By Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Martin Amos had good news for his priests at Monday’s Chrism Mass: overall, they report a good level of wellness and psychological health, higher than the general population. That’s the conclusion of a Priest Wellness Survey the St. Luke Institute conducted for the Diocese of Davenport last summer.
Bishop Amos chose to announce the results during the annual Mass at which diocesan priests renew their commitment to priestly service and the oils that will be used in all of the diocese’s parishes for the year are blessed and the chrism oil is consecrated.
Along with dozens of priests and deacons, hundreds of people in the pews heard the news. Their reaction might best be described in the exuberance of their participation in the Mass as songs, prayer and incense soared to the rafters of Sacred Heart Cathedral. Concelebrating the Chrism Mass were Bishop Emeritus William Franklin, the diocese’s retired bishop, and Bishop Gerald Kicanas, the bishop of the Tucson Diocese in Arizona, and priests serving the Davenport Diocese.
A message to priests
Bishop Amos began his homily with a humorous story about someone who’d just seen his first football game describing it to a friend who’d never been to a game. Bottom line: they missed the point of the game. The bishop mused that perhaps God wonders whether we miss the point of it all: redemption, the Eucharist, priesthood, church.
Two things give him hope and comfort, he said. First, the apostles themselves often didn’t “get it all either,” and yet they carried on the mission of the church. Second, the bishop and priests don’t have to do this alone. “There are co-workers in the vineyard, both ordained priests and deacons as well as qualified lay ecclesial ministers. Added to them are countless people in our parishes praying for us and working in their parishes, working to sanctify themselves, their families and our world.”
He talked about priests being a mixed bag with their talents and crosses, successes and failures, confidence and self-doubt. They wear many different hats and must balance responsibilities to their parishioners and themselves.
The bishop shared affirming survey results about the diocesan priests. He said they reported exceptionally high levels of satisfaction with priestly life and morale and a strong spiritual life and connection with God. Their physical health and physical self-care, on the other hand, ought to be looked at more closely.
Areas of suggested growth are increasing time for personal prayer, strengthening priestly mutual support and interpersonal relationships, and helping those who might be struggling with their sexuality or commitment to celibacy.
“However, the overall results were very positive and should be a source of encouragement for the priests, the bishop and the entire diocese,” Bishop Amos said. “Clearly, the strength of its priests is a significant grace for the diocese.”
Afterward the priests, seated in outside rows in the cathedral, rose to renew their dedication to Christ as priests of the new covenant.
Then the lay people stood and asked the Lord to pray for the priests and to help them be faithful ministers of Christ. The bishop asked for their prayers as well.
Blessing of the oils
Three people from different parts of the diocese asked the bishop to bless each of the oils: the oil of the sick, to be used for the healing of body, soul and spirit; the oil of the catechumens, to be used to give wisdom and strength to those preparing for baptism; and the sacred chrism, to be used in the sacraments of initiation, for the ordination of priests and bishops, and the dedication of churches and altars.
Attitude of gratitude
At the end of Mass, Bishop Amos explained the presence of an “extra” bishop, Bishop Kicanas. “He’s not my successor,” Bishop Amos said humorously. “He’s going to help us (priests) to grow in holiness” during the priest convocation held in conjunction with the Chrism Mass.
Bishop Amos expressed heartfelt appreciation to the choirs — St. Mary Contemporary Group and Regina Choir, both of Iowa City — and to all in attendance.
“The priests had to be here, but you didn’t,” Bishop Amos told the gathering. “What an awesome thing to walk in and find the whole cathedral filled.”
Father Ken Kuntz, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, said after Mass that he was pleased to hear about the results of the priest survey. “We seem to be doing well. That’s the beauty of the priesthood. It’s a joyful life, regardless of the struggles.” He appreciated Bishop Amos’ homily and the emphasis on servant leadership. “The whole concept of servant leadership comes through to me.”
Father Paul Appel, administrator of St. James Parish in Washington, also was encouraged by the survey results. “It’s great to see where all the other priests are at.” He noted the bishop’s message about the need for priests to pray and to grow in their relationship with God. It’s through prayer and growing close to God that priests are able to handle trials, Fr. Appel said.
Sacred Heart parishioner Mary Costello said the Chrism Mass was wonderful. “The singing was just heavenly,” she said. “The choir was so good.”
Ryan Tone, 17, of St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant, felt honored to be invited to be an altar server at the Chrism Mass. That made the Mass special for him, he said.
Father Marty Goetz, the diocese’s vocations director, said he chose Ryan and four others to serve at the Chrism Mass because they had either expressed an interest in a priestly vocation or he thought they might have a priestly vocation.
Ryan’s parents, Diane and Phil Tone, brought daughters Jessica, 15, and Jasmine, 14, to the Mass. “They needed to be here for their brother,” Diane Tone said.