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10-exhasuted

All work and no rest is a recipe for disaster

Clergy are often reluctant to take a day off, but relaxation is a vital part of good leadership, writes Fr Michael Kane.

This weekend I hand over the reins of the parish to my supply priest Fr Adam Pawlak who comes from Poland to be with us for the month of July.

Fortunately Fr Adam knows our parish well by now since he’s been with us a few times in the past.

During this month I will be taking my annual summer break. Although it’s a break for me it is also a break for my parishioners, and an opportunity to hear a fresh approach to the Gospel with a new face at the altar.

I always consider this a very welcome change for my long-suffering parishioners!

 

Summer plans

This year my annual break entails a stint in Spain walking another section of the famous Camino, leading to the ancient and beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela. The rest of the time will be spent with my family.

Each year I look forward to July: an opportunity to recharge my batteries and re-energise with the help of family time, rest and some sunshine.

I must confess that throughout the year I’m not so disciplined at finding time for rest, away from the parish.

 

Busy routine

My friends often say they saw more of me when I was studying in Rome! When something comes up on my day off, that usually takes priority.

In truth, there are always important things cropping up which can mean days off become fewer and fewer.

With ever increasing demands on fewer priests it is easier than ever to make excuses that we are simply too busy to take time away from the parish.

I always remember a wise priest saying to me on the day of my ordination to make sure I get a day off each week, and to put it into my diary as sacrosanct.

Back then I probably saw days off as a distraction to getting on with the Lord’s work.

 

Energy and zeal

It certainly wasn’t a priority for me as I was setting out on the road of priesthood filled with energy and zeal.

In all honesty, I saw the idea of ‘sacrosanct days off’ as incompatible to the priestly vocation of self-giving, service and sacrifice.

In time I began to see the wisdom of that early advice.

Time to rest is an essential part of every life, including priestly life. In fact, I have come to realise that it is indispensable in the life of any leader.

 

Workload

We cannot serve effectively when we are entirely consumed by workload.

A tired priest can easily become a disgruntled priest, an angry priest, an irritable priest, or worse still, a cynical and negative priest who has lost his zeal and enthusiasm.

So it seems to me that rest is a friend of every priest, and time has to be carved out to relax and spend time with family and friends.

This is all sound advice, but it doesn’t come naturally to most priests. Saying ‘no’ can somehow seem contrary to our calling, and as a result we can spread ourselves very thin and slowly edge out our own personal time.

 

guilt

In fact, we can sometimes even feel guilty about spending time away from our parish.

People instinctively sense that we are ‘theirs’ and that we are always there to respond to their needs.

This is, of course, a beautiful dynamic which exists between a priest and his people.

That a relative stranger has chosen to be ‘theirs’ is a mark of priestly love, but nonetheless our self-giving cannot be without limits. We can never belong completely to others.

A priest cannot give his all; he must also maintain a personal life with all its riches and graces in order to sustain him in his life and ministry.

He needs to drink from other sources if he is to be replenished in priestly service.

 

Formation

Recently the priests of our diocese spent two days on the subject of clergy formation, led by Pete Smallwood, a lay professional who works extensively with clergy and seminarians in England.

Specifically, Pete focused on the need for good human formation, looking after ourselves and looking after our brother priests.

He reminded us that it’s our ethical responsibility to care for ourselves, in order to be effective priests for the people we are called to serve.

He reminded us that our vocation is a marathon not a sprint, and so we need to pace ourselves, to avoid burnout in our parish ministry.

 

Re-energise

Pete suggested that priests ensure they have a weekly ‘day on’ rather than a day off.

He emphasised the need to engage with activities that re-energise us and build fraternity; to see our time away from the parish as a time ‘to do’ and to connect to interests away from pastoral life.

He reminded us that sometimes it is right to say ‘no’ to others to preserve a greater ‘yes.’ Wise words indeed!

As I pack my things into my rucksack for the next two weeks on the Camino, I only hope that my supply priest Fr Adam remembers to take his day off!

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