The turning point in my priesthood was the day I decided to place prayer at the center of my life. You may assume that prayer is at the center of the life of every priest, or that priests do not have to struggle to find time to pray.
While this is partially true, since we offer Mass each day and have promised to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the fact is that many priests claim that they are “too busy” to spend much time in prayer. I once said the same thing. My life changed when I stopped telling myself that, and now my only regret is that I did not make that change even sooner.
When I was ordained in May 1998, my prayer life consisted of the Rosary, the Mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours. I had always been faithful in my prayers, and I considered myself to have a solid prayer life.
I knew that every priest was alter Christus, “another Christ,” and that each priest was only as effective in his ministry as he was like his divine Master. In all my parish activities—teaching in the grade school, visiting the sick, preparing people to receive the sacraments, counseling, and advising—I knew that my own holiness was inadequate. I needed the holiness of the saints, the holiness of Christ himself, or I would never reach the hearts of my people. I certainly did not have that holiness, and what was worse, I was no better with each passing day.
Spiritually speaking, I was stagnant and frustrated. In my priesthood I sensed something was missing. Despite the dutiful, observant, and faithful execution of my tasks, despite my faithful completion of the prayers I had promised to pray, such as the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, I knew something was missing. I was searching for a deeper, more personal union with Christ, but I was unable to find it.
I had the good fortune to receive spiritual direction from Fr. Thomas Dubay, a regular on EWTN and a world-renowned author of nearly thirty books on prayer and the spiritual life. Fr. Dubay helped me to see that prayer is more than the execution of a task, but rather the union of Christ with the soul—a deeply personal, intimate matter that needs a generous offering of time each day.
Sacrificing Time to Spend with God. When Fr. Dubay told me that I must dedicate much more time to prayer than I ever had before, I replied (as most people do), “I do not have time for more prayer. I am too busy.” He told me I was fooling myself. Absolutely everyone can claim that they are “too busy.” We must be disciplined about how we use our time, and we must sacrifice time, in faith, to spend it in prayer.
I protested, “No, it is impossible. There is no more time.” He firmly contradicted me and directed me to add one half hour of silent prayer to my day—every day. He promised that if I did, it would produce great changes in my life and in my priesthood, and that if I did not, I would never emerge from the state of spiritual stagnation and frustration that I was living.
I resolved to give it a try. I knew the only “extra” time to pray was in the early morning. In all my life, I had never been a morning person. Once, in fact, I had overslept and missed my own scheduled Mass—at 9:00 a.m.! But with so many events rushing upon me unpredictably each day, I knew I had no choice: If I wanted to pray, I simply had to wake up early and do it.
Much to my surprise, I discovered that Fr. Dubay was exactly right. I began to experience a transformation in every aspect of my priesthood and in my own life as a Christian. I had more energy. I had more patience. Sins and temptations began to weaken and diminish: idle chatter, wasting time, petty bitterness and complaints, unforgiveness, fear of the opinions of others—countless personal faults began to melt away like a late winter snow. Most surprising of all was the effect it had on all my other prayers. The Mass, the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours—these all became deeper, more personal, and more meaningful than they had ever been before.
Before long I had no trouble “finding” time to pray. A mysterious, ever-increasing presence of Christ in my soul made it easy to “find” time. My prayer time was his time, and whereas before I had seen prayer as a duty to be completed, I now began to see it as a privileged time with Christ, which made me a better priest, all day long, for everyone else I met.
I believe prayer is the key to transforming every Christian life, but that the commitment to spend time each day in prayer is not easy to make. I offer my story to help encourage anyone to make that commitment—for your own good and the good of others.
I am the chaplain of a large Catholic high school outside Washington, D.C., ministering each day to young people who are very good-hearted but also very misdirected by the society they live in. I wake up each morning and spend an hour and a half before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for myself and all the students in the school. My prayer life allows Christ to work though me for their benefit. On my own I can do nothing, but with Christ working through me, I can bring his presence to them. Prayer makes this possible.
The same holds true for any Christian: mothers and fathers who want to be the best possible parents for their children; family members who need to forgive one another and put away old bitterness; all who know that their own best efforts are not enough and who yearn for “something more.”
Nothing has changed my life and my priesthood more than the decision to dedicate time to prayer, and for anyone who wants to transform his or her own life in Christ, there is nothing I can recommend more highly.
Fr. James Hudgins is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. He has served at several parishes is currently a high school chaplain at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. His story is taken from A Priest’s Life: The Calling, the Cost, the Joy. Click here to purchase “A Priest’s Life.”