Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shut Up About My Priest

I'm a sucker for gurus. A bit of a teacher's pet as a student, I still go into new social settings with an autopilot for pleasing authority. Not proud, just sharing information.

So what to do with the authority figure of the Roman Catholic priest, for a girl like me? My introduction to these holy men couldn't have come in a better form: the gregarious canon lawyer who walked Anthony and me through marriage preparation classes. I still admire that he kept a straight face as he came back with the results of our exhaustive questionnaire at one of our first meetings. "You seem extremely well-suited for one another," he began. "Only three major discrepancies are showing up when I compare both sets of answers: money, sex and children." Yes, great news. Because those things are mere periphery in adult life, right?  Alas. We somehow aced a section of the silly quiz called "lifestyle expectations", and the rest is history of some sort.

In many settings, to say the word priest is to invite grandstanding over power, perversion and dereliction of duty. (Money, sex and kids, anyone?) Those cases are tragic and very human exceptions to the rule. We're supposed to pray for them. And prosecute where fitting.

But today my indelicate plea is not on behalf of the men gone astray. I'm talking about the good, smart, dedicated men who serve a billion Catholics. They come from every conceivable echelon of society, and go forth to minister to a crowd who is equally diverse.

Our little family has known about twenty of these men, which I realize is hardly a representative sampling. My data also skews hard in favor of the rareified Western Province Dominicans.

Vicki Thorn, foundress of Project Rachel, admitted her own surprise at the requests of post-abortive mothers to meet with a priest rather than a therapist in beginning their healing. This is a small but unparalleled example of the dark places made light by Reconciliation through our shepherds.

We have also been given friends reclined at table, scholars and counselors, hacky-sack players, wilderness guides, and men who act in persona Christi at the altar. I don't expect these roles to stir reverence in their disinterested detractors. I'm not asking for high-fives, but I am asking for silence. Shut up about my priest.

Secular tyranny has a foe in me because its heretics are branded without so much as a formal creed to violate. I do have some ideas about what it takes to be considered unclean, however. 
I. don't. recycle. Anyone who goes beyond my reduce and reuse inclinations is fine by me. But this is not a moral contest. I'm not in your church.

Extreme and inaccurate characterizations run both ways. The temptation to build a cult of personality around popular priests is a reality. The good ones don't allow it. They point to Christ, in their every action, and our duty includes keeping that distinction clear. One is a guy, sent by A Guy, in obedience to The Guy. Thankfully, my own unfair expectations of priests have been tempered through familiarity. The earthly joys they set aside in order to answer their Holy Orders --- frankly, that sacrifice continues to stun me.

We regularly invite the priests of our Cathedral parish for meals, and our family life is newly animated by each of their arrivals. I hope the cacophany of a young family is replenishing to them. For every casual six hour meal, there have been poignant moments which reveal their mission and set them apart all over again. Some of those moments feel chiseled into the walls of my home. Last year, a favorite priest was late arriving for tacos. We worried. Father Vincent  eventually made it to our door, and out of the childrens' earshot, explained the delay. As he removed his black wool coat and accepted a mug of coffee, he briefly described being called to a wintry driveway to anoint the body of a man who had dropped dead next to his idling pickup truck.

Smug one-liners about Roman Catholic priests too often go unchallenged, and their burden grows because of it. Their burden is my burden, if I'm doing anything right. As the suffering flock looks to these men for guidance, may the title of Father be spoken with the love it merits, or kindly left alone.


  1. Excellent! You are right on that they deserve our quiet prayers, yes, but also our active and vocal support. A great reminder for all of us...

  2. I simply love this post. Thank you for writing it.

    It also made me remember this post I wrote about Fr. Vincent as well. :-)

  3. Thank you both. I constantly hear jabs, direct and subtle, implying the most vile charges against our priests. My tone here is strident, maybe I'm just making up for my own silence in the past. : )

  4. Thanks for the props! It's good to know there are still people who appreciate the work of their priests-with an emphasis on "their". We come to serve you, so keep us in your prayers.

    Fr. JP

  5. Keeping the priest's role in proper perspective is easier when you've clocked some time on earth. Older Catholics know that the priest is a mere mortal and subject to the same flaws and fears as the rest of us. But, when we deluge our young with pleas for their vocations, promising them that they will become special and 'better than' others, using these things as an enticement, we are laying the ground work for the same knee-jerk priest worship that has gotten us into trouble in the recent past. We need to refine the message. Yes, tell the young that a priest is different--not in his own merit or through some wave of a magic wand--but in the same Christ who works wonders with all believers. We've got to keep telling the young to respect their own lay state as the beginning of a life adventure in Christ's service. That may give us a generation of priests who are not pompous, corrupt, or perverted. God willing.

  6. What a great post! I can still remember our family having the parish priest over for dinner (my mom's fried chicken, if memory serves).

    I was only a little kid at the time, but it made a difference. So in addition to (hopefully) brightening the day of your priest, and reminded him that he's loved and prayed for, you may well be silently catechizing your kids. God bless,


  7. Tow-truck drivers and priests have tough jobs.

    Who else gets to pick guts up off the road. I mean police and firefighters do, but they get their financial compensation.

  8. "Shut Up About My Priest
    I'm a sucker for gurus. A bit of a teacher's pet as a student, I still go into new social settings with an autopilot for pleasing authority."


    Well a completely un-Christian salutation followed by an affirmation that you are prone to being a sycophant.

    We are all glad you have great priests around you.

    But the FACT is the vast majority of priests are more in love with their Social Justice and local affections than the Sacraments they were called to serve.

    So I am sorry, I am not one of your sycophants here to tell you how great you and your post are.

    The fact is, the reasons for much of the confusion and error that now rocks the Church in America is a direct result of where the heart of priests have lay since Vatican II. There's a few lines in scripture that talk of fruits and where a heart lays....

    So rather than seeking to hold up priests that seek the Lux Populi, you might want to spend some time praying for the Grace necessary to understand the fruits you now see railing against the Churhc's gate.

    BTW, it's not Lox, which is a fish, it's Lux.


  9. Oh. THAT must mean why it says, "Because People Like Bagels." Now it makes sense. (rolling eyes)

  10. Thanks for reading --- hey, as long as my sycophant tendencies are pointed in the right direction, I'm not worried. Yep, lame social justice (I don't capitalize that one, m'self) is at the root of much misdirected love in the Church.

  11. To the First Anon --- my own (mostly) positive experience with priests exists in contrast to some extremely mean and even corrupt priests that both of my parents were at the mercy of in their youth. I never intend to make light of corruption and suffering. Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  12. HCSKnight,

    1. Making sweeping, baseless generalizations about the "vast majority of priests" does nothing to enhance your credibility. Are you familiar with what calumny and detraction are?

    2. Name-calling ("sychophant") also doesn't help your case, particularly when you're accusing the other side for behaving in an un-Christian way.

    3. Yes, there are lukewarm and bad priests. What they need is prayer, not detraction. Honestly, I get where you're coming from with your frustration, but you need to re-channel it, and keep it in check. All I'm trying to say is, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold."

    4. It's Vox, not Lux.



  13. Yes, the WDP friars are pretty great Dominicans and priests. =)

  14. So many anonymous comments and all...the same.

    Proud to be a sycophant for our Holy Faith and Her priests who bring us the sacraments.

  15. Wait, do you give away free Bagels?!

    Sign me up.

    "What we eat, is what we believe"
    "Lex Lox, Lex Cream Cheese."

    1. Joe, my gym has free bagel days once a month! It all makes sense now! Le Chez.