A man’s gotta’ know his limitations…
The words above, taken from a movie, were spoken to me last November as I sat in a dentist’s chair with a throbbing and aching wisdom tooth.
The dentist who said them was compassionate and professional as he explained to me that this particular tooth was different from most and he did not feel quite comfortable at taking the responsibility of extracting it. He recommended a specialist who subsequently did the job competently, confidently, and painlessly.
I was grateful to that dentist for his honesty and genuine care in not subjecting me to a procedure of which he did not feel himself completely confident.
His words got me thinking.
There was a long standing impression among many Catholics that the parish priest was omnicompetent in all matters: theological, doctrinal, liturgical, canonical, social, and psychological.
There are occasions when I am asked to intervene in delicate and already painfully inflamed family or marital situations usually along the lines of talking to a spouse or family member to presumably solve a long running issue or to “straighten them out.”
I have to tell you what that dentist told me last year. A man has to know his limitations.
40 years of practice as a parish priest have taught me what I believe to be my strengths, and, sometimes painfully, what are not my strengths.
Ask me questions that have answers and I’m fine. Ask me about matters theological, historical, liturgical, sacramental, educational, and possible programs and setting policies, and I’m fine.
I can give you some general advice and if there is such, a reasonably simple solution. But if there is not there are priests who have experience and training in these matters and many lay professionals to turn to.
However, life coaching, intense marital and family disputes, significant mental and emotional counseling, prolonged grief counseling, intense personal “spiritual direction” outside the Confessional, etc., are not my strong suits. I simply do not possess the academic, professional, or temperamental traits necessary to actually help people in need of such. I’ve tried in the past, but a man’s gotta’ know his limitations.