Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

A Father who can’t Feed his own Kids

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 There may be a lot of reasons: maybe they think it’s a relic of outdated patriarchy, maybe they think it’s a silly ceremonial job, or maybe a decade of child-abuse headlines have firmly associated the ideas of priesthood and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.

21 Responses to “A Father who can’t Feed his own Kids”

  1. Troy says:

    John-Mark
    Jimmy sent a link to this column after our Thurs morning men’s discussion. You are still here with us!

    Thanks for these words! A great reflection!

  2. Deb says:

    Yes, without the priest there is no Eucharist, no Sacraments at all. From our baptism all the way through to our anointing and our burial Mass, the priest is always there. He is another Christ. He is also a human being and his sacrifice of himself for us is an incredible gift. We all need to love our priests, even those who struggle in their office. Love and prayers are the gift we give them. It still isn’t enough.

  3. Justin says:

    Priests are called to more than to be Sacramental Vending Machines. They are called to be Other Christs in all areas of their lives. The lack of piety, professionalism, or preparation, in some, would not be tolerated in any other vocation and it certainly shouldn’t be in someone who represents Christ to so many others. A bad priest harms the faith of God’s flock.

    We should demand more from priests and not settle for mediocrity.

    If the parish priest is a Saint, his people will be holy;
    If the priest is holy, but not yet a Saint, his people will be good;
    If he is good, his people will be lukewarm,
    and if he is lukewarm, his parishioners will be bad.
    And if the priest himself is bad, his people will go to Hell.

    • No, Justin, I don’t think that’s the right way. That formula sounds neat – and sure, the holier the priest is, the holier the people will be (and vice versa) – but we’re all ultimately responsible for our own choices and it’s bad news if we start blaming the sins of the children on the sins of the parents. Nowhere is it written that parishioners are limited to the degree of perfection of their spiritual leader. Remember, Scripture said that Adam was the son of God, but we don’t blame God for Adam’s sin, and we shouldn’t blame our spiritual fathers (priests) for our sins. It’s always ugly and immature when a grown child constantly complains about his parents’ imperfections, and it’s always ugly and immature when grown Catholics constantly complain about their pastors’ imperfections. Yes, everyone is called to the highest standard of sanctity, but that means us first – it doesn’t mean pointing fingers at others, even members of the hierarchy, who fall short. Finally, don’t forget that the grace a priest gives his people through the sacraments isn’t dependant on his own sanctity; as Thomas says water flows equally well through a silver pipe or a lead pipe (III, q. 64, a. 5), and so too the sacramental graces of salvation flow through any validly ordained priest. And for those graces we thank God and the priest.

      • FRLBJ says:

        Yes, but many times the priest seems to deliberately try to keep us from receiving this grace by his antics or anti-Catholic remarks and lack of obedience. It would be better to go to another church where the priest follows the rubrics. Otherwise the faith could be lost by the constant negative witness to the Real Presence given by the priest. Also, why do laity distribute Holy Communion? This denigrates the priesthood and is unnecessary. Oh, do we have to actually wait and pray before and after receiving Holy Communion instead of being rushed out of Church as if we were at McDonald’s? Wow! Taking linger than 5 minutes to receive Holy Communion is such a sin! But not thanking God for the Holy Eucharist is not necessary? The way in which most parishes distributes Holy Communion leads to a lack of faith in the Real Presence. I always tell my children if Father said something incorrect about our faith in the homily. I also ask the priest. Recently a priest apparently looked up what I had said and found out he was wrong about his facts. If I had not talked with him, he would still be telling the people an error about the Gospels.

