration of Eucharist, or at least daily presidency over Eucharist. Obviously this need pertains more to priests who are solely responsible for liturgical presidency in their community, or who are in large communities where their liturgical services are demanded daily. I suggest that the structure that locks priests into daily Mass can be a hindrance to the formation of Christian spirituality. The power of the symbolic mystery of the Eucharist can wreak havoc on the religious affection of one who must preside at its celebration so frequently that forethought and devout attention are inevitably lessened. A workable alternative to daily presidency at Mass for the sake of the spiritual and psychic well-being of those priests so affected seems to present itself: simply respect the need of the priest who so requests not to be scheduled for daily eucharistic presidency, even if this should mean that Eucharist might not be celebrated on some days each week in parishes and hospitals and other communities that are served only by one priest. On days when the Eucharist is not celebrated, a communion service or other form of communal prayer might be celebrated, presided over by the priest or by one of the other members of the community.

In regard to the priest's presidency at the sacrament of reconciliation and anointing of the sick, the principle of personal prayer applies as well. Repetition and routinization can lead to nearly mindless mechanical implementation of ritual if one is not constantly alert to using these roles of presidency as opportunities for personal prayer. Part of the priest's embrace of his community is to let those moments become affectively prayerful for himself. Then the priest is not simply doing something for others, but is praying with others.(18)

With the increase of permanent deacons engaging in the ministry of preaching, priests more frequently preside without preaching. Still, preaching continues to accompany presidency as the de facto normal course of priestly ministry at worship. It can be safely claimed that the preacher's spirituality is a Word-oriented one. If this is so, then a fundamental component of the priest-preacher's spirituality is its orientation to the word of God in the Scriptures. Dynamic and perceptive preachers are those who are immersed in the Scriptures, who often read and pray the Scriptures reflectively. The object is not to be able to quote the Scriptures with facility but to be so attuned to the several strains of relationship with God which are expressed in the Scriptures that one shapes one's feeling, thinking, and action out of that attunement.

Besides presiding and preaching at liturgical prayer and appropriating these roles as an opportunity for personal prayer, the secular priest especially ought to be inviting his congregation to join him in prayer communally in many other situations of life. Because life in the world cannot be neatly ordered, such communal prayer needs to be diverse. Sometimes it might take the form of scheduled gathering in the community's center for worship. But even more frequently, and in various environments, spontaneous prayer can become a part of the rhythm of pastoral presence. Fortunately the Roman Catholic clergy are becoming more at home with spontaneous prayer. The opportunities are various. Some have been part of Catholic practice for centuries: at sick beds, at wakes, before meals, and when the priest is requested to bless a parishioners family or home or car. The issue here for spirituality on the part of the priest in the world is to let his educated spiritual instincts come to the fore to guide him to invite and lead spontaneous prayer, rather than let himself be bound to routinized formulae, and to be alert to opportunities for communal prayer that have not become conventional.

Finally, there is private prayer. Here the secular priest has always been left to his own devices without any specific tradition to guide him. The result is that the church's many spiritual traditions of personal prayer can become an embarrassment of riches to overwhelm an individual. Moreover, not much guidance has been offered in the matter of integrating private personal prayer with the hectic pace of secular ministry. Seminarians preparing for ministry as secular priests, for example, are often enough trained in rural settings remote from urban and suburban activity where their ministry is likely to take place. A discipline of private prayer developed in the seminary can be quickly shattered by the press of daily pastoral activities carried out amid the distractions of urban and suburban environments.

Two needs surface, then, with regard to the secular priest's development of private prayer in his life. First, each priest must sort out the riches of the church's tradition so that they will not remain for him an overwhelming embarrassment but an opportunity. This is probably best done experimentally and gradually. Let the priest retreat to a monastery and learn the lectio style of meditation and the prayer of silence. Let him retreat to a center of Ignatian spirituality for eight days or thirty to undergo the Spiritual Exercises. Let him read the mystics and other masters of spirituality and develop a personally appropriate style for private converse with God. Secondly, the priest who is pastoral leader always brings the persons and needs of his community consciously with him to prayer. Since he is bonded to his community by a kind of love affair, the beloved are always on his mind and they are commended to God in prayer. From such intentionality, integration between daily concerns and private prayer will be achieved, again gradually; and what are distractions from an unintegrated perspective become catalysts and even vehicles for prayer.


