THANK YOU, FATHER FOR BECOMING A PRIEST
by Lois Donahue
In this sad time of merciless ‘priest bashing’, I want to share some thoughts about the great, great, great majority of priests
Thank you, Father, for becoming a priest
How seldom we say these words of gratitude to those who so deserve to hear them. As an example — how sad that we are more apt to take our good parish priests for granted….to criticize them or make them scapegoats for any, what to us might be, seemingly questionable happenings within the Church than we are to openly compliment them or express our appreciation. Why do you suppose this is true?
“Perhaps” we make our priests scapegoats because it is in the parish where we most often encounter interpretation with which we disagree or innovations we do not understand. Either can lead to the frustration which frequently accompanies change and at some point that frustration seeks someone to blame. Our priest is closest at hand. We strike out without stopping to think of him as possibly being trapped in the no-win position of trying to accommodate both the humans he is answerable for and the humans he is answerable to.
“Perhaps” one reason we take our priests for granted is because we might also take for granted the fact that God has chosen them to represent Him in the sacramental dimension of our faith. As we see fewer and fewer priests, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves regularly of the indispensable role they play in our lives. Only a priest can provide the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist or give us the therapeutic peace and renewed strength which comes with absolution.
“Perhaps” we criticize our priests because they don’t live up to our expectations without asking ourselves if those expectations are within reason. We might need to remember that a priest’s vocation, like ours, runs for twenty-four hours a day, everyday, and that their ordination did not grant them immunity from temptation or infuse them with unerring wisdom. Nor does their Roman collar negate their humanity. Like each of us, they have their faults and their weaknesses. They must deal with conscience and emotion and ego. They have their times of feeling insecure, uncertain lonely and unloved.
However, while accepting the packaged humanity of our priests, we must not do them the disservice of simply offering them either counterfeit “thank you’s” – which are little more than hollow, this-is-what-I’m-supposed-to-say niceties – or the somewhat mindless “yes, Father’ – “yes, Father” – “yes, Father” of a priest groupie. They deserve better than that – a lot better than that. At the very least they deserve our support and encouragement. But “support and encouragement” that is truly sincere and caring does not mean rubber-stamping every decision they make or condoning every action. Rather, it means feeling free, if not obliged, to question when we don’t understand, to offer a difference of opinion and, if necessary, even to challenge always done, however, as St. Paul tells the Ephesians, “in love”. We, in turn, must also give our priests the same freedom toward us and admit that they also have the same obligations.
Here is where we find such a demanding need for understanding on both sides. Each of us brings a different point of view to every set of circumstances and it is this variety of perspective which offers the greatest opportunity for mutual respect and growth.
Undoubtedly there are other “perhaps” reasons which will affect our behavior toward individual priests and we will certainly not have the same level of relationship with each of them. Regardless of that, we will always share with our priests a basic indebtedness, not only to God, but to each other.
On our part, we owe to each and every priest who touches our lives — our respect for his vocation—our judge-not patience with his humanity — our gratitude for his effort — and, no matter what, — our prayers.
“Thank you, Father, for becoming a priest.”