5 Years a Priest: Still Wearing My Collar

Whenever my parents got into an argument, as a child it was somewhat of a confusing experience.  I didn’t understand how two people who loved each other could disagree, especially when they seemed unanimously in agreement on my own behaviour and how I was to be punished…lol.   They were a united front in most things, and so an argument was an experience that was out of the ordinary and an unexpected experience of observing my parents relationship.  However, arguments happen often because we “care” and we are willing to discuss the issues we think matter and the issues we are passionate about.  I would think that most healthy marriages demand an argument from time to time to demonstrate a spirit of indifference hasn’t taken root, and that our own perspectives are going to continue to be perfected and purified by dialogue and discussion.  But as a child, knowing that divorce was a possibility in many people’s homes, my immediate thought, when I observed arguments fostered a devastating fear that my parents might get a divorce.  As a child I didn’t have the tools to realize that arguments, even heated arguments do not imply that love is absent.  And so I remember asking both my mom and my dad, separately:  “Are you getting a divorce?”  Their response was exactly the same, and it has made a rather large impact on my own priesthood.  Their response was unequivocally, and unconditionally:  “never.”

For our culture, to say “never” is to place limits on our own personal autonomy and freedom.  It is to close off possibilities in the near future, possibilities we feel entitled to preserve for ourselves.  But in reality, love requires a sacrifice of personal liberty, because it recognizes that liberty is not an end in itself, but is there primarily to give way to love.  When we slam the door on unfaithfulness and never allow even the thought to be entertained, we are committing ourselves to love.  But the moment we begin to reserve for ourselves the hypothetical possibility of going back on our word, we have already lost the deeply rooted spirit of faithfulness, as we have built within our soul an escape-hatch that will always remain a cause of temptation and lead to a lack of interior freedom to say “yes” to our commitment to love.

This April marks my 5th year in the priesthood – and it is has been an incredible adventure.  There has been a great deal of hardships, humiliations, failures, arguments, and other things that are best kept between me and those to whom it concerns.  There have also been incredible graces, moments of encountering God in a new way through ministry, and also incredible moments of watching others encounter God in miraculous ways.  I have seen people experience ecstasy in prayers, grade 8 students receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit during Adoration, having faith become borne in their own heart.  I have heard confessions where massive wounds and heavy burdens have been lifted or healed.  I have made relationships with many people in time of death, sickness and joy and sorrow.  I have been greatly encouraged by those who have returned to the faith or returned to confession as a result of something I said or did that God blessed with grace.

Whether it was a moment of desolation or consolation, it matters not – my love for Christ and the priesthood has not changed, it has grown.  This is simply another way of saying that the Priesthood does not “need me” but that “I need the priesthood.”  This vocation is changing my heart every day, humbling it, giving me tougher skin, helping me to put others before my own needs, and above all, placing God in the centre of my life’s priorities, because it is “Truly Right and Just.”  If anyone would ever think I would waver, let me re-echo what my own parents said without qualification, without conditions:  I will never leave the priesthood.

One of the blogs I posted earlier on in the beginnings of this call of the priesthood pertained to my wearing of the Roman Collar.  I still fervently practice this because the level of my commitment and love for the priesthood has taken on this particular means of tangible expression.  That is to say, my commitment to being available in serving others has taken on the tangible sign of being visibly present in public, wearing my collar.  This is both a chance for consolation and desolation, but it is a commitment not to an external practice itself, but through this external practice to achieve the very spirit behind the ministry I am called to.  Not only do I continue to adhere to the wearing of the Roman Collar, but I also maintain boundaries with most people, gently and politely hoping they will refer to me as Fr. Chris, and not the familiar “Chris.”  This comes with some challenge, as people often interpret this to mean that I want respect, personally.  I have, however, never called my own father “Mike,” and I never plan to.  Not because I consider my father as having more dignity than I, and not because “Dad” is a title – but rather because it is a type of relationship that I am called to have with him, and one that I cherish.  I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the type of relationship I have with others, and with a few exceptions, I always realize that I am to be first a Father to others, not just in name, but in the manner of relating to others.  This means I am called to provide for their spiritual needs; I am to not ask them to serve me, but I am meant to serve them.  I am to die for them, and stand in the way of anything that could harm their spiritual life.  These are the things that come to my mind when I hear “Father Chris.”  What does not come to my mind is, “special me.”  This paternal role is not meant to be denigrated to mere authority and power as some begin to believe it is or some have twisted it to mean for clericalist purposes.  Rather, it is more deeply and profoundly a call to love those whom God has entrusted to me, as my own Heavenly Father has loved me.