      • Justin says:

        As you know the quote was from St. John Vianney. I think it does deserve some merit and cannot be so easily dismissed. Is it an absolute? No. Is it based in reality? Yes.
        Bad examples, more often than not, bring bad results.
        Again the priest is responsible for far more than the sacraments. He is not only to help sanctify Ex Opere Operato but also Ex Opere Operantis.
        Unnecessary criticizing priests and blaming others for one’s problems lacks maturity and responsibility.
        Yet is it a form of clericalism for priests or others to believe that a he does not have to strive to be the best priest he can be. This involves much more than the sacraments. Saints–Sts.. John Vianney, Alphonsus, John Eudes, Francis de Sales– have always warned about the grave responsibility priests have.
        Even Pope Francis has been very critical of priests not fulfilling their vocation.
        I don’t think we are doing anyone any favors by pretending that the bar is lower than it is.
        As St Thomas also states that “criticizing” someone with the intent if helping them is a work of mercy.
        A parent would also have the responsibility of making sure that any errors or bad example given in front of their children would be corrected to prevent their children from falling into error.
        There is an important distinction that should be made regarding criticism. Not all criticism is bad.
        People should pray for their priests, people should want the best for an from them. Allowing one to be lukewarm is not loving him or desiring the best from him.

        • Yeah, I think I agree with everything you said. And I didn’t actually know that that quote was from St. John Vianney. Priests, like all of us, are called to be saints. One of the spiritual works of mercy is admonishing, and correcting errors which could mislead the young is incredibly important. I did use the phrase in the original column “gratuitous criticism,” which suggests – in concert with your point – that not all criticism is gratuitous. And if I misunderstood or misjudged your original comments, please forgive me. Nonetheless, I do see, in the American church at least, a tendency on both the right and the left to pay lip service to the hierarchical structure of Christ’s church and yet be utterly devoid of a filial spirit of submission and gratitude. Liberal and conservative laypeople both seem to spend an awful lot of time talking about what their pastors and bishops should do, how they’re failing and how they’re not good enough and where exactly they need to start reforming. And I still say that’s bad news. It’s not enough to accept magisterial decisions or acknowledge valid orders; if we think the sheep should be leading the shepherds we’re out of sync with Christ’s program. We always have to look at the plank in our own eye, and I would say that goes double when it comes to the men who a) have sacrificed so much to give us so much; b) have been placed in authority over us. And I don’t think we necessarily disagree about this, maybe it’s just a matter of prudential emphasis. In the current climate I think we all need to be more, not less, cautious about raising our hands against the Lord’s anointed.

  4. Profling says:

    But the laity distribute communion too. The priest sits for much of the mass. So how can you maintain a hierarchical structure now?

    • Matilda says:

      “I can’t make the Eucharist.”
      I believe his point is that only a priest can consecrate the host and bring God to us. Without the priests there is no Eucharist. We must always pray for our priests.

    • Hegesippus says:

      1. The laity may distribute Communion (being enabled to do so by members of the hierarchy).
      2. The priest must also stand for much of the Mass, including that part where the bread and wine are Transubtantiated and become the Body and Blood of Christ.
      3. Jesus instituted the hierarchy, then it was developed in the Early Church and has developed, grown and strengthened over the centuries, often most when persecutions come.

      If this has not cleared things up for you and you still consider that you have a valid point to make in your post, would you mind explaining your thinking?

    • anthony aguirre says:

      Huh?

    • Laynei says:

      Without the priest who consecrates the bread and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, we won’t be fed the bread of life- the Holy Eucharist. The members of the Eucharistic Ministry – the laity that you called, just help to distribute the Holy Eucharist to save time. If not, it will take hours to get done with Holy Communion and the Holy mass itself.

      God bless you!

    • Miriam says:

      Profling you said “But the laity distribute communion too. The priest sits for much of the mass. So how can you maintain a hierarchical structure now?”

      I surely hope that was sarcasm. You do realize that without the priest there is no Eucharist, don’t you?

    • Jerry says:

      Laity may distribute the Eucharist, but that’s a car cry from confecting the sacrament. No priest = no Eucharist.

    • John S. says:

      That the laity distribute Holy Communion is indeed a shame but remember that the laity cannot make Christ present in the Eucharist.

  5. What’s our responsability ? But to honor not the human institutions of the world and Yes, the sacrifice of a single man to give us bread and ,Yes even the bread of Life.!

  6. Andy says:

    Amen!
    Wow, that was powerful. I’ll be sure to share.

  7. Therese Z says:

    What a thought-provoking metaphor! Thank you!

  8. Fr. Richard J. McDonald says:

    +pax+

    So very much appreciated your good column!
    Keep up the great work and your great faith!

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