Confessions of a weak priest: I don’t have it all together


Embracing our weakness means embracing our identity as a “clay jar” so that all power may be seen as belonging to God, not us. This means enduring insults without retaliation and suffering calamity without bitterness. Weakness means depending on God for our strength.

Personally, I am too weak to not have brother priests in my life. Years ago, after being ordained, I was part of a small group of fellow priests who met and attempted to honestly share our struggles. After a year or so, we eventually began trusting each other enough to be honest. It was such a relief to have five priests know everything about me. I am now by myself and I miss this priestly companionship terribly. A priest’s life is not like others. And just to be around someone who knows this is refreshing and rejuvenating.

I am too weak not to pray and yet I am the most inconsistent priest I know. I have to begin nearly every week with a pledge to pray the Divine Office. I can pray the morning prayer but come evening I’m tired or something really important is in the email.

Yet, I know prayer is my salvation so I never give up trying to start again. I try to spend an hour in the morning before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and an hour in the evening. I want to learn how to waste time with the Lord. I go to my private prayer chapel (poustina) to pray once a week for 24 to 48 hours. I need this or I become depressed. My life is not a personal project but a relationship that changes and grows by being open to God in every aspect.

I am too weak not to be accountable to someone. I write to a spiritual brother every week and find accountability one of the treasures of these last years — just having someone to speak to about my struggles.

Sin starts with small decisions that really seem like nothing. To get back on track I need someone to speak or confess to.

I am too weak not to do physical exercise. I am a better priest if I am healthy and lose a few pounds.

I am too weak not to have some time to simply relax and create. Watching movies, which I do far too often, makes me feel empty and sluggish. So I took up a musical instrument. When I play my dulcimer I feel enlivened. I now take her everywhere and I’m convinced she keeps me from sin and wasting time.

I am too weak not to set boundaries. I can get sucked into the computer — not necessarily doing anything sinful but wasting time and getting to bed late. I have to set up my discipline regularly because I break it regularly. No computer after 9 p.m. No news but once a day (I break that a lot). No phone in my bedroom. No phone anywhere after I sleep where I can get a hold of it. Get up at 6:30 a.m. with coffee and prayer. Shower, eat and pray before emails or news. If I don’t renew this commitment each week I fall flat on my face.

I am too weak not to have a relationship with Mary my Mother and Queen. I struggled with her for many years. I come from the more-of-Jesus, less-of-Mary mentality. But in the last few years I have surrendered my priesthood into her care. I pray the rosary often and if possible the four mysteries. She has been a great friend and intercessor. I feel freer and fuller in these last years under her care.

I am to weak not to regularly confess and receive forgiveness. Living in Magadan, Russia, so far from other priests, I treasure the opportunities for a good confession. The gift of forgiveness heals.

I am too weak not to trust the church and her wisdom. I was always a little on the rebellious side — pushing rules, bending them for the liturgy and making my own personal allowances that were outside the boundaries. I now see that this was wrong. I have come to trust the truth of the church’s teachings and to follow her rites with honesty and integrity. It is not my Mass or sacrament. It is ours and I am a keeper of tradition and faith. I am less likely now to experiment and more likely to explain why we need to follow the rules as a guide to freedom for us all.

I am too weak not to celebrate the Mass with intention. I used to kind of skip in and skip out — the faster the better. I don’t think that anymore. It is not always easy, but I try to concentrate — to say each word with intention. The Mass is also my sacrifice of praise.

I am too weak not to go over my faults and failures each day. I don’t do this well but when I do it there is a freedom. I let go of the betrayals and issues and people that manipulated me and just begin again the next morning. If I don’t do this grudges linger. I am too weak to carry that load. I need a clean start each day.

In short, I do not have it all together. I know I need a savior — do you?

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.

'Confessions of a weak priest: I don’t have it all together' have 8 comments

  1. April 2018 @ 2:07 am Jo Siedlecka

    The letter from the Russian priest is lovely. Beautifully written. Of course it’s good for everyone to try to have a disciplined prayer life, to exercise, monitor one’s thoughts, movie consumption and to be focussed when celebrating Mass and so forth. But one word is lacking: LOVE. And something else is lacking: people. The only people he mentions are his fellow priests – and himself. As Pope Francis says – a good shepherd smells of his sheep. This one probably does too – but he needs to mention it.


    • April 2018 @ 12:02 pm Theresa (Adler) Fontenot

      Ms Jo,
      I am shocked to see your comments and criticisms of the Fr. Mike Shields article. I am confident that your response is in the light of not being personally aware of Fr. Mike and his life’s mission, which has been to give to the people (his people) of Russia. A priest’s life is certainly not summed up in one single article that speaks so transparently and honestly of the struggles that even priests have. Personally, this just makes me aware of the fact that even priests as holy and humble as Fr. Mike have struggles and require our prayers, just as they earnestly pray for us.
      The love that he offers the the depressed, oppressed, poor, ill and too-often aborted and forgotten people of Siberia is often in my head. He lives according to a standard that I know I am not capable of. Fr. Mike is a shepherd who lives and smells and dwells with his people, yet is still vulnerable and transparent enough to show us that even good shepards struggle in tending to their flock.
      God bless you and bless all those that shepherd their flocks with love and perseverance.


  2. April 2018 @ 7:50 am TERRI MURRELL

    Thanks for your sharing your thoughts. I offer a rosary every day to all priests, seminarians and deacons. God Bless you as we join together to continue to spread the good news of the Gospel and fight the good fight!


  3. April 2018 @ 12:21 am Margo

    Your story is much appreciated, Father, with multiple points acting as balm to my soul, so to speak.
    I am saddened a bit to hear you acknowledge that streak within, of wanting to “push the envelope”, bend the rules, but am glad you have matured, as we all must, albeit in different ways. In my area of the country, as my siblings and I grew up through childhood and into our college uears, that kind of “slightly rebellious” priest was very prevalent, maybe 40-50% (we travelled and moved a lot, so knew many priests), and looking back, I have to say it was hard on our family. There was always a sense of unease during their Masses, or reading their bulletin meditations, etc.
    I feel sure that you are a holy priest and growing in holiness; I have heard you speak in Ireland, and have followed with great joy your amazing apostolate. I just wonder why it had to be that way back then for so many priests.
    Anyway, enough of that. God bless you for this article in which you have pointed out for me so many ways in which I can become more like the person God wants me to be. Please continue to pray for all your readers as well as for your own (lucky) parishioners.


  4. April 2018 @ 9:18 pm Janina Broek

    I appreciate this honest article. You have spoken about weaknesses that so many of us struggle with but fail to address. This has challenged me to evaluate how I spend my time and what I prioritize in my life.


  5. April 2018 @ 8:08 pm Deacon dan

    Thank you Father Mike, for being open with these thoughts. You are not alone with these struggles, and your openness will help us all know that we are not alone.


  6. April 2018 @ 6:21 pm Sabra Anatoly Sandy

    “Wow!” I’ve just learned many lessons and ideas to implement from Fr. Shields in my own spiritual journey. What a humble man. This article is a keeper. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Fr. Shields.

    Sabra Anatoly Sandy (Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph)


  7. April 2018 @ 5:18 pm Teri Perez

    Thank you Fr. Michael. God bless you and all our priests. Stay close to our dear Lady. She will take care of you. Peace be with you.


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