In last week's post, Ten Reasons You Should Get to Confession This Weekend, one commenter expressed some doubts about burdening priests with frequent confession.
"You might want to give the priests a break," she said. “Instead of dumping your ‘sins’ on them, why don’t you offer them some comfort?”
From the conversation that followed, it soon became pretty obvious that she was perhaps less concerned about poor, overworked priests, and more concerned about reminding everybody that the Church is corrupt, oppressive, homophobic, etc. etc. Still, she had a point: priests are often lonely, stressed out, and overworked, and could use some rest, and normal human companionship. A friend recently quipped,
"Things I learn from reading comments on the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Facebook posts: the bishops need to shut up about political issues like unemployment and immigration and focus on moral issues like abortion and marriage, plus the bishops should shut up about political issues like abortion and marriage and focus on moral issues like unemployment and immigration.
And that's just the flak that Bishops get on Facebook. Now imagine a parish priest, who is much more likely to be out there in the Church building and in the community, always easy to reach for someone tugging at his sleeve and telling him that, no matter what he's doing, he's doing it wrong?
So I fully concur with the idea that priests need support, understanding, and simple human companionship, and I've written about this in the past.
But does it follow, then, that performing the sacraments is a burden on priests? Should we stay home from confession, for instance, so the poor man can spend less time in that stuffy box, hearing our ugly little stories of sin and shame?
I'll let some priests answer that question themselves.
In this excellent essay, which should be required reading for all Catholics, Fr. Mike Schmitz says a woman told him,
"'Well, I think that [hearing confessions] would be the worst. It would be so depressing; hearing all about people’s sins.'
I told them that it was the exact opposite. There is almost no greater place to be than with someone when they are coming back to God. I said, 'It would depressing if I had to watch someone leave God; I get to be with them when they come back to Him.' The Confessional is a place where people let God’s love win. The Confessional is the most joyful, humbling, and inspiring place in the world."
Do read the whole thing (it's short!). He lays out three reasons why it's not only good for Catholics to confess their sins, it's good for priests to be able to hear and forgive them.
And here is a priest who, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, requested that every parishioner go to confession.
And the pastor in my own parish recently announced that they will be adding an evening Mass, to make it easier for college students and people who are working two jobs. I think that this evening hour must have been one of the few hours these three men (who cover five churches, as well as all the hospitals, schools, jails, and so on) have free all week long -- but they all seemed happy to spend it saying Mass instead.
The best I can figure is this: when you spend about six years of post-secondary study and formation to learn how to do something, and when you have freely chosen and vowed to foreswear marrying and raising children, and when your entire life centers around the holy work of bringing God's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, Forgiveness and blessing into the world through the sacraments. . .
Then you're going to want people to show up for those sacraments.
So, yes, be good to your priests. Be kind and understanding, be friendly and supportive, feed them, encourage and defend them, and pray for them. Try not to make special demands or be overly critical, and remember how busy they are.
But let them do what they're here on earth to do. Don't stay away from the sacraments under the mistaken idea that you're sparing them some trouble. That's like refusing to eat a delicious meal, because the cook went to so much work to prepare it. It's like refusing to open a present because someone went to so much trouble picking it out and wrapping it just for you. It's like telling a surgeon you'd rather let your cancer grow, because the last thing you want is to burden him with more disease.