Many seminarians are second career guys these days. That is, they went to college, got a degree, and perhaps worked a while “out in the world” before fully realizing their call to the priesthood. This is great because there is nothing that one can learn that is not helpful to the mission of the Church. Art, engineering, history, plumbing, political science, medicine, accounting, you name it, it can be used to advantage for the kingdom of God.
So a seminarian asked me the other day how much of “us” do we bring to our ministry in the priesthood? As in most things with authentic faith, the answer is “a careful and delicate balance.”
Almost everyone knows of a pastor assigned to a parish that brings it to its knees. Then there is the struggling parish that a new pastor brings fresh breath into. Or the parish that falls apart because the popular pastor left and the one that transitioned as well as can be expected. Part of it is the personality and charisma of the man. But that is only part of it. Extremely non-charismatic men have had at least a modicum of success at parish ministry. It seems to me that there are two ingredients (assuming that one is teaching truth) that makes for a successful pastor/parish/Church relationship.
It is true that a parish will take on some of the personality of the pastor. That can’t be helped. In the end, someone has to make a final decision and that is the pastor and his decisions will impact the feel of a parish no matter how open minded he is. He may be more of a roof and boilers man instead of an arts man and the resources of the parish will change direction. That has a huge impact. But first, a parish must know that the pastor does what he does because he loves them and does what he thinks is best for the overall parish. Even the best of pastors cannot make everyone feel loved, but in general, it must be perceived that he loves the parish as he loves the Church.
Second is that his personality and talents and preferences should be like the red cape of a matador. He gets your attention and leads you toward himself only to step out of the way; except when he steps out of the way it always to reveal the Eucharist. There is the terrible temptation to begin a “personality cult” in which people are attracted to a parish because they like the pastor and it ends there. It is Okay to like the pastor, but it must lead somewhere, not stopping there. It must lead to the Eucharist, to the Church, to that which will be maintained when that pastor is no longer there. And this is possible as long as he is a finger post pointing to that which is more important and not merely to himself.
But of course, this is not just the calling of a pastor. This is the calling of all who spread the word of God.