Living in a ‘fish bowl’ has advantages, drawbacks

The view from the rectory window

By Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke

The note came by way of an amused secretary carrying a small folded piece of paper. It was a note from Devon, a dark headed second grader who always had a ready smile and an equally ready question.
“Dear Father Ken,” it began. A good start because my last name has 12 letters in it so most of the children and parishioners never quite get my whole name.
The note read:
“Dear Father Ken,
I am a second grader. I have a question. How come the third week of Advent is pink? I want to be a altar server when I grow up. I hope that I don’t forget you when I grow up.
You and Father are a nice pair.
Sincerely,
Yours truly,
Your friend,
Devon”

In the seminary we were taught after ordination as priests we would live in a “fish bowl.” Being a priest means I am very visible. A priest’s mannerisms, his recreation, even the food he eats will be seen by his parishioners. Going to the grocery store is an adventure. First, the reaction of the children whispering to their parents in that ever so soft voice that can be heard throughout the store and the look of utter amazement of seeing Father shopping and realizing that Father eats!
“Look! There’s Father!” they exclaim.
Then the reactions of the adults during the usual conversation of “Hi” “how are you?” “Cold/warm outside,” it is during these conversations the parishioner takes quick downward glances at what is in the shopping cart, wondering what does Father really eat. I can see them thinking: “Looks like a lot of ice cream!…I wonder why he is buying so much oatmeal?...probably to balance out the ice cream!”
The children are often much bolder and will snoop through the basket making observations: “You sure like potato chips! My mom won’t let me eat those! Deodorant? My grandpa uses that kind!”
Being so visible is also a great advantage in proclaiming the joy of the Gospel. In Devon’s observation of me; he picked up on one very important matter that Catholics like to observe: how does a priest get along with his brother priests?
Living in community is hard work. Being married and the union of two wills is so difficult that our Lord has given us sacramental grace in order to live it out. Family life that is so central to the life and health of the Church is not always pretty. The pettiness, the jealousies, even fights over the bathroom can leave many a person desiring to become a hermit. Community life and family life is hard work.
Therefore, parishes that have more than one priest have the opportunity to see if the priests practice what they preach! It is good for both the parish and the priests.
Living with another priest is both a joy and an inconvenience. A joy in having someone to share a meal, to enjoy a television show, a conversation, and to work with. An inconvenience because we probably did not know each other prior to living and working together and living with your boss is not easy, especially if he has a pet!
And then there is the generation gap. Most parishes with two or more priests have an older priest and a newly ordained priest. I never thought of myself as being old until I began discussing a television show of the 1970s and my associate gave me that quizzical look. I realized he was still a toddler and perhaps not yet born when the show aired!
Our differences in ages, personality, family backgrounds affect the way we pastor, the way we communicate, the way we live. Ahh, community life!
Saint Paul wrote to a young priest by the name of Timothy two letters. In the second letter, Paul gives Timothy some very practical advice: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…bear your share of hardship along with me…” (2 Tim:1)
These words express why priests need priests. It is difficult to live such a visible life. Lives where your words and actions can either soothe or hurt, heal or condemn, preach the Gospel or scandalize. Priests need priests to bear with each other and for each other the hardships of authentically proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.
Why is the third candle pink Devon? Because we remember in the midst of waiting for the Lord there are sorrows and hardships, but in the midst of these hardships there is still joy!
I am so glad Devon could see that my associate and I make a “nice pair,” for Jesus sent us out two by two, not one by one. (Luke 10:1) In preaching the Gospel and living with another priest, our lives can be a joy, perhaps visibly showing the “good” in the Good News of Jesus! This I hope all the “Devon’s” whom I have served in the past won’t forget when they grow up!