Monday, March 21, 2011

St. Therese, the Priesthood, and Us

I have always had a deep reverence for priests and nuns.  Even during my time away from the Catholic church, I would go out of my way to help a nun or priest, particularly an elderly one.  I was born in 1960.  Growing up, a priest was accorded the utmost respect and I especially remember a priest's hands as something bordering sacred.  After all, they receive into those hands the Body of Christ daily at the Holy Altar.  I remember the old Italian ladies kissing a priest's hand and if you ever had a priest in your home, you made sure you had lint-free linen towels for him to dry his hands.   I remember how shocking it was to see one of the priests who taught at the boys' high school walk through the church into the sacristy in his gym clothes.  As a child, it bordered on scandalous.

St. Therese also had a great love for priests and indeed much of her vocation was spent praying for them.  Before she entered the Carmel, her father took her and her sister on a well-known pilgrimage to Rome.  The experience was eye-opening for young Therese because she saw glimpses of priests with their hair down, so to speak, and when she realized that they weren't deities, it was slightly unnerving.  At her young age, she realized that priests, when you get right down to it, are human beings vulnerable to the same pratfalls the rest of us are.

Father Z has some very good insights today on the priesthood and the vulnerability of priests to falling down.  I think he summarized very well that which I realized long ago.   I will go further and say that none of us should depend on the weak human beings who make up the priesthood for our own personal holiness.  It's discouraging to see someone fall from grace, as we have seen happen repeatedly.  I sometimes wonder if the reason some of the most effective preachers are so passionate is because they are preaching to themselves as well as to us.  Stuff happens, and when it does, God's forgiveness is there, whether we are a prostitute or a priest, provided we ask for it and make the appropriate reparation.

Not that what I say matters a whit, but here are some guidelines I follow when it comes to priests. I think it helps me avoid hurt feelings and affords the priest the respect and distance he deserves.  It doesn't matter whether you are male or female, this is my advice for all.

1. Never, ever go into the sacristy right before Mass begins and after it ends.  A priest needs time to properly prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries and he should be afforded time to make his thanksgiving after Mass, if he so chooses.  The sacristy, like the sanctuary, should be sacred ground and only those with an official function at Mass belong there.  I am appalled sometimes at how many people traipse into the sacristy before our pastor celebrates Mass.  Talk about a captive audience!

2. Don't get too attached to or develop an aversion to any one priest.  Many is the time I want to find out when a particular priest is celebrating Mass so I can either avoid him or plan to attend.  We're there for God, not the priest.  Now, if  you know a priest who likes to celebrate Mass in a clown costume, that's a different story.  But make sure God is the focus and not the celebrant.

3. If you have something that could be construed as criticism of either the parish or the priest, don't decide to talk to the priest about it after Mass when he may be greeting the congregation.  And even when a priest is clearly wrong about something, don't expect him to admit it.  Criticism of anyone should always be constructive, especially a priest.  And even if you put forward a most convincing argument, don't expect to get anywhere.  One priest  I know is never wrong about anything, and it's his way or the highway.  Unless the priest is committing heresy or sacrilege or celebrating Mass in an invalid way, you may just have to put up or shut up.

4.  Don' t take anything a priest says or does personally.  Many is the time I've walked away with hurt feelings, only to realize later that the priest was distracted or having  a bad day when I approached him with what I thought was the best idea in the world.  I keep my ideas to myself or, I write about them on this blog.  It's just easier that way.

5.  Pray for priests, every day.


  1. I am a lector at my parish and you would be shocked at how loud it is before and after Mass in the sacristy. I am all for sharing laughter and greeting fellow members but they are rambunctious sometimes. Anyway, that's my rant...very good points you made.

  2. Good points Joyce, though I don't follow number 2. I really enjoy Fr. Veras's homilies and I look forward to them. I'm always disappointed if he's not serving the mass i'm attending.

  3. Manny, how is little Matthew doing?

    In response to your comment, I have observed something in my own parish that I find disturbing. I have heard the comment about a particular priest "I don't get anything out of the Mass when he is the celebrant". I think we all have our favorites, but some people carry it to extremes so that a cult of personality is developed, which can be dangerous for the priest as well as the person. I always want to ask people who say they don't get anything out of a Mass celebrated by a particular priest what they put into it.

  4. Really good points, Joyce. Unfortunately, this problem is not exclusive to Catholic priests. I learned this lesson...hard...when I was away from the church (as a Protestant) and my husband was a pastor before converting to the faith. Down the street from me is a main thoroughfare we call church row. We knew a lot of ministers by virtue of the work we did. I can tell you stories that would....well, I'm still healing from many of the experiences. Both of us came close to losing our faith altogether. That's actually when the Lord led me back home and my husband one year later. Still praying for my boys. They were PK kids. There's so much hurt from what they saw pastors do and how many they saw fall. We learned, as Father Z said, never to
    depend on the holiness of any man for our own.

  5. Caroline, while I pray for your boys, I have to tell you that you brought a smile to my face with "PK kids". I had a staff nurse at my former job whose father is a preacher, and when I told him he was a "PK" he had no idea what I meant. It always amazes me that church can be such a painful experience for so many people when it should be just the opposite, and that sometimes the people we think are the holiest are most often the source of our hurt. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Matthew is doing excellent Joyce. He's running around like nothing was done. His eyes look like they are both focusing, so that's great, but we'll see when we go back to the doctor. He's still got a tinge of blood in both eyes. Thank you for asking. :)

    I kind of understand "not getting anything" from a homily from a particular priest. When a priest gives a mundane homily, it's really telling me he's not inspired, and so how can I get inspired? I understand about the cult of the personality, but really some priests are so boring and unimaginative. I'm not looking to be entertained; I'm looking for him to connect the readings with life and faith. Faith is hard, at least for me.

  7. Well, we broke #1 two days in a row. When one has dealt with our particular rectory staff, and need to find out something that is going can be, ahem, somewhat difficult. One must be resourceful. It is a longer story than that, but you get my drift.
    We break #2 also. And I do it with no apology. If we are blessed to have a priest that teaches us well, we are hungry for that and will go and be fed. If we gravitate to a certain one or ones, then the parish pastor will know whose homilies are touching hearts. And vice versa. If we end up at a mass with anyone else, of course we stay and give our respect. sadly, sometimes this involves feeling as though mass was one of the days penances. Not usually that bad, but it happens.
    Thankfully, the other two are not issues. I still think we flunked, if you were going on percentages :P

    Manny, SO glad Matthew is doing well! Bravo.

  8. Wow those are good tips.

    This past Sunday I followed a member
    of the RCIA team through the sacristy
    after Bible study...intuitively I
    don't feel good about it, but because
    she is a longtime parishioner I thought
    it was OK.

    I like what you say about not having any
    favorites in terms of Mass celebrants,
    though I really enjoy Fr. Tolland at OSJ.

  9. I left a church because of a priest a few years ago. Maybe he wasn't wearing a clown suit, but he was so impressed with his own singing voice, he would sing his homilies. I found him to be a distraction.

    But I totally "get" what you are saying. It is not about the priest... or it shouldn't be anyway.

  10. There is no "flunking". What I write here is my own opinion and what I find works best for me. And I make no apology for that :)

  11. None required! And you know, of course, I also flunk my own tests with regularity. ;)


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