"You know as a priest you're going to be lonely and unhappy!" "It must be sad being a priest, you have no one to go home to." "You won't be happy until priests are able to get married." - These, and there have been others, have been some of the comments that myself and brother priests and seminarians have heard over many years. In some ways, these words can be discouraging and not necessarily for the reason(s) you might expect. I find these words to be discouraging not because they are negative but because, in my opinion, the people who have had the audacity to say such things come across like sheep without a shepherd! I don't mean this in a condescending way but rather, I say it with great honesty and Christian charity. Truly.
People who wish to express their discontent with celibacy and the lifestyle of a priest, using language in the company of the previous mentioned quotes, are quite confused. These statements that are, I guess, an attempt to pick away or jab at celibacy are logically inconsistent for at least two reasons, (and I'm sure there are other reasons too).
First, does anyone knowingly choose to be lonely? Honestly, who in their right mind would do that? Answer: No one! Therefore, how could anyone logically presuppose that some one is going to be lonely or would choose a lifestyle of loneliness? In what set of circumstances would choosing a 'lonely lifestyle' make sense?
Sidebar: Answering the call to priesthood is a choice, not a force of the hand or twist of the arm. Somehow over the years answering the call has become equated with being forced to do something against one's will for the Lord. In response to this somewhat pervasive negative view on answering the call, I have two words: not true!
Second, how does anyone know what makes another person happy? Again, I don't mean to be mean or condescending but an honest gut reaction I have is: "Who are you to say what makes me happy?" For when one says, 'you will be lonely and unhappy,' presupposes the one making the statement knows what will make the person whom he/she is talking about, happy or unhappy and quite frankly, how could anyone presuppose to know this of another person?
What has sparked my colorful, direct, and rawly honest commentary?
Today I concelebrated at the funeral of a brother priest, Fr. John Richards. As I was at the funeral I looked around I saw 60 plus brother priests from the other four fine men I was ordained with to the fine leadership of the Diocese of Cleveland. I saw multiple generations of brothers. Brothers, my family. Lonely? Nope!
Every Sunday, I look out from the sanctuary at Mass and I do not see a congregation, parishioners (even though technically they are), or members but rather, I see my family. I have more members in my family then John & Kate Plus 8, The Brady Bunch, and Cheaper by the Dozen (the Bakers), put together!!! Lonely? Nope!
I am priest and I am not lonely! I spend each day taking care of my family to the best of my ability and I walk with them in good times and in bad. My life is full of life. I am not alone nor lonely. In no other vocation could I possibly have a life as blessed as this with such a great depth of generation and diversity and a brotherhood that is a rock.
I have entered this vocation freely and without reservation to give myself to the Church in a particular way. I have chosen to honor my role as priest and my parish family for the rest of my life. I accept all the Lord has entrusted to me and will do my best to guide them and care for them according to the law of Christ and his Church. I promise to be true to those I serve in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love them and honor them all the days of my life, until death do us part.
What is loneliness then? Perhaps its an attitude or choice or perception, I'm not completely sure nor am I an expert. Some loneliness is tied to clinical depression and that's an entirely different matter. But what I do know is that loneliness is not rooted in a vocation. Just as a person is not 'incomplete' unless he/she is married; honestly, some of the loneliest people in the world are married. I have met some of them. The main point here is that you are complete on your own and lonely on your own too, not having a spouse in the sacrament of marriage does not equate to being lonely! If you are full of life then you will have life.
Saving the best for last: I have Christ. As a priest I strive to live my life in union with God and the Church. Is God not enough? More than enough!
I am not alone, priesthood is not lonely, period.