Life & Soul

‘Away again, Father?’: Why your priest really does need a break

It is that time of year when many clergy take their annual holiday. Amid the busyness of preparing to leave the parish for a week or two, priests are nearly always guaranteed to hear the words “Away again, Father?” from some quarters of the parish. For some reason there are those who seem to resent clergy having the times of rest and recuperation that others enjoy and need.

Most priests I know are some of the hardest-working members of the Church. They live in the same building as their office, work every weekend and most evenings and only have one weekly rest day. A priest’s life is very much lived out in the public sphere. They are known in the community and available to all, day and night. They do all this lovingly because that is what they are called by God to do in service to the world.

A priest carries in his heart the hopes, fears, expectations, struggles, projections and brokenness of God’s people who have been committed to his care. He is an accompanier in their joy and in the deepest recesses of life’s dark moments. Through all this he is trying to live out the vocation to be a real and present sign of Christ within the mystical body. It is a great privilege and joy but at times also a burdensome responsibility.

Often a priest (rightly) gives so much of themselves in order to bless others. But they should heed the warning of St Charles Borromeo: “Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourselves to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.”

For most people, making time to step out of their obliviously cyclical days and weeks is essential for wellbeing. This is especially true for priests. Priests are called to both “do” and “be”. But in modern life there can sometimes appear to be a tension between these two.

This often results in a neglect of the inner life and spirituality which should animate and enliven priests, enabling them to more fully submerge themselves within the heart of Christ. Taking time out of a busy life enables them to re-establish a balance, and more fully realise their vocation to live for others out of love for them and reflecting Christ’s love for us all.

Holidays are therefore essential for the wellbeing of the priest and for the good of the whole Church. They also provide new opportunities for the parishes that we serve. When I am away, I am sure that my parishioners enjoy the opportunity to experience a visiting priest with a different style and perspective from my own. My absence provides opportunities for lay leadership as different people take on tasks in
my absence.

So, when your priest announces he is going away, why not encourage him and see it is a life-giving opportunity for him and for the community as a whole?