Lets hear it for the priests
This time of year is a popular time for ordinations and next Sunday I will be attending the ordination of my good friend, and soon to be Fr., Allan MacDonald. The perfect opportunity then to celebrate those men so often misunderstood and maligned.
The students I teach always find it funny when I reveal anything about my life outside of teaching. Perhaps a visit to my elderly father or the upcoming graduation of my daughter. To them I am not a real person. I don’t exist in the real world ‘out there.’ As far as they’re concerned, I remain in the school building, living off canteen food. A glimpse of me in a context outside of school is always met with awkward laughter, it’s incongruous. I’ve escaped!
Though they don’t realise it, I am an ordinary human with joys and worries, fears, and anxieties just like the next person and just like our Catholic priests. These are ordinary men who were once ordinary boys sitting next to us in the classroom, on the bus; someone’s brother, someone’s son; but they have taken on extraordinary responsibility so that we may have life and have it to the full. Thank God for these ordinary men who respond to this extraordinary call. Thank God for our priests.
A man called to priesthood sacrifices, like Abel, the very best of himself and asks God to use this sacrifice to do His holy work. He forgoes marriage, children, grandchildren, and the joys of domesticity for something so profound that we can make sense of it only if we have already made sense of Christs own sacrifice. Christ died on the cross for our salvation and the priest must emulate that. This is not an easy call. The dying can’t be half-hearted, it must be complete. He has to be willing to die to self, even in the little things, even in all those things where he might try and seek to find some little comfort because of the exhaustion that very often comes with being a priest; he is called to offer confessions and mass, not when convenient for him, but when it will maximise the spiritual benefit of the laity. While he is prepared to die for the very people he is offering mass for, there will be those who will attack him in his own parish, and when he enters the world wearing his clerical collar, strangers will shout abuse at him. He is called to respond as Christ Himself responded, to continue to sacrifice himself for those who persecute him ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’ (John 15:18). The priest must absorb and offer up all suffering out of love for those very people who attack him. My own parish priest told me of the time he was sitting next to someone on a plane. This man, on seeing his clerical collar, started abusing him in all sorts of strange ways. When he had finished his rant, my priest asked him for his number so that they could keep in touch. The man was taken aback, but shared it with him nonetheless. What began in hostility, ended in friendship and the baptism of this man, all because this priest understood what it is to die to pride, to die to selfishness and to live for others.
The work I do requires that I meet many Catholic priests. Some of these men have become good friends, some I know only a little and some I find difficult, but all are dedicated men of service who can become even better when strengthened by the prayers and actions of the laity.
I’ve met old and tired priests who have almost nothing left to give but the sacraments. They’re not dynamic, they can’t bring people in off the street and evangelise the culture, but they are solid, steadfast, they provide for their flock. Without them the sheep would die. They give life.
I’ve met priests who are so on fire for Christ and the new evangelisation that they seem to run on 25-hour days unlike us mere mortals. They give all they have and then find something in the empty tank.
There are Priests I know who sat in the rain behind a makeshift screen offering confession in a car park during the pandemic because they understand that the church exists to save and sanctify souls and that it cannot do this without their service.
I’ve met priests afraid of saying the wrong thing. Old men who are little boys caught in the spiders web of the progressive culture. Still they serve, still they sanctify. These men need our prayers, they need our support, and they need our love.
Everyday tens of thousands of flights take off and land without anyone noticing. When one crashes, we notice, and it’s devastating and frightening, but it is not the norm. There is evil, no doubt about it. It is real and it finds a way in if we do not guard against it. The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour; and, like the roaring lion the enemy of God has made a number of kills, some right out in the plains for all to see, here lie the corpses of sports coaches, teachers, politicians, celebrities, doctors and nurses, scout masters and bus drivers and, yes, priests, sinful, corrupt, despicable men for whom it would be better a millstone was hung around their neck to be drowned in the depths of the sea. But whilst we are rubber-necking the scene of the crime, we fail to see what is happening in the fields beyond.
I’m not the only person who will be alive today because a frightened woman turned to her priest when everyone else advised her to terminate her pregnancy. I’m not the only person who can speak of the comfort and love shown to their family by a parish priest in time of suffering and grief. For many people around the world, when family and friends are long gone, a Catholic priest is the last face they see. In places where being openly religious means death, priests risk their lives to give life to others.
A good priest is burning with charity and will do whatever it takes to save the souls of those in his flock. There are many such men, out in the fields beyond. Let’s pray for more.