If the secular priest is to live up to the meaning of pastoral care, he must be in love with the people he serves, for, to use the imagery of the Fourth Gospel, the true shepherd knows his sheep by name and loves them. The disinterested but intense love of the pastor for the congregation he serves, loving them both as individuals and as a community, is a peculiar form of love that is not achieved without struggle. The pitfalls on either side of pastoral devotion are, on the one side, exclusive involvement with some individuals in the congregation at the expense of others and, on the other, too vague a love of all that remains always a wish more than concrete reality.

The secular priest's emotional ties are to the people of the neighborhood (or hospital or school or prison or whatever) where he serves. These people are his primary community. This situation of the secular priest differs from that of the monk whose primary community is his fellow monks. It differs as well from the situation of the priest-pastor who belongs to a religious order, society, or congregation. At least theoretically, such a priest's first ties emotionally are to the members of the religious community of which he is a member. The style of Christian spirituality of that community primarily forms his mode of Christian spirituality. But for the secular priest, the concrete community to which he is emotionally tied is the local congregation among whom he happens to be living out the role of pastoral leader.

Clericalism does a distinct disservice to the priest in this area by separating the pastor from his community. Cut off from a healthy pastoral interrelationship, he must either suppress his emotional needs or seek his emotional ties in unacceptable liaisons. However, the process to emotional maturity is an uneven one in the case of most persons. It should not be surprising, then, or cause undue anxiety, that, even in some instances uninfluenced by clericalism, secular priests will lose their balance along the way in fulfilling pastoral interpersonal relationships with their congregations. Especially upsetting can be the wrenching experience of being uprooted on a regular basis as the priest is reassigned from one community to another. Understanding what is taking place psychologically in the effort toward effective pastoral relationships can help priests and those whom they serve to avoid alienation from persons and institutions that might arise because of this fragile developmental dimension of the secular priest's Christian journey.

Pastoring entails a relationship of dedicated friendship which attempts to avoid partiality toward anyone within the congregation, and whose objective is to be with people as an invitation freely to love God. Within this context, celibacy can become concretely meaningful for the spiritual growth of the secular priest. It can be a way to be present to the women and men who are actually a part of this congregation, to the comfortable but especially to the needy, with a care that seeks to let the other be free, even as the other is invited to let the pastor be free.(19) A strange way of being? Yes. Valuable? Celibacy is a way of being pastoral for many secular priests who are enriched by their pastoral friendship for their congregation and who simply and genuinely touch people's lives with the transcendent by their presence in the ordinary situations of daily life. Central to priestly ministry? It seems that persons for whom celibacy is not congenial could develop a spirituality as secular priests without also committing themselves to celibacy, should the church allow that option.

In addition to pastoral relationships, there is for the secular priest friendship with others for its own sake. This sort of friendship plays a part in the well-being of every person. In the case of the secular priest, some insist that fraternity among secular priests is one of the foundations of the proper spirituality of the secular priest. It has been noted at the beginning of this essay that both the Emmaus Program of Spirituality for Priests and the Ministry to Priests Program stress the foundational place of priestly fraternity. It is my contention that priestly fraternity, while useful and pleasant, and almost always having some place in the priest's life, is not a proper element of priestly spirituality. To claim it as a proper element, in my view, is a distraction from the pastoral friendship between priest and congregation that is a proper element and needs to be emphasized as we emerge in this postclerical period from a distorting emphasis upon the separation of the clergy from the laity. The secular priest's vocation is not to be affiliated with a religious order, congregation, or society; nor are his ties first to his brother priests as if there were a distinct community of meaning for ministerial priests not shared with the laity. The secular priest's interpersonal ties are first with the women and men of his congregation whom he chooses to love with a pastoral friendship and who, hopefully, choose to love him as a friend and fellow pilgrim who is their pastoral leader.


