There’s a new Bishop in Tennessee, and as a result, new pastoral assignments. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to long-time Catholics talk about their priests, old and new, present and prior. As a relative newcomer to the faith, I have some advice.
Knock it off. Or as the nuns used to teach (or so I am told): Cultivate the virtue of interior and exterior silence. If that doesn’t work, try my Grandma’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
I am amazed at how regularly and bitterly Catholics will complain about the priests they know, especially their pastors. Loudly, bitterly, in writing and verbally,in just about any venue they can find and to anyone they can corner, except, of course, the offending priest himself. I remember similar complaints directed at pastors in my Protestant past, but it seems to me that Catholics have raised complaining to an art form, and it is high time we stopped.
Maybe it’s escaped the notice of the average Catholic in the pew, but without the priesthood, there are no sacraments, no Church, no faith as we know it and live it and depend on it to see us through this earthly journey. It seems to me that we owe our brothers who have responded to the call of priesthood our gratitude, not our criticism--at least not over unimportant things.
I think a lot of it comes from our prideful and narcissistic American desire to have everything down to the last detail our own way. A lot of the criticism I hear comes as a result of how Father celebrates the liturgy or runs the various aspects of parish life that are properly under his control and discretion. No matter what he does, a priest is guaranteed to irritate someone by his choices. That’s a two-fer for the Devil, you know. Not only does he distract the complainer from what is really important (the Mass, the work of the parish), he manages to make trouble for the priest and if he’s really lucky, he’ll stir up such a hornet’s nest that pretty soon the whole parish is at odds over some truly insignificant issue. And a house divided, Christ reminds us, will not stand.
Put Christ at the center of your attention, and thank the priest for making Him present for you, and let the rest go.
Who would even begin to hear the call of God to the priesthood, when the ambient noise of the parish, of Catholic life is complaining against,about and because of the men who have dedicated their lives to bringing the sacrament to the faithful? We complain about the lack of priests, but we have ourselves to blame. The young men in our parishes are listening. When they hear priests disparaged, they listen. And when that is all they hear, who can blame them for not being attuned to the call of God? God makes the call, but we must be sure not to drown out the message.
I’ve been complicit by my silence for far too long. I’m making a promise to myself not to be a party to such grumbling any more. When I hear it, I‘m going to call it out whether in another or in myself. And I am going to make it a point to be thankful, in my solitude and in my society for priests and for all that they do.
So here goes. To all the priests I know:
Thank you for listening to God and for dedicating your life to serving me, even when I am obnoxious, ungrateful or inattentive. Thank you for loving me in service even when I am at my most unlovable.
Thank you for bringing Christ to me in the Mass. Thank you for putting up with all the times you’ve seen me yawn, or wool-gather, or read the bulletin when I should have been listening with an open heart to what you had to say.
Thank you for the gift of liturgy that you keep alive, so that every season is new and undiscovered, even though it is familiar and comfortable.
Thank you for listening to my confessions, when I finally do realize what I’ve been doing, and thank you for making the forgiveness of Christ present in my life.
Thank you for always being there to marry us, bury us, anoint us, confirm us, and strengthen us.
Thank you, for the blessing that you are in my life. Thank you for all you do and all you are.