Last week there was an extra collection in our parish for retired priests and religious. The end of the year brings many of us, lay and clergy alike, to reflect upon our life, count our blessings, and see where we are headed in the future. Most readers of America are at the age where they either are thinking about retirement or are retired. The further we are from retirement age, the longer it looks like we lay persons may be working, nearing age 70 as some now project of the new Social Security legislation (still five years fewer than the average priest priests). In the Boston Globe this week, there was an article suggesting that planning for retirement involves more than financial planning. Here are a few ideas from columnis Scott Burns:
A big part of preparation is learning that your retirement isn’t just about investments. With both Social Security and a pension, in fact, your modest IRA/401(k) assets may provide only a small supplement to your other income. As a rough rule of thumb, you can think about taking 4 percent from your financial assets every year.
The rest is about learning to adapt, to feel free and to enjoy the new flexibility you will have. Everything I’ve seen and read suggests that decisions about how you live, where you live, and what you choose to do are more powerful than decisions you make about money and investments. Basically, investment decisions are a side show. They are an important side show, but they are not the main event. Focus away from money, and you’ll have more ways to deal with the financial side of retirement.
One of my favorite books in this genre is “Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million to Retire Well’’ by Ralph Warner. The book introduces you to people of modest means who are retired, happy, and don’t worry about money. Another is “Rags to Retirement’’ by Gail Liberman and Alan Lavine. This book takes you through more stories about people who have retired on surprisingly little. “Retire on Less Than You Think’’ by Fred Brock is more systematic and discusses simplifying your life, where you might live, investing your assets and dealing with health insurance.
I'd like to extend this discussion: how do diocesan priests and members of religious orders prepare for retirement? How much of the concern is monetary and how much is "other things" which the Globe suggests we take into account? Since many of America's readers come from those who serve the Church in a consecrated manner, what is it like for them to be nearing retirement? How is it different for a diocesan priest versus a priest, brother, or sister who is a member of a religious order? Bishop Matthew Clark offered some thoughts to a convocation of priests in 2000 that are pertinent to our discussion:
It is clearly the will of the church that priests retire, i.e. step down from administration and remove themselves from the assignment process. Having reached retirement age, it is up to these priests alone to decide how they will use their remaining days on earth for the glory of God. If they choose to remain active in our parishes, they will bless us by their ministry. If they choose not, they still serve God’s glory.
No matter how difficult our pastoral situation might become in the future, we cannot in conscience press these men into further service. It would rob them of their dignity and enslave them without purpose. They have earned their time of rest and it cannot be taken from them.
This is why I have insisted all along that no planning group include these men when planning parish coverage or formulating mass schedules for the future. Whatever these men do for us is grace and gift to be welcomed with gratitude but cannot be factored into a plan.
I am interested in hearing anyone's thoughts on this topic. Perhaps Bishop Clark's thoughts are relevant to religious orders of women and men as well. Is it possible there are women and men among us, faithful servants of the church, who now need our support--and not just financial support? Something to think about this Christmas?
William Van Ornum