Like some people, I pray regularly for priests, bishops, cardinals and the Pope. I know it is not an easy life and they need strength, courage, wisdom and friends. Most people know the bad stories of bad priests, and some know of the good ones, but few mention that the bad stories account for a very small number of priests. The jokes, the disparagement, and the outright abuse of the priesthood hurts me very deeply and can only affect the priests even more so.
I have three sons and I would consider it a great honor and blessing if one had a vocation. In fact, I have told the Lord that I will do everything I can to support them if they wanted to become a priest. A couple of years ago, the Church celebrated the Year of the Priest. In my parish, a Mass was celebrated to close the year. My family went including my two altar boys who had not been asked to serve. When the Mass began, leading the procession were three girls. My point isn’t to take issue with girls serving. But, for this Mass where we were specifically celebrating the conclusion of the Year of the Priest, I was surprised and stupefied. Besides my own boys, our parish has many other boys that serve. I know many priests began to discern their vocations while serving as altar boys and understand how important this is. Afterwards, I spoke with the pastor and told him my feelings and that this made no sense, especially when the prayers included one for an increase in vocations. He said he hadn’t thought of it and he wasn’t involved in selecting who was to serve. My interpretation is that someone in charge of the scheduling was trying to make their own point, but it could have been someone not giving any thought to the significance of this Mass. I also think that the priests ought to have thought about this because of the purpose of that Mass.
Now, I have criticized priests who deny aspects of the Faith, or who ad lib parts of the Liturgy as they “perform”, or who state that all religions are the same, or who encourage or allow sacrilege in their presence, like giving the Eucharist to open and notorious unrepentant heretics, and . . . well, you know the kind. I do pray for them but they cause great damage to the Faith of millions, are in danger of losing their salvation, and deserve the mockery they get.
This Christmas Eve the entire family went to Confession and the day was deeply prayerful, spiritually intense, and joyful. Christmas was here. I sat back full of thanksgiving, began enjoying the carols, drank some wine and looked forward to dinner. During dinner, a beloved family member told us about a new priest at their parish and how so many people didn’t like him. Not because he came with goofy novelties, but because he was too orthodox, and presented the whole Truth.
“It’s too much, and people don’t want to hear all that,” we were told, “and some people don’t come anymore.”
“Well, the Truth hurts sometimes, but that’s the point and partly why we’re in the Church. Jesus says that he’s come to cast fire on the earth. He says nothing about not wanting to hurt peoples’ feelings,” I said.
I continued heatedly, saying that he was doing what needs to be done, and I thought it was awesome he did so, as we are talking about the salvation of souls which is the highest and greatest good for any person, that we need to hear and know the whole Truth, that Christianity is hard to digest sometimes, but can be and needs to be.
It was made known by the tone of voice and the smirks, and the waving me off, that this was just not really important. What was important was that this bad priest had hurt their feelings and wasn’t nice. And that there was something wrong with him for doing so, and about me for my zeal.
I am only regretful that I raised my voice. Actually, I roared. But I have heard so much of this deliberately ignorant, unlearned and lukewarm version of Catholicism said in front of my children who are still learning, that I cannot tolerate it anymore with polite disagreement and correction. And this disparagement of the priest for presenting the fullness of the Faith was a veiled attack on his vocation and the Church.
I then held forth on how important was what he was doing for their parish and those in the pews, that I was thrilled to hear this because we’ve heard so much of the opposite for too long, and that he shouldn’t be criticized, detracted and disparaged for it, let alone on Christmas Eve.
I was very upset by this talk because this beloved family member has admittedly never read Holy Scripture, had told my family a week before that the Bible was just a bunch of made-up stories, didn’t know the difference between the Gospels and the other books of the Bible, and basically mocked any effort to get beyond a six-year old’s understanding of the Faith. This person has family stature that is ordinarily influential to children and was passively undermining their Faith, and my influence as their father.
So I roared and was angry and let it be known that the most important thing to me was that my children get to Heaven, and that I was not going to let them or me go to Hell for this person or anyone else.
I think you can guess how this put a damper on the rest of the evening. Who was the killjoy? As I said, I regret yelling but this lukewarm, we-really-don’t-believe-all-of-that, it’s-not-important, all-dogs-go-to-Heaven, cafeteria Catholicism is rampant and has been in parts of my family for way too many years, and which I have been “nicely” trying to counter for too long. It’s not a problem if it’s just me, but I cannot have my children think that this mentality is good enough for them too. And to have it trotted out at my dinner table on Christmas Eve was just too disrespectful of me, them and the Lord. Do I apologize for roaring? Maybe I should. But I will never apologize for what I said. At Mass on Christmas, however, I did pray that the Holy Spirit would guide when I spoke or not, and how I spoke or not, later in the day.
On Christmas, at the home of other beloved family, one came to me and sat beside me. He told me about a client who has a very smart son and who went to Notre Dame University, where he did very well. The client had paid for the whole education which he said came to about $200,000. He asked his client what his son was doing now after he graduated, and he expected him to tell him of worldly pursuits.
“He went to the seminary and became a priest,” I was told, with a look of disdain.
He continued. “Do you know what I said to him? I told him that I would have killed him,” he said, almost jokingly, but also with a hint of sincerity.
I was shocked, and dumbfounded for an instant. He smiled and then someone got his attention and he moved on.
I was really first shocked because, if you’re aware of what’s happened with the once great Catholic University of Notre Dame, I could hardly believe that a man who was educated there actually would become a priest. Then I was less shocked by the underlying assumption that to become a priest was a waste of great potential, and somehow made this young man a “loser”.
I never did get to make any point and I decided to let it go, happily thanking God for this man’s vocation. I wasn’t too surprised by what my family member said because several years before we were talking about our blessings and he said he had a Corvette, a boat and a condo in Florida. I looked over at his wife and two children nearby and thought that if it was me I would have noted them, and not the stuff. That was when I really got to know him so this came as no real surprise.
It’s been a few days since both episodes occurred and I’ve been reflecting on both. It has struck me that both are in their own ways knocking the priesthood, and knocking these two priests. Both have also come on the heels of my own knocks on the problems I have been wrestling with regarding Pope Francis, some cardinals and bishops, and my own prayers that they and all priests will be given guidance and wisdom, strength and correction where it’s needed, both for them and the Church, as well as my conviction that I cannot be silent about the problems or goodness of the Church.
Was I being tested? Maybe I’ll never understand that, but both have made me realize even more that it’s definitely not easy to be a priest, and that these men need all the support we can give them.