Where the secular priest-pastor lives, how, and with whom are the considerations of this final section. Monks seek to form communities of Christian living in the monastic setting; couples united in Christian marriage seek to establish Christian living in the home; the pastor lives in the midst of the community he is called to lead and seeks to promote Christian living in the neighborhood or hospital or on the campus where he serves. Within the living memory of American Catholics, the parish priest has resided in a rectory. Situated geographically in the vicinity of the parish church, it is generally well located for availability to the parishioners, easily recognized as the pastor's residence.

At least two contrasting attitudes toward rectory living seem to be in vogue, both compatible with a pastoral spirituality of the secular priest. The inherited attitude views the rectory as a blessed setting for the priest to live at the heart of the community of which he is leader. There he can readily be reached, personally or by telephone, at any hour of the day. Since the rectory is located near the church and other parish buildings, the pastor is always at hand for church services, parish meetings, and social events held in the parish center. In rectory living the priest's personal space and time become secondary to the demands of persons and groups within the community for attention:

More recently the attitude has begun to emerge that, for some priests at least, twenty-four-hour presence in the direct vicinity of the parish center is not really a help either for the pastor or for the congregation. For the congregation it can create the false consciousness that the pastor is always there to lean on; it can prevent more dependent parishioners from learning to be free to take into their own hands responsibility for themselves and for their parish. For the priest it can mean that he becomes absorbed by the needs of the community rather than genuinely preserving his own distinct self-possession by learning to love the other as other and himself as himself.(20) The suggestion is made, therefore, (and one hears occasionally of its implementation) that the pastor not live at the central place of his pastoral ministry but in a nearby apartment or home where he is able to have space and time to be leisurely at prayer, rest, study, and recreation.

On the model of the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and loves them dearly, the expectation of Christians has always been that the good pastor is available to his community's members in their need. It has also been determined earlier in this essay that the secular priest forms his spirituality by being present to his community in the midst of their everyday living. Each priest, therefore, has to choose very carefully -- ideally in an unselfish way -- whether his spirituality is better accomplished by living within, or apart from, the rectory.

In either case, the secular priest will want to be judicious about the material comforts he provides in his living quarters. While simplicity of life cannot be legislated, and the gospel ideal of poverty is fraught with pitfalls in its practice, the general perception of Christian living seems clearly to be that the disciple of Jesus ought to go through life without being distracted by many creature comforts. Like every Christian, the secular priest may in this matter be able to do no more than hope to make halting submission to this most difficult of Jesus' challenges. Moreover, the heart of the matter is spontaneous generosity because of Jesus' joyful announcement of the approach of God's reign; this is what vitalizes Christian Existenz, rather than lack of material goods.(21)

Just as troublesome for some secular priests as where and how to live is the matter of those with whom he lives, namely, the priests associated with him in the pastoral care of a particular community. One's spirituality is affected in this matter both by working and living arrangements with the other priests who share ministry to the same community. Priests who minister jointly to a local community are likely to serve best if their personalities are compatible, if they share a similar vision of Christian ministry, and if they are able to relate to one another on a level of communication more profound than acquaintanceship or even only professional partnership. It does not seem farfetched to hope that mutual ministry, division of labor, support, encouragement, camaraderie, and even friendship could be initiated and sustained by the power of the common objective shared by the two or several priests on a staff.

The secular priesthood is in flux along with every other historically conditioned reality. Its spirituality cannot be determined, therefore, once for all time.(22) It is helpful, however, to determine its proper characteristics for this present time, so that today's secular priests may appropriate the meaning of their call to, and choice for, life with the Christian church.

