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.