Before I became a parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Santa Ana, I was a parishioner at St. Irenaeus Church in Cypress, CA. While I was there, the pastor was Fr. Michael Heher, whom I knew as both an affable priest and an erudite one as well.
I did not realize just how learned a man he is until this past week's trip to NewYork, which afforded me the opportunity to read his collection of essays, The Lost Art of Walking on Water - Reimagining the Priesthood. I had only learned about his book after it was mentioned by my good friend, Fr. John Moneypenny.
The book is written by a priest and for priests - when he uses the pronouns you and us, he is speaking to his brothers in Holy Orders. However, this is a book that can, and should be, read by laity who are concerned about vocations and love our priests for the service they provide.
One chapter impressed me greatly, as reading it made me realize that it could have easily been written for attorneys, or doctors, or any person who sees their chosen occupation not so much as a career, but as a vocation. Entitled "Acedia", it goes on to speak to something that was a deadly sin to the desert fathers, perhaps more aptly termed a sort of spiritual ennui, and more contemporaneously called "burnout."
When they spoke of acedia as a deadly sin, they did not mean it as we think of sin, as a fault committed by an individual, as a personal moral failure. They thought of a deadly sin more like quicksand, as a force that attracted its victims away from the growth and maturity and holiness that they had committed themselves to find.
Published in 2004, Fr. Michael speaks of the scandal in the Church with sex abuse, but takes no extreme view, instead stating with a battered, but dignified pride:
At a time of crisis, people often find the freedom to voice things they would not ordinarily express. A dying woman can give advice to her children; a soldier going off to war can tell his brother that he loves him dearly; a father can talk with his daughter about fear and worry and faith as he prepares for a dangerous surgery. As men who have suffered as many hits as we have in the last couple of years, we priests can pretty much talk about whatever we want and in whatever way we want to talk about it. We've earned the right.
And, on in the chapter on celibacy:
A chameleon makes a lousy celibate. As nice guys, we get so practiced in our compliance, that we stop feeling almost anything at all. Everybody else's feelings must be accorded our pastoral interest and respect; it's just our own that aren't. When we stop listening to our feelings long enough, we begin to stop feeling them. Our imaginative life shrinks. We become the men who have lost our affect. We certainly do not feel strongly enough about anyone or anything to speak up or disagree or fight or fall in love or weep. We can even get to where we know more automatically what we ought to feel than what we actually do feel in our hearts.
This book left me with a greater appreciation for the "men in black." I say to you, if you cherish our priests, then buy a copy for yourself and buy a copy for your priest if he has not already read this.