                People have been most receptive of this – with a minority of exceptions.  The exceptions normally come from those who have been taught by others to interpret these external signs to only communicate something pejorative.  The most enjoyable experience I have of the collar is not when people scorn you publically for being a priest, as I experienced a few times.  Rather, I enjoy the times that I have walked into a Pub in Windsor and had people ask me, right there, to hear their confession.  Or as I walk through Wal-Mart, the same takes place, with a person who hasn’t been to confession in years.  Sometimes at the mall, youth ask for a blessing or simply say hello, and request prayers or we simply share a laugh.  These are not exceptional cases, they happen quite often, and it always makes me wonder how much good would I not accomplish today, had I hidden this simple white tab in my shirt?  More importantly it has made me deeply aware of how to penetrate the secular culture we live in, by simply being visibly present, showing up, and communicating to others that I am willing to drop everything for them – that is to be:  Salt and Light for the world. 

It has been five years since I was ordained, this month, and amongst the failures, successes, and the fruitfulness of ministry, harsh remote-judgments and odd canonizations (others oddly think I’m a saint) – all I can say is I’m in it for the long run.  And with my brother priests who have proven time in again that they have my back, and that I have theirs, we march forward.  To five years in ministry, God I say to you, thank you for this tremendous gift and I will never abandon it:  never.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “5 Years a Priest: Still Wearing My Collar

  1. Deborah Kloos.

    Fr Chris, you are great!!! I am really happy you decided to give your life to being a priest. You are a good priest, intelligent, easy to approach, kind hearted, trustworthy, have a good sense of humour. You wear your collar with pride to serve others and you do it with the love of Christ. Thank you Father!!!! Even if I am 20 years older than you and could be your mom, I am happy to call you Father!!!

  2. Laura Vitella

    Congratulations on your fifth anniversary of the priesthood. May God continue to bless you in your ministry of service. For the words you share and the lives you touch, thank you.

  3. Joe Sardo

    Thank you for this reflection and for your priesthood: I admire your zeal. A commitment to Love is a beautiful thing; and it is True freedom, indeed! You are always in my prayers when I visit the Blessed Mother at my parish: a candle is lit for you. Keep going as an “other Christ” showing forth the love of the Father, with the supreme power and unity of the Holy Spirit. You are a conqueror with Christ

    (Sorry if any of my theology is a little off!)

  4. Fr. Jason Piper

    Fr. C! Be assured of my prayers for you on this blessed anniversary of yours! I also celebrated my 5th anniversary recently (January 20th), and it was a great joy to hit that mark, as in truth it has been a great joy being a priest every day since the first! Like you, I too wear the collar every day.

    In Quebec, among a certain generation of French Canadians (mostly from priests & religious) there is a negative view of the collar or a habit. They suggest it distances the priest from people, or somehow puts the priest on a pedestal. They suggest its a form of clericalism. Yet, from my experience it would seem that wearing a collar or habit is the exact opposite of what these naysayers suggest.

    Just yesterday I was at a resto/bar to pick up something to eat. Someone at the bar noticed me and said, ‘busy season’ to which I said yes, really busy week coming up, especially enjoying my day off today. Referring to the collar he replied, ‘why are you wearing your work uniform on your day off?’ I replied saying basically its not a job, but a way of life, so I wear this all the time when in public, even on days off. He would probably not have engaged me in conversation if I had a polo shirt on. That is part of the reason why we wear the collar, because I am open for business, so to speak, at all times (even on our day off, we are still priests because that is what we are, not what we do). The collar identifies us, its a sign that we are priests for those around us wherever we happen to be. It draws people in, not push them away.