  1. Summa theologiae, II-II, ques. 189, art. 7.
  2. Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O., The Soul of the Apostolate (French edition, c. 1915; English edition, Trappist, Ky., 1945).
  3. See Frank E. Bognanno, Contemplating Priestly Spirituality (Dubuque, Iowa: Emmaus Spirituality Program, Inc., 1979).
  4. Ministry to Priests Program (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, The Center for Human Development, no date), pp. 1-2.
  5. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Maquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), pp. 116, 150, 152.
  6. Ibid., pp. 434 ff.
  7. David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination (New York: Crossroad, 1981), p. 48.
  8. Ibid., pp. 437-38.
  9. See Urban T. Holmes, III, The Priest in Community (New York: Crossroad, 1978), pp. 75-95, and Ministry and Imagination (New York: Seabury, 1981), pp. 219-42.
  10. Analogical Imagination, p. 203.
  11. For scriptural background, see Rom. 15:16; Heb. 5:11. See also Ecumenical Documents on the Ministry (London: SPCK, 1975), pp. 32-35, nos. 7-13, and p. 117, no. 22.
  12. At issue here is something akin to what Hans-Georg Gadamer has studied with regard to textual interpretation, namely, the interpreters need to move beyond his or her own culturally conditioned understanding to appropriate the viewpoint of other persons (authors) who are separated by time and place from himself or herself (Horizonsverschmelzung). See Truth and Method (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975).
  13. See Edward Schillebeeckx, Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ (New York: Crossroad, 1981), pp. 57-60.
  14. See Raymond Brown, "Episkope and Episcopos: The New Testament Evidence," Theological Studies 41 (1980): 322-38.
  15. Besides applying the New Testament term elder, and perhaps also overseer, to the priest, it is useful to note that the New Testament also refers to ministers who are simply named "leaders." See Heb. 13: 7, 14, 24. "Administrators" is another name (1 Cor. 12: 28).
  16. Early Christian bishops such as Eusebius of Vercelli, Martin of Tours, Ambrose of Milan, Victricius of Ruen, Paulinus of Nola, and Germain of Auxerre established settlements for their priests deliberately to separate them from the commerce of everyday life. See James A. Mohler, The Heresy of Monasticism (Staten Island: Alba House, 1971), p. 1 19. Most notably, Augustine of Hippo "surrounded himself with 'servants of God' in black robes. Augustine insisted that his priests should live with him in a monastic establishment in the bishop's house. They would thus be deliberately isolated from the life of the town by vows of poverty, celibacy, and by a strict rule. They would be educated in the Scriptures alone. In time, many of the members of Augustine's monastery would become bishops elsewhere; they, in turn, would group similar monastic establishments around themselves. In so doing, they preserved the Catholic clergy as a distinct caste, involved neither by marriage nor by economic interest in the list of the town . . . ." (Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo [Berkeley: University of California Press, 19671, p. 198.). Jean-Paul Audet traces the roots of clericalism back to such events as these in his "Priester and Laie in der christlichen Gemeinde: Der Weg in die gegenseitige Entfremdung" in Der priesterliche Dienst, 1, pp. 115-75.
  17. See Summa theologiae, Suppl., ques. 40, art. 2, ad 3. Aquinas claims that a cleric is "in altiori statu quam laicus" ("in a higher state than the lay person").
  18. Lay ministers of the Eucharist, when distributing Communion both during the Eucharist and to persons confined to their homes, can also benefit from applying this principle to make one's role as minister at liturgy an opportunity for personal prayer for oneself. The principle, of course, is obvious; it is the practice that is difficult.
  19. In my opinion, Sean O'Faolain, in his short story "In the Bosom of the Country," sketches a sympathetic portrait of the parish priest whose pastoral love is balanced. In particular, the parish priest of the story is filled with a love of friendship that allows his congregants to remain free to be themselves. See The Heat of the Sun: Stories and Tales (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1948 & 1966), pp. 3-34.
  20. William Johnston, S.J., clarifies this distinction as one between adolescent infatuation and adult love in Silent Music (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 66. It could be asked whether the priest who considers himself to be indispensable is not suffering from a relationship of adolescent infatuation with the people he is pastoring.
  21. Charles E. Curran argues that Christian conversion consists mainly in a joyful and radical change of one's whole orientation in response to Jesus' joyful announcement of God's reign. See his "Conversion: The Central Moral Message of Jesus" in Conversion, ed. Walter E. Conn (Staten Island: Alba House, 1978), pp. 226-27.
  22. There do seem to be, nevertheless, transcultural qualities pertinent to the spirituality of the secular priest, some of which are expressed sublimely in Geoffrey Chaucers celebration of "The Parson" in The Canterbury Tales, translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1952), pp. 30-31.