Being a priest means wearing many berettas

The view from the rectory window
By Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke
For 17 years I have gone to the same barber. I was taught in the seminary that the relationships a priest make in his first assignment, in his first priestly year, are very important and will be long lasting. This is true of any profession or vocation, I suppose, because of a person’s newness and vulnerability. You are open to new experiences and hungry for acceptance.
I still have many fond memories and friendships from those first years of priesthood, but I never expected to have such a rapport with a barber shop!
In my case, I think it is less about vulnerability and more about laziness. After four different assignments, some in the same town as the first assignment and some outside, as far as 20 miles away, I still went to the same barber shop.
The ease upon which I was able to sit in the chair knowing that Jay or Skip would not beleaguer me with questions about my day, my life, or my hair, but rather would just cut my hair without small talk. It was worth coming back.
Finally that changed. Too far, too much gas, or it was simply time, I don’t know, but finally I found myself sitting in a strange barber’s chair. A chair where they ask you your name as you enter the store, not to get to know you, but so they can look you up on the computer and see what hair style you like, only to then ask you again how you want it cut once you get settled in the chair.
As soon as I sat down, I knew “THE” question would be coming. After the usual trite questions of: “How are you?” “Nice weather, but a bit windy out there.”  “How do you want your hair cut? Cut different from last time?” After all these questions are exhausted, and after a rather stilted pause, “THE” question comes.
I was really rather surprised it wasn’t asked earlier. Entering into the national chain barber shop, a young college-aged girl greets me, asks my name, but then becomes impatient with the computer trying to type in my name.
“Oh, JESUS!” she cries out to the computer.
“Yes, Jesus might help in this situation, although Saint Isidore is really the patron saint of computers.” I say.
She looks up, sees my Roman collar, turning bright red says, “Oh, God!...Oh, I’m sorry, Ohhhh…” 
I assure her it’s all right, and that perhaps her national chain has divided my last name into two names, thinking the prefix name is my middle name.
Sure enough, there I am in the computer, probably only describing my style of hair cut, without mention of the Roman collar.
Getting settled in the chair and after the volley of the usual questions, she finally asks what she really wants to know. She finally asks “THE” question.
“What are you?”
This is not “THE” question, but rather a prelude to “THE” question.
“A priest,” I reply.
Awkward silence. She is thinking. And not about my hair cut.
“Ohhh” she finally says, and then here it comes, “THE” question: 
“So, what do you do?”
There it is! Finally! ‘What do you do?’ What does a priest do? A straight forward question, easy question. A good question, but a question where the answer is not so straight forward or easy.
Do I explain what I do in my daily work, or do I explain that priesthood is not so much about accomplishing or doing, but rather about being.
Perhaps a short treatise on Saint John Chrysostom’s book “On the Priesthood” would be appropriate. Or maybe using an example of a priest she might be familiar with. Maybe Pope John Paul II. But no, I am sure she was probably not even out of grade school when he died.
If I explained what I do, I could tell her what I did just last weekend: 
• celebrated the Sunday Masses
• gave a talk about Christian leadership and stewardship
• met with a worried mother about her son joining a possible cult in college
• anointed a man who was given less than a year to live
• grieved with a mother over a miscarriage after 16 weeks
• gave a prayer and carefully avoided getting out on the dance floor with our seniors (elders) dance
• finally heard the first confessions at a neighboring parish and then back for a scout Blue and Gold Banquet.
On the other hand maybe that would be a bit too much information and I would never get my hair cut.
Being a priest means we do many things: we administrate, minister, parent, teach, study, worry, preach, heal, admonish, clean, employ, pray, preside, and act in persona Christi, but explaining what a priest does is like explaining what a mother does, they mother! So I guess that would not help.
Being a priest means we are many things: a parent, a teacher, a pupil, a caretaker, a preacher, a healer, a janitor, a prayer, a Christian, but how can I tell her who I am by telling her it’s what I am rather than what I do. Of course that was her first question, ‘what are you.’
Sensing my hesitation she tries to rescue me: “Are you the principal of a school or something?”
Perfect! – I think. “No, but I do teach. I prepare people for sacraments.” 
“Oh,” she says again – lot’s of oh’s! I don’t think she knows what a sacrament is.
“I do priestly things. Like marriage, baptisms, funerals. You know those sorts of things.” I finally say.
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“Do you want the back blocked or rounded?” she asks.
“Rounded.” I say as I settle deeper into the chair.
I realize I need to have a better answer to “THE” question, or else go back to my old barber who doesn’t ask so many questions.