I will never forget, nearly thirty years ago, I was pushing a double stroller through the mall, visibly pregnant with number three, and, I suppose, looking a little haggard. An older gentleman appeared out of nowhere and said to me, “Good job, Mama!” He made my day! Another time I was traveling on the bus with several young ones and a lady insisted on giving me $10 to get them a little treat. These moments of encouragement meant so much to me. I always adored my children and motherhood itself, but we all know it’s not easy. There are days (or weeks or months) when it can be overwhelming. Now that I am older, I try to be the one who is offering encouragement to young parents. Our greatest consolation as parents is knowing that we are doing God’s work, that we are living our vocation. And we must put Him first and turn to Him for guidance, protection, and support.
When we look at priests and their vocation, we can imagine that they, too, have times when it’s hard slogging. Readers know that I can be critical, but today I am trying to be more sympathetic. Long gone are the days when the parish priest held a position of prestige in the community. Society has changed. We do not offer deference to others based on their office, and we can observe that also when it comes to politics, academia, and other professions. The behavior of people on social media indicates how crass we can become and our “in person” selves aren’t much better.
For many, being a parish priest is a thankless job. Much of our society is hostile to religion in general and Catholicism in particular. It must be noted that priests themselves were responsible for this stunning fall from grace. Nevertheless, the vast majority of them are (at a minimum) good and decent men. They responded to God’s calling, spent years in preparation, and were ordained with joy and hope for their future as exuberant as any newlywed.
Just as married life presents some challenges and disappointments, so does the priesthood. Major life decisions are under the control of the bishop. Parishioners range from hostile to sickeningly ingratiating. Few are really engaged with their faith, wanting to grow deeper in union with Christ or to serve the community. Preaching the hard truths of our faith leads to people walking out of Mass or complaining to the bishop. People watch everything from what Father buys at the grocery store to how many beer bottles he recycles.
When I complain about lazy caretaker priests, I understand how they get there. It can be a lonely life with little or no positive feedback, which I think we all need. And, like those of us who struggle sometimes with family life, we must always keep our focus on Christ. The minute we lose sight of Him, we are in serious trouble. And even for those whose faith is strong, life sometimes throws a lot our way.
Yesterday was Pray for Priests Day but every day should be. Even the least inspirational priest gives us the gift of the sacraments and we should be very grateful. Let us take a moment to express our gratitude, but most important, to pray daily for our pastors and for all priests.