The overwhelming good outweighs frustrations, says new priests
By Ramon Gonzalez
The Western Catholic Reporter
EDMONTON (CCN)--Nine years after his ordination, Father Joselito Cantal remains enamoured with his vocation.
“I’m happy as a priest because I’m doing what God wants me to do,” he says. “God knew my weaknesses and still chose me to serve his people.”
Father Cantal, 46, is one of three archdiocesan priests ordained for less than a decade who recently shared some thoughts about the priesthood, including some of their disappointments.
The native of the Philippines has spent the bulk of his priesthood, six years, serving at Provost. In addition to celebrating Mass and the sacraments, he is the spiritual guide of his congregation.
“I feel fulfilled because I work with people,” he said. “These people can be rich or poor but they need hope.”
According to Father Cantal, many people place their hope solely in material wealth. “They often miss the point of who is the giver, who gives strength and who gives joy. They have everything but they are not happy in their lives."
“That’s when I enter in and give them hope," he added. "I let them know that the best hope is only in Christ.”
Talking to people one-on-one “makes me fulfilled because in one way or another I touch their hearts,” he continues. “I give them the presence of Christ through my advice and my presence. That inspires me and makes me grow.”
But the priesthood also has “lots of disappointments.” One of the greatest for Father Cantal is that “people don’t realize that we are humans too.”
“They think the priest should always be happy," he said. "They think the priest should always be a role model but they don’t realize that we have also a time to get angry, a time to get upset. We are also moody. That’s part of life.”
The good thing is that Father Cantal can handle his anger. “I never let anger control me.”
Making a difference
One positive aspect is that people often let Father Cantal know he is making a difference in their lives, which is a source of joy for him.
“In spite of my unworthiness, people come (to me) and some of them tell me I’m a good priest. I ask them ‘How do you know I’m good?’ and they tell me, ‘Because you helped me. At a time when I needed it, you were there.’"
“This inspires me because I didn’t realize that I touch their hearts.”
The most fulfilling part of Father Cantal’s vocation, though, “is the fact that I’m still a priest. God knew my weaknesses and still called me to be a priest. As a priest I always give people hope that in God we need to trust. In him, there is always going to be joy.”
Father Jim Corrigan, pastor at St. Theresa Parish in Edmonton’s Millwoods area, says he never had any preconceived notions about the priesthood.
In fact, when he entered the seminary he didn’t expect to become a priest. But as he inched forward, it became clear God was calling him to be a priest. He was ordained in June 2004.
People of God
“I wouldn’t say I had any preconceived notions (about the priesthood) but it’s exceeded what I thought it might be like,” Father Corrigan, 52, said in an interview. “One thing I found, though, is that as long as I am doing what the Lord has planned for me, things tend to work out pretty well.”
One thing that is consistent in his ministry is that wherever he goes, “the people of God are always good.”
“So if you like people, the priesthood is a pretty enjoyable experience,” he says.
“I think if the young men knew what a blessing the priesthood was, they’d be lined up at the door of St. Joseph Seminary because if you are mature enough to not put any preconceived ideas out there, the priesthood is a blessing, simple as that.”
What troubles Father Corrigan, though, is that despite his efforts, “many of our Catholics are not involved in the practice of their faith. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed; it’s a reality that really presents a challenge.
“The people that are in the pews are wonderful; I’d like to meet the other 70 per cent.”
But he says the Catholic school system in Millwoods presents him and his staff a great opportunity to meet many parents who are not involved in the Church. “Catholic schools are a great venue, like a conduit, towards those particular people.”
Asked if he has found any surprises in his ministry, Father Corrigan quickly replies, “The surprise for me was what a great vocation this is. It’s great to be a single guy at the service of the people of God because there is no end to the amount of ministry that is possible.”
The most pleasant surprise? “The Lord seems to give us always what we need to get the job done.”
The most fulfilling part of the job for Father Corrigan is “a good counselling session or a good Reconciliation session or a well-planned and celebrated funeral.”
Funerals, he says, are a great opportunity to share the good news with people who are searching at that moment.
“The priesthood has proven to be a true blessing in my life and I’m just tremendously grateful for that gift,” he says.
So is Father Arlan Parenteau, a former truck driver who was ordained to the priesthood in 2003.
“(The priesthood) has lived up over and above my expectations,” said the pastor of Stettler, Bashaw and Castor.
Sometimes it’s difficult to realize what the Lord is calling one to do, Father Parenteau said.
“It’s something we can’t comprehend at the very beginning," he said. "But when you realize you’ve been ordained in the person of Christ, then everything starts to really come together; it makes sense more than ever before.”
Every year Father Parenteau comprehends his priesthood more deeply.
“Ten years from now I’ll even comprehend it at a different, deeper level.”
So far, Father Parenteau has enjoyed every minute.
“The more that you realize what Christ is asking you to do it’s just like it blows your mind; it’s very mystical and it’s beyond our comprehension.”
Father Parenteau enjoys journeying with his congregation.
“When you realize that God is calling you to journey with every family; you don’t even have to know a lot of these people and they just open their hearts and they open their doors to you and ask your guidance. It’s a beautiful journey,” he said.
“Journey with a family whose daughter is dying of cancer. There is nothing deeper than that because you take on all that family’s hurt. It’s a calling to pray with them, journey with them and, at the end of the journey, we realize that Christ is in the driver’s seat all the time.”
Parenteau likes his vocation so much he doesn’t understand why there aren’t more priests.
“I wish more young men would respond to God’s calling,” he says.
Support for priesthood
“Probably one of my disappointments is that more families don’t support the priesthood. Priests give their whole life to God and the people and why can’t they give one of their boys to become priests?”
One thing that troubles Father Parenteau, 52, is that people don’t give as much as they should to the Church.
“If people want a church, if they want to keep their church going and they want to make sure it’s going to be there for the next 25 years, you’ve got to put into it."
“If a priest gives his life, they (parishioners) should be able to give their dollars and there shouldn’t be any squabble whatsoever over money, ever.”
He was also troubled when he heard parishioners in another place wanted to give their priest used furniture. Priests, Father Parenteau says, should be treated with dignity and respect.
The most fulfilling part of the vocation for Father Parenteau “is doing what a priest should do: lead his people in prayer, the sacraments and the Eucharist. That’s the greatest gift that we can give the people.
“I really enjoy my preaching to the people, breaking open the word and leading them in prayer and just journeying with them but really nourishing them with the Eucharist and hearing Confessions.”