Yeah, it’s a Friday in Lent. I’m posting this today, because you are likely to meet a priest over the weekend, and should start making plans now.
Here’s the deal: Catholics need to be nicer to their priests. It used to be that priests were members of a happy, bustling community—almost universally respected, pampered and well-fed by the empty-nesters of the parish, and they had plenty of company from priests their own age.
That has changed. The priesthood has always been a demanding life—but I don’t think it’s ever been as lonely as it is today.
Think about it: These guys get shuttled around, never getting to put down roots. They spend hours on the road trying to cover a whole cluster of churches; and they either live alone in a shabby rectory, or with a few other equally overworked, underpaid, under appreciated priests whose training and understanding of their vocation might be totally different from their own.
And of course, every time someone says “Catholic priest,” someone else is guaranteed to say “pedophile.” What was once a demanding life has become something difficult and depressing.
Or so you’d think! The contrary is actually true: Most of the young priests I know are very joyful men, and seemed stressed out but hopeful. I guess God is good, and gives them what they need, because I know they’re not living an easy life. The 32-year-old Fr. Paul
Boudreau [yipes! Sorry, Fr. Paul!] from our parish told me, “In giving up a family of my own, I now have in the Church literally thousand of families. So I consider myself a family man.”
I think we can be better to our priests, who, after all, have given up most of the things we enjoy in life.
Fr. Paul says that many people don’t invite him because they assume he’s too busy, but, he says,
That invitation to dinner could be exactly what your priest needs that day. It may seem insignificant to you, or small, but to be invited to somebody’s home to share a meal, or to watch the Red Sox, or maybe to go to one of the kids’ football games, that means a whole lot to priests, even if on any particular day they cannot honor the invitation.
That invitation to spend personal time with your family may be the very oasis that God gives him in his challenging schedule to be able unwind and enjoy good and holy conversation and family life.
Note: Most priests are willing to stretch the definition of what counts as “good and holy conversation,” as we learned when Fr. Paul obliged my five-year-old’s request to “spell ‘pig’ backwards.” Not only do we enjoy his company, but I’m delighted that my kids (sons especially) can see that priests are normal, happy men who love their work.
I asked Fr. Paul what were the best and hardest aspects of being a priest, and he said that they are the same: helping people carry their crosses. He says:
[O]ne of the special parts of my vocation as a priest is to do what Christ does for all of us. He takes up the weight that we cannot handle. Christ uses me, as he does with all priests, as an immediate instrument to reveal to those who suffer that they are not alone. When I celebrate Mass, I bring all these people who have heavy crosses with me to the altar, and I spiritually lay their needs down before the Lord, to ask him to take up their sufferings as an offering to the Father.
It’s a joy to be in this position, to help others with their crosses, but it can be hard too, because you find yourself suffering with them in a very real way. It’s a most powerful and mystical experience. It’s what the Good Shepherd does.
Which led to a final question: How can we help? What do priests need? The answer, is, of course, prayer. Fr. Paul said,
[T]he best gift I think is a note saying that you are praying for your priest and that you are offering Mass intentions, or novenas, or Rosaries for him. To get a gift of somebody’s prayers is so important for the priest today, because the priest undergoes lots of different kinds of attack in his daily life. There are the cultural attacks as well as the spiritual attacks from the evil one. Just as the priest sustains the laity in so many ways, the laity, which is the family of the priest, sustains him as well in a profound and powerful way. If your priest is told that in some way, shape, or form, that you love him and that you support him in his ministry, that’s probably the best gift that you could ever give him.
I still think you might throw in a beer, as well.