Before I was actually employed as a parish priest, I thought clerical approachability a simple virtue. Since being here in the parish, though, I've learned that it's a very delicate thing, and an important balance to maintain.
In the early days of my baptism there was a church I used to attend where the priests seemed to me very unapproachable. I would have loved to have had the chance to speak with one of them, to ask questions about prayer and discernment, or just to have the joy of attention from a representative of God. But for whatever reason, I didn't dare approach one of them.
I don't want to be like that. Franciscans, after all, are supposed to be down-to-earth. I want people to feel comfortable to call me, to make an appointment, even to interrupt me if I'm on call that day. I want to hear about people's concerns so I can unite my intentions to theirs in prayer. Thanks to PDAs and smartphones, I can answer my office phone from anywhere and make appointments too.
It's a delicate thing, though. I know this would be called heresy by some of my conferes, but I think that there is such a thing as being too approachable.
I want people to feel comfortable approaching me, but I don't want someone to come up behind me when I'm praying in church and start trying to hug me from behind. I want folks to feel comfortable calling me up to talk about what they might need, but not every day when they're just lonely. I even want someone to feel like it's o.k. to approach me randomly for confession if there is some legitimate worry about mortal sin, but I don't want a scrupulous entourage waiting for 'the nice one' every time I walk into church. I want people to feel comfortable making appointments or sharing news after Mass, but I don't want to be so surrounded by conversations in the sacristy that I can't say my vesting prayers or get recollected before Mass.
So for me it's a delicate balance. I'm not yet very good at it, but I'm learning. The challenge is to learn how to communicate these sorts of boundaries in an encouraging but firm way.