As the Year for Priests begins, we lay editors of the Register want to take a moment to thank priests.
We want to thank not only the priests who have been our friends, but also those we barely knew, who did more for us than our friends ever could.
We want to thank not only the priests who inspire us with their words, but also those who moved us more deeply with the daily work of their priesthood than they ever could with words.
We want to thank not only those men who gave up their retirement, and their well-deserved rest, to enter the priesthood as late vocations, but also — especially — those who as young men saw their whole life ahead of them and handed all of it to Christ.
We want to reassure them that the attacks on the priesthood will not prevail, because Christ doesn’t take their kind of generosity lightly.
We know that there have been terrible, scandalous priests. This has been true from the beginning — from the original Twelve Apostles through the early Christian heresies, from the scandals before the Reformation to the scandals of the 20th century.
But we also know that the priesthood is under attack.
Priests know it, too.
Whenever someone looks at them suspiciously, whenever a mother hurries her children away from them, whenever they read an antagonistic article about how the life of a priest makes them prone to become monsters, they know it.
Their noble, loving sacrifice is so often made to look ugly and twisted — the opposite of what it is. The whole group is too often defined by the exceptions in a way few of us ever have to deal with.
But the priesthood will survive, and grow stronger. In fact, it is already growing stronger. There are more new priests than we have seen in a long time, and the new generation of priests is more committed to the Church’s mission than any in memory.
We want to tell the faithful priests who unjustly suffer from these attacks that we’re on their side and, more importantly, remind them what Christ said: Rejoice and be glad on this day, for your name is great in heaven.
Thank you, priests, for sacrificing the fulfillment of “making it in the world” in order to give us a chance to make it in the next world. You don’t take on jobs — they are appointed to you. You put your own will at the disposal of the Church, for us. We are grateful.
Thank you for bringing our children into the Church, and sustaining their souls with the sacraments. And thank you for welcoming them into the Church informally, as well. We see them look at you like celebrities, and we’re glad the first “celebrity” they got to meet was a man of God. Thank you for patiently listening to them, for taking such joy in teasing them, and for showing them the true face of Christ: the gentle one who said “Let the children come to me.”
Thank you, priests, for presiding at our marriages, even while you yourselves live such that you can be ready to serve your people at a moment’s notice. Sometimes married people sigh and think envious thoughts about living alone. But in the end, it’s hard for us to imagine how you do it. Thank you for risking loneliness to serve us and our families.
Thank you, priests, for putting yourself in the unenviable position of dealing with us at our worst moments — when we’re anxious, upset, depressed, even a little out of our minds, focused on our own problems to the exclusion of all else.
When we see the care you have to take in listening to the problems of so many kinds of people, we can’t imagine how you do it. How do you listen to angry people, whining people, weeping people, nervous people, suspicious people and clueless people? How do you listen to us?
Thank you, priests, for sitting in empty confessionals on Saturday afternoons. You wait there, not even knowing if we’ll come, like the Prodigal Son’s father on the road. Thank you for all the times we hear “I absolve you from your sins” and feel a great burden lifted from our hearts. This gift of God’s forgiveness brings the greatest joy back into our lives. We can give you nothing in return that even comes close to that.
And thank you, priests, most of all, for bringing Christ himself into our lives. Where would we be without your astonishing ability to make the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ present on our altars and in our tabernacles? You are there for us every Sunday, every morning, giving us this infinite gift. Thank you.
In the end, that’s what is so great about you: not you, in yourself, but who you bring us — Christ.
People call from the hospital and say, “I need a priest.” They point to the confessional and ask, “Is there a priest in there?” They approach in the airport and ask, “Are you a Catholic priest?”
When people need a priest, any priest will do.
Because a priest is nothing but a representative of Christ. Christ is the main actor in the consecration at Mass. It is Christ who forgives sins. It is in Christ that we are baptized.
“The story of my priestly vocation?” wrote Pope John Paul II. “It is known above all to God. At its deepest level, every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery; it is a gift which infinitely transcends the individual. Every priest experiences this clearly throughout the course of his life. Faced with the greatness of the gift, we sense our own inadequacy.”
Your inadequacy is your secret weapon.
You aren’t acting on your own behalf or through your own powers. You are acting for Christ. And that’s why, despite all the attacks, the priesthood will prevail. We depend too much on you to ever let you go.
Thank you, Father, for being Christ for us.