Most of us have a problem with establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. This is true not only in our personal lives but also at work.
Boundaries are especially important for parish priests. I see this in myself. I get lonely, I get discouraged. I want people to like me. I want others to be my friends. But while these are all common human struggles, my priestly ministry is not the context within which I should try to meet these needs. As a priest I always need to come back to the fact that I’m not a part of the community, at least in the same way, a layperson is. My responsibilities are different. It isn’t a matter necessarily of greater or lesser but different.
I remember in graduate school speaking with one of my professors, the late Roman Catholic priest-psychologist Adrian van Kaam about what it means to be a priest. He told me never to forget that the reason people care about which football team I supported (Steelers) wasn’t because I was an expert in football. It was because they were trying to connect, on a human level, with me as their priest. And then he said rather bluntly, the only reason anyone cares about my opinion is that I’m a priest. What matters to people, he said, is that we are priests. Everything else flows from this.
What does all this have to do with boundaries? Just this, it isn’t enough to grudgingly accept my limits; I need to embrace them.
For all of us, laity as well as clergy, in ministry as much as in daily life, the challenge is to be at peace with our personal limitations and those imposed on us by the concrete circumstances of our lives. More than this, we need to be thankful for our limitations.
Yes, I know this sounds negative but it really isn’t. It’s just a way of making the point that boundaries, personal or familial, professional or pastoral, need to be not just accepted but seen as gifts from the hand of a loving God.