Life After the Ministry: Finding God’s Blessings in Life’s Changes

priest, ordination

The philosopher Heraclitus once said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Change is inevitable in life. But no matter how true that is, there are many times that change will jolt us. There are many times that change will be difficult to accept.

Leaving the Ministry

I was a member of a religious congregation whose mission was  dedicated to the education and evangelization of young people, for twenty-five  years. And fifteen of those twenty-five years were spent as an ordained priest. I loved my life as a priest. I was active organising and leading activities for young people. I was involved in the teaching ministry both in the formal school setting and also in technical-vocational centers. I was organising different urban poor communities in the parish that I was assigned to. I was given the chance to work in a centre that took care of street children. I was happy with the priesthood.

Five years ago, however, something happened in my life that led to a personal crisis. After two more years, I decided to leave the priestly ministry. When I decided to leave the ministry, I was plunged into a period of depression. For several months, I had trouble sleeping. I was not even eating properly. My siblings became worried about my physical and emotional state. One of my sisters even tried asking my former confreres to come and talk to me.

Every day, I woke up and saw myself as someone who failed God terribly. The once-confident me was overtaken by a person who lost self-confidence. I shied away from people. As much as possible, I avoided communicating with the friends I gained during my priestly ministry. I was fearful of meeting them, because I did not want to answer their questions regarding the reasons why I left the ministry.

The Blessing of Family

It was during these first months of life after the priesthood that I also began to appreciate the care and the concern of my family. They kept on urging me just to move ahead with life. One of my nieces from the United States even sent an e-mail to me with the assurance that she, together with my other nieces, still loved me as their uncle.

My family not only supported me emotionally, they also did their best to support me financially. Being a former member of a religious congregation, I was not allowed to keep money for myself. I had to entrust everything I had to the religious community .  That was why, when I left the ministry, I had to rely once again in the kind-heartedness of my siblings to support me .

I have to admit that the very first blessing that I have to be thankful for when I decided to leave the priesthood was the support and the love that my family gave me. It has been said that the seeds of a vocation in the heart of a young person takes root in the family. My experience has also taught me that, for those who decide to take a different route after many years of living that vocation, the support of the family is indispensable.  Every day, I truly thank God for giving me such a wonderful blessing in my life.

Starting Again

I realised that I could not forever just rely on the goodness and the support of my siblings. I knew that, if I had to move on, I had to keep myself busy again. I needed to find a job that would make me productive once more. Thus, from a period of depression, I slowly began to move out of my shell and face the world once again.

At first,  I really had difficulties in looking for work. Since my strength lay in the fields of education and youth work, I kept on submitting resumes to almost all non-government organizations and foundations whose lines of work were also in those fields. Sad to say, no one noticed my applications. Again, I began to see myself as a failure. I even thought that all the years of study that I took for the  priesthood were useless.

But an opportunity presented itself in 2013, when the Philippines was hit by the strongest typhoon in recorded history. The southern part of our country was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. And in the aftermath of the typhoon, groups began pouring into the affected areas in order to start the hard work of rehabilitation and rebuilding.

I submitted an application to one of these groups, and was lucky enough to be accepted. I was  excited when I learned that, after months of searching, I was about to begin working. But sad to say, several days before I was scheduled to fly out of Manila and go to my assigned province of work, my religious superior called me up. He told me that I still had to undergo the  juridical processes that goes with dispensation. And since I have not yet completed that, he said that I was not yet allowed to work.

The Blessing of Work

That piece of news shattered me once again.  Hence, I had to call the group that hired me and told them that I was pulling out my application. When I told my spiritual director about it, he told me that it was just right that I move forward with my decision to start working. He reminded me that it was an exercise in futility to keep dwelling on my past. Now was the time to take a bold step and just allow God to lead me to a new adventure.

I took his advice to heart. As luck would have it, the management of a new chain of affordable high schools were looking for qualified people to head their schools designed for the lower income-bracket students of society.  I applied for the job and was accepted. I am now moving on with life as a school head in one of those schools.

It is funny  when I realize that although I have left the priestly ministry, God led me back to the reason why I entered the priesthood in the first place. As I told you, I was a member of a religious congregation whose main mission was the education and evangelisation of young people. Today, I am still doing that mission, albeit in a different manner. But still, the vocation remains — to educate and evangelise young people. This is the second blessing that I have come to realize in the change that has happened in my life. God  has a strange way of doing things. He has led me out of the ministry only to find a way for me to live out my passion in life.

The Blessing of Companionship

A few months ago, one of my companions who had also left the priesthood called me up and invited me to have dinner. During dinner, we talked about where our individual journeys has taken us so far. Right after that dinner, we decided to call our other companions in the seminary who have also left the ministry. My companion and I invited them to a simple monthly fraternal dinner and sharing.

One of the difficult things during the first years of leaving  the ministry is the feeling of being alone. The years of growing up in the religious community made it almost instinctual for me to always lean on the members of my community for some kind of support in my daily struggles. However, once I left the ministry, I felt that the support was suddenly taken away.

