Priests of Diocese Gather for Faith, Fraternity and Formation

Priests of the Diocese of Allentown enjoy listening to Bishop Alfred Schlert speak during a Nov. 9 morning session at the Convocation of Priests Nov. 7-10 at Hershey Lodge and Convention Center. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

The Convocation of Priests was a time of faith and fellowship for priests of the Diocese of Allentown as they gathered Nov. 7-10 at Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.

Priests of the Diocese welcomed Bishop Alfred Schlert as he entered the conference room Nov. 9 to offer a morning talk by singing the “Domine,” a Latin song sung to honor Popes, Bishops and priests at special moments in their lives.

The Diocese’s new Bishop then had a fruitful and productive session with his brother priests.

The convocation included presentations, the celebration of Mass, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, confessions, evening prayer, night prayer and Guadeamus (evening social). Msgr. Victor Finelli, diocesan coordinator of episcopal masters of ceremonies and pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, Allentown, coordinated the convocation.

Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling

Msgr. William Glosser, pastor of St. Clare of Assisi, St. Clair, and Father Brian Miller, assistant pastor of St. Patrick, Pottsville, teamed to present “The Parochial Relationships of a Priest: The Difference between Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling” in a Nov. 9 morning session.

“Priestly ministry can be a burden or a joy,” Msgr. Glosser said. Pointing to a portrait of Mary and Joseph en route to Bethlehem, Msgr. Glosser said the image brings a sense of serenity but also stress, as Joseph was taking Mary, pregnant with the Christ child, on a four-day journey to Bethlehem as she rode on a donkey.

“Priestly ministry can be a joy, but sometimes wears us down and tires us out,” said Msgr. Glosser, noting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document on stress for priests.

“The priesthood we’re living today may be totally different than the priesthood we prepared for – there are demands and much is expected of us,” said Msgr. Glosser, who was ordained in 1984. “There’s a tendency with stress to reflect in our physical health.”

Msgr. Glosser said St. Ignatius Loyola gave priests “a wonderful model” to look seriously at your vocation, not get bogged down in details and have a special relationship with God.

Msgr. Glosser said spiritual direction really “took off” with Pope Benedict XVI, who told priests a life without prayer is like a life without oxygen.

Outlining the five pillars of priestly life, Msgr. Glosser spoke of devotion to the Eucharist, pastoral charity, pastoral fraternity/correction and the contemplative life, found through such things as retreats and days of renewal.

“When praying, do we see God looking on us as a beloved son?,” Msgr. Glosser asked in discussing the importance of priestly identity, which can be seen, he said, in “How we act ‘in persona Christi’ – you mirror Christ in your actions; how we see Christ in others; and sacramental character/ontological change or configuration to Christ.”

Msgr. Glosser said priestly fraternity equals priestly perfection. This is found in priestly friendships, fraternal meetings, spiritual direction, celebration of reconciliation, the importance of retreats and days of prayer, and sharing a common table, such as sharing dinner on a regular basis.

Discussing ongoing priestly formation, Msgr. Glosser said the importance of priestly ministry is healing, sustaining and guiding.

A priest’s shepherding roles are the role of pastor – one who heals the wounds of the past; the role of priest – one who sustains life in the present; and the role of prophet – one who guides others to the future.

“Listening is where love begins,” Msgr. Glosser said, quoting Fred Rodgers.

The monsignor said the dynamics of the sacrament of reconciliation are God, confessor, penitent. “In all of this, God is really the one at work,” Msgr. Glosser said, noting the priest is the instrument.

He said the dynamics of pastoral counseling are parishioner, pastor, God. The dynamics of spiritual direction are God, directee and spiritual director.

“In confession, things come up like sexual addiction, and we direct them to pastoral counseling or therapy,” Msgr. Glosser said.

He added when things such as severe depression, suicidal tendencies and abuse come up in pastoral counseling, it’s important for the priest to refer the person to counseling.

Spiritual direction and pastoral counseling are “really two different hats you have to wear,” Father Miller said, advising some people think they want spiritual direction but it really turns out to be pastoral counseling.

The similarities between the two are they both talk about the life experience of the person; neither uses an authoritarian approach – the priest is not there to solve their problem; both facilitate the individual’s growth in freedom; both favor development and process rather than abrupt change or precipitated change; both require trust; and both require careful listening, empathy, care and interest on the part of the counselor or director.

Father Miller said both also deal with resistance – “be patient with them” – and sometimes transference.

Describing the differences between the two, Father Miller said the main focus in pastoral counseling is the counselor and client. “It’s helping them through their problems in life. The meat and potatoes is the counselor-client relationship.”

In spiritual direction, the focus is on the person’s prayer life. “The most important focus is between God and the directee,” Father Miller said.

For example, a person may say he or she had a great sense of inner peace reading about Jesus walking on water. “In spiritual direction, what is happening in someone’s prayer life?”

“The atmosphere in pastoral counseling is the awareness of God’s presence need not be there at all. In spiritual direction, there’s a conscious awareness of God’s presence.”

Father Miller said in pastoral counseling, there’s more reflecting upon the person’s life, while in spiritual direction it’s about helping people share their feelings with God.

In addition to Msgr. Glosser and Father Miller, priests in the Diocese who have completed the Institute for Priestly Formation Spiritual Direction Program at The University of St. Mary of the Lake, Munelein, Illinois are Father Andrew Gehringer, pastor of Holy Infancy, Bethlehem; and Father Keith Laskowski, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, Easton.

Convocation Presentations

Other presentations included David Shellenberger, president of the St. John Vianney Center, Downington, “Self-Care for Priests: The Mental and Spiritual Health of Priests”; and Congregation of the Holy Cross Father Joseph Corpora of the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., “The Crucial Role of the Pastor in our Catholic Schools.”

In two talks, Father Corpora discussed the pastor’s unique contribution to and support of Catholic schools, and the pastor in an increasingly multicultural and diverse Church.

Session presenters also included Dr. MaryAnne Freeman-Brndjar, an ob-gyn in Macungie, “Pastoral Directives for Natural Family Planning”; Wendy Krisak, Diocesan victim assistance coordinator; and Oblate Father Thomas Dailey, John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia, “Sharpening our Preaching Skills.”