CHARLESTON — Father C. Thomas Miles is about to trade in his straw hat for a much warmer head covering.
The priest, who has served on the Tribunal for eight years and as pastor of Holy Cross Church in Pickens and St. Luke Mission in Easley for more than four years, left Charleston on July 31. He said he will take a brief vacation before beginning his studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, to earn his Licentiate of Canon Law, or J.C.L., degree.
He said he is excited about returning to school and is looking forward to the cold weather.
Before he left, Father Miles spoke to The Miscellany about what it means to be a priest.
As he talked, he smiled often and laughed easily. He said he was drawn to the priesthood by wonderful role models who “joyfully participated in the ministry of Jesus Christ.” As a young man, he was intrigued by the happiness and fulfillment exemplified by these men of God and wanted to know more about it.
In conversation, Father Miles is a thoughtful man who gives careful consideration to his words, but when he spoke about his decision to join the priesthood, there was no hesitation at all.
“Living out my vocation as a priest is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.
One of the Diocese of Charleston’s younger pastors, Father Miles graduated from Notre Dame Seminary and celebrated his Mass of Thanksgiving at Church of the Nativity in Charleston in 1999.
He said one of his great loves is canon law, and working on the Tribunal as a defender of the sacramental bond of marriage has allowed him to use his God-given talents to serve others. As he searches for truth in the annulment process, Father Miles said he tries to bring God’s healing into couples’ lives and help them reconnect with the church and the sacraments. When this happens, it is a wonderful reward.
Conversely, the hardest part of his work is when a marriage cannot be annulled.
“It is a judicial process,” he said. “Sometimes it really is a valid marriage and the church can’t declare null a valid marriage.”
When that happens, he encourages people to continue participating in the church and to receive Communion, if not physically, then at least spiritually.
“The salvation of souls is the highest law of the church and that’s what we strive to do through the work of the Tribunal,” Father Miles said.
Saving souls is also one of the daily duties in his role of parish priest, which he said usually begins at 5:30 a.m. with prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, and morning Mass.
“We have very full days,” he said. “A typical day for a priest is 14 to 16 hours.”
The hours don’t bother Father Miles, nor do the emergencies that pop up on a regular basis. He said the only aspect of the job he could do without are the administrative duties that take time away from the parishioners.
As the shepherd of a parish flock, he said his greatest joy is watching people he knows grow closer to God.
“The greatest reward for any pastor is to journey with people; to accompany them on their faith journey and help them reconnect with God when that is necessary; to watch them grow in their faith and their understanding of how much God truly loves them and to watch them live their lives in response to his love,” he said.
When this happens, Father Miles said, both the parishioner and the priest are blessed.
The pastor will be in school for about three years to earn his J.C.L. Father Miles said he believes that furthering his understanding and love for canon law is a way for him to serve all the people of the diocese.
“I see it as part of the ministry that Christ has called me to,” he said.
Editor’s Note: The Catholic Miscellany is beginning a new series of profiles on priests serving in the Diocese of Charleston.