With the small group that I have started with my other former ordained companions , I have began to take consolation that I am not alone in this journey of change. Like me, they are also undergoing many adjustments and challenges in their new life. Like me, they are also learning to embrace the change happening to them. Like me, I know that they too are thanking God for the support that we are giving each other in this new vocation that God has called us to.

*     *     *

Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Change will always happen. Some changes will be hard to accept. Beyond the changes that are happening to my life right now, I have become truly thankful that the love and the blessing of God still remain. To paraphrase St. Paul, I may have been unfaithful before, but God has remained faithful (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13). He has remained faithful through the support of my family. He has remained faithful by showing to me how to live my vocation of serving young people in a different way. He has remained faithful by giving me brothers along the journey.

Change is inevitable in life. But I say, once it comes, embrace it. For beyond these changes, the blessings of God remain.

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13 thoughts on “Life After the Ministry: Finding God’s Blessings in Life’s Changes”

  1. Pingback: Call of service | Shared thoughts...

  2. Melanie Jean Juneau

    Thank you for sharing your journey through pain with dignity, as a child of God, refusing the temptation to vent or indulge in self-centred drama. You have truly trusted in the Mercy of God to guide you. I agree with an earlier comment- you are still exercising a priestly ministry.

  3. At Catholic Stand, we respectfully approach issues that effect all Catholics, both lay and religious persons. Unfortunately, not all men who are ordained priests remain in that capacity until death. Some leave for disciplinary reasons, while others leave voluntarily for personal reasons. It is a reality that the Church deals with and one that we cannot ignore.

What the author shares here is not a validation that his leaving the priesthood made him a better man, or is he encouraging other men to leave the priesthood. He shares here a very personal struggle, offering a portal view of his struggle in understanding that his decision was not easy and caused him great anguish. How many of you among us have not had to face difficult decisions that challenged your faith? And yet this author continues to seek God in all things and acknowledges the fact that he continues to see God working with him in his life in the same capacity that was obviously his calling. God has not failed him. And neither should we.

    No one knows the heart of a man or woman, or their intentions, but only God. [Jeremiah 17:10] Although we might be disappointed in someone’s choice, we should not offer them our condemnation, but our prayers. For Christ would have done no less. Christ teaches us how we should treat one another when we expose our fallibility. When He addressed the crowd who wanted to stone the woman who was caught in adultery, he said; “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

    Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington, once offered an insightful response to a question regarding “once a priest always a priest”.

    He said: “It is certainly lamentable that some men do leave the priesthood, a ministry they agreed to accept for life. And yet the Church does make some pastoral provision for men who regrettably have need of leaving the active priestly ministry for grave reasons. These provisions are in place so as not to utterly lose them to the practice of the Faith, and to hold them as close to Christ and the Church as possible.”

    Recently Pope Francis said Mass with priests who were celebrating the anniversary of their ordination, as well as men who left the priesthood. And like Christ, people have attack the pope for even acknowledging “those men”, as if they should be ostracized and forbidden. Again – our purpose is not to judge, but to offer prayers for our fellow man whose struggles are often known only to God. He alone is the Judge and the Jury – and the Healer of all wounds.

    Diane McKelva
    Executive Editor | Catholic Stand

  4. SORRY, I wonder why this article was posted here? I’m having REAL misgivings about it. Questioning my participation here!

    1. Well, I was concerned over your reaction, the CAPS, the thought of bailing out of CS over … one aspect of spiritual reality. Our church is changing – a good thing –
      and the gates of hell shall not prevail and you did seem to lose faith in … ?? …
      well, I’m not sure but it sounded serious. And most important, even in digital print media it came off as a personal crisis that you may not have recognized. As far as being judgemental, this is never so. It’s only judgement if you can execute a sentence – all else is merely opinion.

    2. The judgmental statement was tongue and cheek. I simply don’t have time to critique the article. Fr. Aldana never had a Priestly ministry, It was a vocation and what he has now is a job! It was a terrible decision on his part!

    3. 50 years ago we had a great priest who left to marry one of the students he was
      high school advisor for – it happens … all the time, and better to excel at a good
      job than fail as a priest.

  5. There is one river that is always the same, a river that never changes – you are a priest forever, as are your friends. There are no former priests.Sounds to me like what you are doing is now still very “priestly.” I have heard of a man, an ordained missionary priest, worked some decades in the most difficult missions in the world, left his order, got married, served as a social worker then for some more decades. His wife died. Long story short, he is now back in his order, a contemplative not an active priest. So don’t think that your journey towards and to heaven is at a culmination point, nor is the journey of your friends. I think that in living a life for others as you are now doing, being selfless, hanging on your daily cross for others, you are still a priest. God bless you and God bless your friends-all of whom are now on our daily prayer list here (as I ask you to pray for me). And as He alwasy has, may God hold you safe in the palm of His hand.

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