Clearing the Heart to See the Truth
Everybody knows there are plenty of people, including mass-attending Catholics, who don’t really like the priesthood. There may be a lot of reasons: maybe they think it’s a relic of outdated patriarchy, maybe they think it’s a silly ceremonial job, or maybe a decade of child-abuse headlines have firmly associated the ideas of priesthood and perversion in their minds.
But what’s particularly unfortunate is how many people who actually do like the priesthood – who do celebrate the hierarchical structure of the Church, who do encourage their sons to consider the sacrament of Holy Orders, who do acknowledge that sacerdotal consecration creates “another Christ” – what’s unfortunate is how many of these people never have anything nice to say about any actual priests. They seem to like the idea of priesthood considered abstractly, but they don’t seem to like how it plays out in real life.
How many Catholic children on the drive home from mass on Sunday hear their parents complimenting the priest? Or do most of them hear insults prefaced or concluded with a blessing, as though that somehow makes it a pious sentiment:
“God bless Fr. So-and-so, he has no social skills.”
“God bless Fr. So-and-so, it’s a good thing he became a priest because he never would have made it in the real world.”
“You’d think they’d give Fr. So-and-so a little training in public speaking at the seminary, God bless him.”
I’m hoping to give my kids a different perspective – not only on the priesthood, but on actual priests.
When I was growing up the dad of a friend of mine was wheelchair-bound with a degenerative disorder that left him almost completely immobilized. There were five kids in the family, and they always struggled to make ends meet. I always thought that must have been awful for my friend’s dad: not to be able to provide for your family, and to see the suffering your kids went through because of your incapacity.
Imagine a disabled father like that, and imagine that one day a man, a stranger, came to their house. Imagine the stranger said, “You don’t know me, but I know about your situation. Here’s what I propose: I won’t get married, I won’t start a family, and that way my salary can go to provide for the needs of your family. I’ll dedicate my life to taking care of your family, since you can’t. I’ll make sure your kids never have to go hungry.”
Can you fathom the amount of gratitude the disabled father would have for that stranger? If any of his kids ever dared a piece of gratuitous criticism towards their benefactor, you know the father would say, “Knock it off! Nobody breathes a word against that man! Do you know where we’d be if he weren’t doing what he’s doing for us? That guy keeps us alive, and we owe him nothing but gratitude.”
Well that’s me. I’m the disabled father. I can’t make the Eucharist. I can’t feed my kids from God’s table. I can’t nourish them, can’t keep them alive with Christ’s living flesh.
But there are guys – strangers, most of them – who have given up a wife and children so that my family can eat. They keep my family and me going, they make sure we don’t run out of God. That’s not “the priesthood.” That’s the priest at every single Mass we go to. Thank God for those guys. And my kids will know who their benefactors are, and my kids will honor them, and thank them for their sacrifice and their patronage. And so will I.