Josh Whitfield, a married priest at St. Rita Catholic Community, was featured in an Associated Press story that was also published in the Washington Post. The father of four is “a relentlessly good-natured priest beloved by the parishioners at Dallas’ St. Rita Catholic Community,” according to the story. “His life is spent juggling two worlds. He celebrates Mass, he hears confessions; he drives his son to karate practice, he encourages his oldest daughter’s love of baseball.
He is, he says, ‘an ecclesiastical zoo exhibit,’ one of the tiny community of married priests — men who slipped through a clerical loophole created 40 years ago.” A former Episcopal priest, he is the author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching: Redeeming the Heart and Way of the Catholic Preacher.” His children are Maggie, 10, Peter, 8, Zoe Catherine, 5, and Bernadette “Birdie,” 4.
How are you doing during these tumultuous times?
My family and the parish are rising to the occasion. We’re anxious and ready to return to normal, but not at the risk of being unsafe. I think that’s the anxiety and the stress we all feel trying to navigate those waters.
What’s your daily routine?
I get up, say a private Mass in the church with the doors closed, which is strange. Then I come into the office and do the work that I need to do, which is get ready for the livestream services. Since this coronavirus thing started, half of my energy has been spent on being the CEO of a huge church — seeing where we are financially, seeing where we are in regards to PPP loans, doing our best to keep all our employees employed and making sure the school stays afloat. We’ve had a team of people calling every parishioner that we have. We established a buddy ministry, where some of the younger, able families have been connected to some of our older parishioners. They keep tabs on each other. It’s been inspiring to see this community step up and take care of each other.
What have you learned during this experience?
We’ve been forced to focus on simple things, which are quite beautiful. Previously, we were so rushed and busy, we didn’t appreciate things like we should — a simple phone call or hanging out with your kids.
How has your home life changed?
Kids being home all the time, goodness gracious. It’s nonstop, but I love my kids, which means I sometimes yell at them, but it’s been beautiful. We’re doing e-learning. My wife is a teacher by training, and she’s taking charge of that. We stop and pray the rosary as a family at 3 p.m. There’s a lot of playing outside in our backyard. We eat out back a lot.
What does your family do for fun?
The kids put on some plays. We had a mermaid play in the family room. They’re using their imagination. My wife and I enjoy watching them play together and use their imagination, rather than plugging into a screen. But I am grateful to have the arsenal of Disney available when you need your kids to settle down.
How are you comforting people right now?
Just commiserating really. I can walk out and bump into a person in my parish in five minutes. When I do that, I say, “How are you doing?” We share our experiences. The anxieties that they’re feeling and the questions that they have are the same ones I have. They don’t have answers, and neither do I. I think it’s OK to let people know it’s OK to worry.
Tell me about your book.
The book is my view of what goes into quality preaching, which is sometimes woefully lacking in the Catholic context. I’m a convert. The beautiful tradition of Protestant preaching is clear. In Catholicism, there’s just not as much training or emphasis placed upon it. I think the results of that lack of training are apparent. That’s why it’s called “The Crisis of Bad Preaching.” We have people who can go through seminary and not actually ever take a preaching course, which is mind-boggling. If you read the book, it’s me basically taking Aristotle and Saint Augustine and applying it to how I learned to preach.
What is your advice for neighbors during this time?
Call a church, even if you’re not connected to the church. If you’re isolated, human connection is important. Realize that a lot of this is beyond your control. The only thing you can control is one’s own soul and mind. Take care of your spirit. That means meditation, prayer and whatever you do to stay mentally balanced and psychologically healthy.
Have you had any requests for weddings or funerals during this time?
We did a wedding. We can technically do weddings, but we have to limit the number to 10 people. We’re gearing up for wedding season, and some are choosing to go forward under the restrictions. We were able to provide a livestream of the wedding for them, which was good. For the May and June weddings, I’d say half of them have decided to postpone their weddings, but some are going forward. We can do small graveside funerals, outdoors with 10 people. We’ve done that.
What’s your advice to graduating seniors?
If I were a senior in high school, I would be seriously contemplating a gap year. I wouldn’t go to LSU or Notre Dame and take a bunch of Zoom classes.
Do you have prayers to sustain us?
Appreciate the simpler things. For Catholics, it’d be Hail Mary, Glory Be and all the stuff out of the Catholic Treasury of Prayers, but also the Lord’s Prayer. Find a quiet place and put yourself there.
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