Cover image for Still called by name : why I love being a priest
Still called by name : why I love being a priest
Grassi, Dominic.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : Loyola Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xv, 189 pages ; 23 cm
The call back -- Remembering faces -- Weddings I have known and loved -- Liturgy for one -- Talking to the priest -- "Tell me what to do" -- Passion and the priesthood -- "Is that all?" -- Hospital visits remembered, and forgotten -- Permission to die -- Dancing with God -- God provides for saints and fools, and priests -- A candle in the window -- Empowered -- Learning good politics -- Dancing with the Word -- God and car salesmen -- The healing touch -- Port-a-potty questions -- Sitting it out -- Celebrating the family -- Me and my body -- Pauses -- Pets -- Meditating on Notre-Dame -- Kodak moments -- God's playful presence -- The laughter that remains -- A voice coming through -- Listening to the oldies -- Corking the whine -- Little Gloria and the glory of God -- The gift of trust -- The small things -- Echoes in an empty church -- Alone on Sunday evening -- A thank-you to good people.
Personal Subject:
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BX1913 .G686 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
BX1913 .G686 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BX1913 .G686 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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People often ask Dominic Grassi the question Why are you a priest? Even unasked, it hangs in the air throughout his busy days as a pastor of a large Chicago parish. Sometimes, he ask it of himself. The answer unfolds in the stories he tells in this book--vivid tales of the way the youngest son of a North Side Chicago grocer has been privileged to witness the workings of God's grace and love in the lives of the people he serves. In each of these tales, Fr. Grassi paints a candid portrait of the joys and difficulties of priestly life. But, as he explains, the joys always outweigh the heartache. "I am just an ordinary person who still finds incredible joy, profound awe, silencing mystery, and overwhelming peace as a priest," he writes. These too-uncommon qualities--joy, awe, mystery, and peace--are abundant in his stories. They are the convincing answers to the question Why are you a priest? They are the reasons why Catholics can rejoice that God still calls men like Dominic Grassi by name.

Author Notes

Fr. Dominic Grassi, a lifelong Chicagoan, was ordained in 1973 and has been a pastor, a teacher, a counselor, a coach, a retreat and vocation director, an inspirational speaker, an editor, and a writer. He is currently a pastor on the north side of Chicago. His books include Bumping into G od, Bumping into God Again , Bumping into God in the Kitchen , and Still Called by Name . In his spare time he enjoys reading, writing, and cooking.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Many Christians are distressed and cynical about the clergy after the torrent of recent charges of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The doubters can be heartened and inspired, however, by this candid, searching and often poignant retrospective by Grassi, a well-known Chicago pastor and writer who sets out here to strip the priesthood of some of its aura of mystery and drama. In this collection of loosely linked vignettes gleaned from time spent with friends, parishioners, family members and God, he succeeds without in any way diminishing the enormous challenges, stress and profound rewards of being a parish priest. While there is an occasional hint of exhaustion, there is little or no bitterness in these accounts of Grassi's seemingly endless cycle of baptisms, funerals, weddings and counseling sessions. He is excited about the challenge posed by the diminishing number of clergy because he believes it is the laypeople, sharing in Christ's priesthood, who will make or break the church. Those who feel the church should not change may be frightened, he argues, but "ultimately we will become a whole community celebrating together, rather than groups divided by titles, ranks, codes and externals. There is power here, and grace and potential far beyond our comprehension." Grassi's fans will enjoy this, and readers who haven't yet met this beer-drinking, card-playing, sometimes doubting and often rueful priest will find this a refreshing, frank and ultimately very fond tribute to a job that takes everything a man can give and then asks a little more. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



  On Being Called by Name   Regardless of the scandals and fights that make the priesthood visible today, I am one priest, called by name, summoned by the God who will love me always   It all came into focus for me one night in a neighborhood Italian restaurant, a fitting place for it to happen. There, the owners know me by name. An etching of St. Josaphat Church, where I have been pastor for more than fifteen years, hangs on the wall at the side of the bar. This restaurant is as good a symbol as any of the urban priesthood I have aspired to and dreamed about all my life. On this particular evening I found myself sitting like a silent referee between two close friends whose paths were diverging right before my eyes. Over the years we had shared much of our priesthood. As teachers and administrators of the high school seminary where we worked, we combined our creative talents in liturgies and retreats and classes. Our styles complemented one another. Our disagreements were more often about style than substance. Even when our ministries took us to other assignments, we looked forward to our dinners together, when we would "solve all the problems of the church" before dessert arrived. Over time our friendship had sustained us. One of us had moved from being a radical high school seminary professor to becoming a bishop, making all the perfunctory and necessary stops along the way. The other had just returned from a six-month sabbatical after abruptly ending his pastorate in an exceptionally vibrant African American parish. While he was away he had made the choice to leave the priesthood. Simply stated, he had fallen out of love with the priesthood. Issues such as the ban on married clergy and on women priests and the ongoing racial injustice in the church made it harder--and finally impossible--for him to be a public minister anymore. It was a decision that had been a long time in the making. This was our first dinner together since our friend had returned from his sabbatical.  