Among the great mysteries of the world there is one that seems to keep coming up: “What is the spirituality of a diocesan priest?” One proposed answer to this question is that there is no such thing as a unique spirituality of a diocesan priest, which is why every priest is supposed to borrow a spirituality that most speaks to him and try to live it. The problem with this position is that the spirituality of a particular religious community is uniquely tied to the mission that has been revealed to that community, the mission that they live and fulfill in the Church. If a diocesan priest limits himself to living a spirituality of the Franciscans or the Dominicans, how is he able to identify the uniqueness of his own call to be a parish priest at the service of his people?
I believe that the spirituality of a diocesan priest certainly exists, and that it is rooted in the ministry that he lives. Most diocesan priests are called to be parish priests, and so they are called to journey with the people of God throughout their lives. He also leads them on a journey throughout the liturgical year of the Church, a spiritual cycle of different themes and moments of focus. The spirituality of a diocesan priests should therefore be one that is at the service of the people to whom he ministers.
My suggestion of a spirituality of a diocesan priest is that it is a spirituality of the liturgical year and of the needs of his people. This means that instead of choosing to focus on the Passion of Christ as the Passionist Priests do, or on the Resurrection of Christ as the Ressurectionist Priests do, the diocesan priest is invited to live the passion of Christ during the appropriate times of the liturgical year: Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday. He is also invited to focus on the passion of Christ during the passion experiences of his people: death, loss, distress. Similarly, during the time of Easter the diocesan priest is invited to shift his spiritual focus to the Resurrection of Christ, as well as during the hopeful moments of his people’s lives he is called to help them see the hope of the resurrection. When ministering to the needs of the needy and forgatten of his parish the diocesan priest is invited to live the spirituality of the Franciscans, seeing Christ in the poor and helping his parishioners live this in serving the needy. And on and on, the examples can be multiplied.
The practice of the spiritual life of a diocesan priest, then, follows the movements of the liturgical year and the movements of the journey of his people whom he shepherds. It gives him food for teaching and preaching, for refection and meditation. It allows him to experience the depth and breadth of the spiritual wealth that the Church offers us, and he is able to benefit from the deeper reflections on a particular spiritual focus that a religious community may spend their entire focus. What I have found particularly helpful in my own spiritual life is using the readings of the day as a source of my daily meditation. This helps me to be grounded in the liturgical movements of the Church. Bringing the needs of the people I serve also helps me to make my meditation focused on the presence of God in the present moment, hoping to deepen my own awareness of God in the community I’m serving.
A diocesan priest is called to live the spirituality of the people of God, journeying through the liturgical year, experiencing the movements of that year, sharing in the different moments of his people’s lives, and noticing the beauty of the life of the Holy Spirit in these different experiences. He should not limit himself to just one spirituality, because his ministry is much more broad. Instead, he is called to live it all, though perhaps in smaller doses than those in religious life.