collarThe other day I was asked what was the most difficult thing about being a priest and I said I thought it was the fact that people don’t really want you to be a real person. They want you to be Jesus Mary and Joseph.

I was exaggerating.

However. There is sometimes some pretty weird stuff going on in the minds of priests and in the minds of the people and in their relationships.

The job of being a priest is hard enough without the minefield of psychological tricks the devil has in store for us. Think about it. Most priests have an awful lot of power. No one really tells us what to do. We can make up our own schedule. Many of us hold the check book for the parish and with a bit of ingenuity can spend money as we like. On top of all this we are surrounded by a group of people who really want to love us. They want to invest in us and want us to be the role model for them and their children. They are longing for someone to look up to, and we poor souls that we are and longing to be loved, fall for it hook, line and sinker.

Add to that any kind of a reputation as a writer, speaker or “Catholic celebrity” and the minefield is suddenly doubled. They thought you were wonderful to start with, and now thousands hang on your every word. You start to attract all sorts of vulnerable and needy people. If your celebrity status grows you start enjoying ‘success’. Media people want to jump on your band wagon. Offers come you way. More money flows in. You can’t help it. That goes with success. Meanwhile, you’re probably getting lonely because, while thousands love the person they think you are, very few people really know you and love you for who you really are. If you are a celibate priest (unless you’ve developed for yourself a good support system) you’re stuck in that false world of celebrity with no one to turn to. If you don’t have the inner strength you may start believing in your false image yourself. It’s hard not to.

Why do some priests start believing the false image of themselves? I’m afraid to say that too many men who are drawn to the priesthood already have a poor self image. Often they lack real personal identity or they dislike the person they are. It’s very attractive, therefore, to have a job where you put on a uniform and assume a different persona–the persona of a hero, a good guy, a knight in shining armor. Priests aren’t the only ones who fall into this trap. Policemen and soldiers and nurses and others in the helping professions do the same.

So for the priest: every morning we put on the uniform. We’re God’s guys. We dress the part. We parade up and down in our long robes and we try our hardest to be saints.  Much of it is a part we have to play. The church even teaches us that we’re Christ personified. It’s a part we have to play, and also a part we have to grow into, but until we grow into it fully we have to act the part. It is, very often, a useful fiction, but if we fall into the trap of believing the fiction ourselves we’re really in trouble. The bubble gets bigger and bigger. We feed the adulation and those who adore us grow more fervent in their worship. Meanwhile the real friends–those who would criticize us and bring us down to earth–often simply walk away or worse–in our egomania–we drive them away, refusing to take criticism, we see them as ‘naysayers’ and we are glad to see the back of them.

Then too often the bubble bursts. Continue Reading

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