Someone asked me recently, “Catholic priests are under enormous pressure to feed the hungry, house the homeless and minister to the depressed. How do you find time to write so much?”
The answer is that I only do what only Fr Dwight Longenecker can do. I phrase it like that to make my point…There’s two parts to the statement: “Father” and “Dwight Longenecker.”
The question betrays a common misunderstanding about the priesthood. I was not ordained to minister to the needy, raise funds, clean out the church gutters, teach school or any other number of worthy occupations.
I was ordained to do what only a priest can do: celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions and anoint the sick. Every other ministry in the church can be done by the deacons and laypeople.
This does not mean I am not involved in these other ministries, or that I think I’m better than all that. But in fact, my role as a pastor is not to do everything myself, but empower, employ, motivate and inspire the whole people of God in my parish to also do the things that only they can do. Each one of them have particular experience, gifts and personalities and we all work together to minister to the needy, celebrate the liturgy and live Christ’s life in the world.
I do actually spend a fair bit of time in our parish helping the homeless and needy, preaching, teaching, visiting and so forth, but mostly we refer the needy to our St Vincent dePaul Society, the food pantry and Mother Teresa House-our special referral center and helpline. We have teams of home visitors, CCD teachers, counsellors, pro life workers. My job is to lead, guide and discern the way forward and to delegate the work to people who are, quite frankly, better at it than I am.
So what is the other thing that only I can do?
I’m somewhat gifted and experienced in writing. It’s a gift. It’s no big deal. It’s just something I can do.
So I write. This is something I can do that others cannot do, and those who do write do not write what I write. Like every other writer I bring my own experience, expertise, life and insights and I contribute these to the work of Christ’s church doing what only I can do.
I pray that God blesses it and uses it, and that my writing might be the best use of my time and abilities. I mean you really don’t want to see me play basketball…
Don’t you think that is what Christ intended? Isn’t that the ecclesiology of St Paul when he refers to the church as “the body of Christ” each with different members and each with different gifts? (I Cor 12)
One of the major problems in the church is that we are still bound by a ridiculous clericalism in which “Father knows best” and “Father does everything.”
I’m done with that.