There are different types of Catholic priests. The two broad types are 1) Secular and 2) Religious.
These words might be a bit confusing. Aren’t all priests religious? Secular? Doesn’t that mean not believing in God or outside of the Church or something?
Well, one way to answer these questions is to say that the Church has her own language. Yes, in common language we would say that someone who believes in God and practices a religion is religious. And, again in common language we might think that secular means non-religious and completely separate from any religion or even spiritual reference. But the word secular when it comes to priests really means “to be in the world.” This being, or living, in the world can be easily understood in contrast with living in a cloistered community like an abbey or a monastery, separated from the outside world. But it isn’t quite that simple, because not all religious priests live a cloistered life.
A secular priest is perhaps better understood as a diocesan priest, that is, he belongs to a particular diocese and is under the authority of a diocesan bishop. A diocese is a territory or region with geographical boundaries, just like a city or a regional municipality or a province or territory has boundaries and corresponding governors. A bishop is sort of like the governor. Well, maybe more like a king. Anyway, another way of saying a priest belongs to a diocese is that he is incardinated with a diocese. When a man is ordained a deacon he becomes incardinated to a particular diocese. Every priest is ordained a deacon before he is ordained a priest. Normally an incardinated deacon or priest will minister in the geographical territory of his diocese, but not always. Most priests in the Catholic Church are diocesan priests and they most often minister in parishes, which are of course, in places where people live, whether that be in cities or suburbs or the country. Parishes are not monasteries. We could say, they are in the middle of the world, or better yet, in the midst of the world. They are there, visible and accessible.
As stated above, not all religious priests live in cloistered communities. Many religious priests also work in parishes, in the midst of the world. A religious priest is best distinguished from a diocesan priest by the fact that a religious is not incardinated with a diocese with obedience to the bishop, but rather belongs to a recognized community and he vows obedience to his superior, even though he would need to receive faculties to minister as a priest to the public from the local bishop. A religious priest must of course be ordained by a bishop. Religious make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows are called the Evangelical Counsels. A diocesan priest promises obedience to his bishop, celibate chastity, commits to the praying of the breviary, and to simplicity of life. A religious priest who lives in a cloister would be considered a monk. A monk might be an ordained priest, serving the sacramental needs of his cloister, or he might be a brother, who is not ordained but still vows the Evangelical Counsels.
A religious priest normally would not earn a salary for himself but any earnings he might receive would go directly into the community, and the community in turn ensures that his basic needs are met for his entire life. There might be certain variations in the details from community to community, but this is more or less how it works. A diocesan priest, on the other hand, is responsible for all his personal expenses and, for the most part, makes his own decisions on how he spends his salary and prepares for retirement or old age. A diocesan priest is paid a salary depending on where he works, which, as already mentioned, is normally in a parish. So, normally a diocesan priest works in a parish and is paid a set salary by the parish. The parish receives money to pay for expenses pertaining to that parish, including the priest’s salary, by the generous donations of the parishioners. A small percentage of parish donations is passed on to the diocese to pay for the expenses of the bishop and all the salaries of the diocesan administrative staff and other expenses related to the running of the diocese.
So where do I fit in with all of this? I am a diocesan priest, but I asked my bishop to be released from parish ministry in order to establish this retreat centre, In Viam Pacis, and he granted me this request, realizing the good in the proposal. I am a priest incardinated with the Archdiocese of Ottawa, but working in the territory of the Archdiocese of Kingston.
The norm for a diocesan priest is to work in a parish, but many diocesan priests may do other work instead, such as hospital chaplains, school chaplains, teachers, professors, psychologists, missionaries, Church diplomats, or all sorts of other things. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post that although I have left parish ministry and the city, I still minister as a Catholic priest, but in a more hidden way. I was thinking about that word “hidden.” It’s a funny word. I mean, am I hiding? No, ha ha ha. I’m just working more behind the scenes, so to speak. As a priest my primary work is of course prayer, especially the Breviary and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I also continue pastoral work, mostly pastoral counselling over the phone these days. I was ordained a priest in 2005 and since then there has accumulated a good number of persons who reach out to me for my priestly guidance. Rarely does a day go by that I do not offer at least a listening ear to at least one person who needs to talk. And I’m glad to do that. And sometimes I need to talk too, so I have my own friends and priests that I call. When the retreat starts receiving retreatants then I will be of course making available Confession, Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and pastoral counselling and spiritual direction, for those who want that. Otherwise, a retreatant will be free to rest or walk the woods or spend time in the chapel, or go fishing or go biking or whatever.
I think a good principle to live by is: “Help those who want the help” and let the others be. A good deal of energy of a priest in a parish goes into trying to help those who don’t really want the help, but that’s another blog topic for another day, I suppose. One of the great things from my perspective is that with In Viam Pacis I am free to help those who really want what I have to offer. Not everyone needs help or wants help, and that’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with that. I certainly don’t want to impose help. Plus, I can’t even always help everybody who asks for help either, because some persons need help that is beyond my capacities. That’s just reality.
So, I was thinking about my frustration with myself that the physical building and grounds for the retreat centre is not ready yet, even though I knew I set an admittedly ambitious goal as a timeline. Then I realized that with all the time dedicated to my principle work of prayer and counsel, it is no wonder that the other things are moving slowly! There is only so much time in a day. One day at a time!
I am very grateful to my bishop, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, for being open to my proposal to establish this retreat centre. I truly believe it is where I belong and where I can best serve the Church. I am also very grateful to the bishop of Kingston, Archbishop Brendan O’Brien, because this property is in his territory, and without his graciousness I could not be doing this here. Mostly, of course, I am grateful to God, first and foremost for calling me to be a priest, and also for all the education, formal and informal, and life experiences that together allow me to be on this new adventure. In the seminary, the first formal lecture I recall was on the principle that “you can’t give what you don’t have.” And that is true. We can even say it is a truism! But I have another saying which is an inverse of that saying that I don’t think was in that lecture: “Give what you do have.” That is not a truism. That is an imperative! And there’s a big difference. The vision of In Viam Pacis was conceived through what I might call a searching and thorough inventory of everything that I have, material and immaterial, so that, in keeping with Our Lord Jesus’ precept, I might give it all away! In Viam Pacis!