That’s how long I’ve been a Catholic and yet I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve reached out to offer help, support, or even something as simple as a meal to a parish priest. I expect our priests to do so much: spend their Saturdays in the confessional, their Sundays saying Mass at multiple different times for my convenience, run our parish with high-level leadership skills, come to the hospital immediately when needed, and help the poor and less fortunate in the time that’s left over. And yet, I don’t often consider what I should be doing to help them, give back to them, or support them as they sacrifice their very life for me, my family and our Church.
This came crashing back into my heart and mind when I read a story that appeared in the Washington Post:
“A D.C.-area Catholic priest was placed on leave Tuesday after exploding at mourners waiting in a sanctuary for a funeral, reportedly telling them to ‘get the hell out of my church.' Video shows the argument going on feet away from an open casket holding the deceased woman…[the priest] said his anger “spilled out in a torrent” after he saw a ‘sacred chalice’ used in the Mass damaged by a funeral guest.”
Auxiliary Bishop Michael W. Fisher wrote a letter to the family, responding to the situation:
“What occurred at Saint Mary’s Parish this morning does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person.”
While the story of the priest’s behavior was absolutely shocking, it was his response after the incident that gave me pause:
“Some might dismiss these words, given the tenor of the words I uttered before the funeral that was to take place on Wednesday. That is a just part of the consequence I will bear for my behavior. Like all human beings, I, too, am broken in nature, make mistakes and, yes, I fail. My recent actions and words were not borne of kindness, but a failure of my vow to serve the Lord and those entrusted to my care as a person and as priest. I am profoundly sorry for my words and actions. I pray for all in this community every day, and I can only ask that you pray for me, but also for other priests and ministers, and all who seek to serve those who suffer and struggle as we strive to build up the kingdom of God.”
While his actions before the funeral were reprehensible, his response hit me in the heart and made me question what I’m doing to help care for our parish priests. What am I doing to help give back to them, to help fill their cups back up, after they spend their entire life giving everything to us? Our priests often find themselves lonely, left outside of the community but expected to minister to that same community without complaint, without mistakes, and without needing anything in return.
What does that culture of expectations without support leave us with? It leaves us with priests like the one referenced above; overwhelmed, overworked, and unable to share the love of Christ with others in the midst of a stressful situation. It leaves us with the media and secular culture in general looking at stories like this and casting judgment on all priests, all Catholics, and all of us broken followers of Christ who continually struggle to build up the Kingdom of God.
Our priests need our prayers, certainly, but God answers prayers through human beings. Let’s vow to be the answer to our prayers for our priests. Let’s vow to support them, feed them, and welcome them into our families so the loneliness can end. Let’s make a difference for them, since they make all the difference for us.
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic husband and father of four boys. You can find out more about him at CatholicHipster.com.
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