All I could do was watch in silence as two worldviews collided. One view was that the church had abandoned the poor, had denied women their rightful place, and continued to oppress minorities by condoning injustice. The other view was that the church was the bastion of truth, the stronghold of faith, and the institution that would protect us from our own self-inflicted chaos. One friend saw members of the hierarchy as self-serving careerists, out of touch and cowardly, who prevented him from ministering effectively. The other saw himself as part of a select group of dedicated, hardworking men committed to the leadership of the church. Before long, napkins were being tossed onto plates for emphasis. Voices rose. Body language clearly communicated a widening chasm between them. Finally, each shook his head in disbelief at the other's intractable position. It was then that they both turned and looked at me, remembering suddenly that I was sitting between them. At that moment I realized how miserably alone I felt. Clearly my priesthood had led me to a different place than theirs had led them. I was not ready to abandon the priesthood, nor did I want to accept what it had become for too many people. What I did know for sure was that mine was no longer the priesthood into which I had been ordained in the heady, hopeful, and naive decade of the seventies. But then again, I also realized that I am no longer the person I was then. I knew in my heart that this would be the last time, after countless movies and dinners and discussions, that the three of us would ever talk about the priesthood from anywhere close to the same perspective. Years ago, our perspectives had grown out of our shared experiences. This was no longer true, and I was filled with sadness. At that moment I began to mourn a palpable loss in my life. For some inexplicable reason, God has called me to be a priest. In fact, I have been that priest for more than half of my life. I will always be a priest. What that means, and will mean, I cannot say for sure. But given what God has done for me and asked of me over the years, I know that the priestly life will never be dull. What is more important--and just as inexplicable--is that I know I will never be abandoned by the God whose unconditional love is at the very core of the gospel I preach. This one belief holds me securely when hardly anything else feels safe. I admit that this life was more enjoyable when I lived it in the midst of other priests who shared my vision. The argument between my friends in the restaurant, now many months past, is just one example of how the once-common vision among priests has become fractured. No matter what happens to anybody else, however, I am still called--by name--by God, who loves me. The Catholic priesthood in America now has a high profile, and that profile is mostly negative. Pedophilia, mismanagement of funds, broken celibacy promises, sexual orientation--all these topics and more are open targets in discussions, debates, and commentaries about priests. Clergy bashing takes place at almost any Catholic gathering--from adult education classes to baptism parties. We are paying the price of being placed on such a high pedestal up until a few years ago. And now we know the damage that has been done. The current headlines and media attention have shaped somewhat the purpose of this book, which is to  remove any mystery or melodrama from people's perceptions of a priest's ministry and life. Neither hero nor saint, but also neither tragic loser nor addicted idealist, I am just an ordinary person who still finds incredible joy, profound awe, silencing mystery, and overwhelming peace as a priest. So often, smack-dab in the middle of pain, God's grace burns right through. Those are the unpredictable moments I live for. They are what fill any priesthood with life and meaning. Those are the stories I want to tell. I need, in this day's tense and painful atmosphere, to celebrate my priesthood. I have a feeling that there are people who can benefit from reading the specific stories that create for me the meaning of this priestly calling. So allow me to try to capture and present to you, with sincere humility, some of the events that have convinced me of how blessed my life has been and continues to be. In the pages that follow, let us listen together to God's call not only for me but for all of us.   Part One Moments That Matter   1 The Call Back   I realize that, for this moment in time, a person has come to me for my help. This encounter, perhaps our only one in history, reminds me that I am not here for me and my needs.   It was a strange voice mail, but then again, as a pastor I have grown accustomed to odd messages. Sounding very professional, the woman stated that her pastor had suggested she talk to me about the serious spiritual crisis in which she now found herself. She indicated that she would call me back to make an appointment; then she hung up without leaving her phone number. The next day she reached me and very coolly agreed to an afternoon meeting. I wondered why her pastor would refer her to me. That question would never be answered. On the day of our appointment, she arrived at the rectory a half-hour early and walked into my office without hesitation. Fortunately I was free. She was informally but well dressed and could have passed for one of the thousands of young professionals I see in the neighborhood. I do not remember more than a sentence or two of initial pleasantries exchanged. She quickly got to the point. She wanted to know if I thought that God would punish her with hell if she committed suicide. She must have noticed the confused look on my face as I tried to focus my thoughts and muster a response, because she volunteered to tell me her story. She then began a half-hour, nonstop account of how her family continued to abuse and harass her. She spoke vaguely of restraining