    Be it 2022 when we hit our 10th or 2062 if we should live to see our 50th, may we always be clothed in, and live the; priesthood of Jesus.

    Fr. J

    • Deborah Kloos

      God bless you Fr Jason for dedicating your life to the Lord. I used to feel very upset when I was around clergy because I experienced clergy abuse, but since I have come back to the Catholic faith, it is much better. It took a long time. At the same time, I can see how the collar can be negative to some people due to trauma and maybe you sometimes experience people who are angry. I give you a lot of credit for wearing the collar because of this. It shows your dedication and love for God because you could also endure persecution. It took me a long time to heal and now because of this trauma, I brought this request to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for a World Day of Prayer for people wounded by abuse and it was granted, Now churches all over the world have a Day of Prayer for clergy abuse and we pray together as One Body in Christ for healing.

  5. Figlia Della Divina Volontà

    Dear father, there are tears of joy in my eyes as I read your post. I am so happy for you, for the love you give and show God in others. Always walk the path God give you and above all, ask Him to teach you and guide you not only to do, but also to live in His Divine Will. God hold you always in the palm of His hand and the blessed Virgin Mary cover you with her mantle.

  6. Bravo, Father! Well-said. I am a priest 13 years and I have gone through some challenging days – some periods when I wanted to “blend in” and all – but I am encouraged when I read your testimony! I am inspired to recover my first love – my love for Jesus Christ and my call to serve His Church. Oremus pro invicem!

  7. Harry and Rose Beneteau

    May your encouraging and open ways to share your faith lead more to know that our church is alive and well. Many blessings fall upon you. We so appreciate all you have done for us and our parish. Our continued prayers, Harry and Rose Beneteau

  8. Marylise Fabbro

    Father Chris. Congratulations on the fifth Anniversary of becoming a priest. You are an amazing man of God. I love your homilies and your approachability. It is because of you I had the courage to come back to confession. Thank you and although I can probably be your mom it is an honour to call you Father.

    • Dina Sardinha

      Hi Fr. Chris. Congratulations on your 5th Anniversary into the priesthood. God bless you for many more years of joy, love and God’s Graces upon you. You are a wonderful Holy Man,…an inspirational Holy Priest. Thank you for always pointing the way to Heaven, for reminding us How Much God Loves us and how great His Mercy is. God be with you always, Fr. Chris.

  9. Pingback: My First 5 Years as a Collar Wearing Priest | Courageous Priest

  10. Jean Fallace

    Thank you Fr. Chris for this beautiful column. May God’s blessings be with you, and our dear Blessed Mother Mary always hold you close to her Immaculate Heart!

  11. Celina Hogue

    Fr. Chris, Congratulations on your 5th Anniversary!! When I rec’d the e-mail from Courageous Priests, I was anxious to read why a priest, nowadays, wants to wear the “collar”. Then looking at your name, I didn’t make the connection immediately but as I read your article it became clear: “I know Fr. Chris” Praise the Lord!! Thank you/Merci!! for saying “yes” to the Lord’s calling to the priesthood. Thank you for the courage, strength, kindness and love you display and give to the parishioners, visitors and the people you meet along the way. The Lord has blessed you with gifts to reach out to people in a respectful manner and still speak the truth. May you never loose these gifts but rather that they will increase in you as you hold true to your commitment to the priesthood. May Our Heavenly Mother cover you with her mantle of love & protection. On this day of St. Joseph The Worker, I pray that he too will protect you and all our priests.

  12. Elizabeth Bobo

    Dear Father Chris,

    May Our Lady enfold you in Her Mantle and keep you all the days of your life.

    L.B.

    Jesus and Mary, I love you! Save souls.

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