orders, of physical fights with her sister, of her mother always taking her siblings' side and never hers. At times during this diatribe her anger would explode into shouts and questions: How could they do this to her? What kind of people were they? I waited for the chance to speak. I have been a priest long enough to know that there is a point at which the best I can do for someone is refer him or her to a professional counselor. But I knew that this solution would be unacceptable to her--in her eyes I would be just another person ignoring her and pushing her off onto someone else. This was just what her pastor appeared to have done, unfortunately. When I finally found an opportunity to speak, I asked her if she was taking any medications. She volunteered that none had been given to her when she left the psychiatric ward of a local hospital a few days prior to our meeting. She was vague about her departure. I suspected that she had chosen to check herself out. When she started to repeat some of the same stories, I decided to interject with some advice. She had admitted that she functioned better when she was on medication, so I suggested that she go back to see the doctor she had rejected. There was no one else she could turn to. Her family was the focus and the cause of her anger, and in her mind, her friends had all deserted her. When I finally suggested that she talk to the professional pastoral counselor on our staff, she responded just as I feared she would.  I had to tell her that yelling at me was unacceptable and would do neither of us any good. I tried to explain to her that the counselor would simply pick up where I left off and was trained to better help her, had more resources, and, as a woman, might better understand her. I added that the counseling was free of charge. I'd hardly finished saying all of this when she resumed her ranting. Her anger toward me grew when I refused to be caught up in her argument about God abandoning her and then coldly condemning her to hell if she chose to kill herself. All I could do was keep repeating that she was not alone, that I was there for her, and that God loved her unconditionally. Finally, out of sheer frustration--and some surprise at the words I heard coming out of my mouth--I told her that if she chose to kill herself, it would not be God punishing her with hell; she would be making that choice for herself. She would have no one to blame but herself. Clearly this was not what she wanted to hear. She wanted the decision and the subsequent consequences taken out of her hands and given to God so that she could have even more reason to be angry with God. Frustrated with me and still angry, she rose to leave. I remained seated. I continued to look her in the eyes. I told her again that God loved her. I told her that I cared about her and would be there for her. She tossed both comments off. I said that all that was left for me to do was to continue praying for her, and that I would do so every day. I would not let her stop me from doing that much. She left. I followed her to the door and watched her walk down the gangway from the rectory to the church. I considered it highly probable that she would take her life. But I didn't know what more I could have done. I found myself walking right over to church to pray for her. I realized that she was already in the hell she feared so much; hell was her despair, emptiness, anger, and frustration. The tangle of mental illness combined with the deep spiritual despair that haunted her was beyond my skills to counsel and to heal. I too was feeling powerless and humbled. I was tempted to turn my prayers to my own needs, to obsess over what else I could have done.  I knew that I must pray for her and leave her in God's loving hands. Yet I kept wondering what good, if any, I had done. These are the situations that test my faith. My fallibility is placed right before me. I am dealing with a human life in pain and a soul in the profoundest struggle. Such encounters are haunting. They stay with me. What else could I have said? What else should I have done? Why couldn't I find the right response? Maybe if I prayed more, worked harder at being the best priest I could be, wasn't so self-absorbed . This is where my thinking goes. And I find my own faith being seriously tested. I didn't wake up that day expecting someone to come into my office with her personal demons and challenge my whole belief system. Beyond the human response of wanting to respond to her anger with some of my own, there was also the feeling of having been violated. My comfortable world, my satisfying life, my fulfilling ministry, my sustaining belief system--all were attacked and questioned. She had raised all sorts of doubts that I thought I had buried for good a long time ago. When confronted by a situation like this one, I have to respond. I can't just sit quietly and stare at the person. How do I proceed? I realize that, for this moment in time, a person has come to me for my help. This encounter, perhaps our only one in history, reminds me that I am not here for me and my needs. I am here for someone else. This is both a privilege of the priesthood and a challenge. I'm not trying to be melodramatic. I simply take a deep breath and try to do the best I can. That's when God takes over. And that's when my own prayer, after all this is over, becomes as real as it gets. At morning Mass the day after I met with the troubled woman, I could not stop thinking about her. When I went back to my office and heard her voice on my voice mail, I was more than a little surprised. The message was brief and her tone matter-of-fact: she asked if I would please have our pastoral counselor give her a call. And she left a number. She had survived the night. There was still hope. As I filled the counselor in on what had happened, I wasn't concerned about whether or not I had responded in the right way. I was just thankful that God had found some way to work through me, or even in spite of me. In the end, it is God's unconditional love that causes transformation. I am grateful even to be included in the process.   Excerpted from Still Called by Name: Why I Love Being a Priest by Dominic Grassi All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.