Remember the Sacrifices
Usually on August 4th we celebrate the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. This year his feast day falls on a Sunday but it still is as good a time as any to take a good look at the life of a parish priest.
Too often it seems the favorite activity of Catholics is complaining about their priests. We expect Father to be perfect when we ourselves are not. How often do we forget the sacrifices a man has made to become a priest, sacrifices we would not have made!
It is easy to remember that Father has taken a vow of celibacy but do we really think about what that means. Not only will they not have intimate relations with a woman but they will also not have children. They miss out on the joys of parenthood of raising a child, of seeing them graduate from school, get married and have children. Instead of the joys and struggles of family life too often they live lonely lives, overworked, underpaid and without the support of a spouse.
Do we really know all a priest does? Too many people seem to believe that the only time Father works is when he is in church, saying mass, hearing confessions, or doing weddings and funerals. Many of us remember back to pre Vatican II days when there was an abundance of priests and expect the same availability from modern priests.
It isn’t possible. I don’t know the exact statistics but there is somewhere as many as three times as many parishioners for every priest as there were in the 1960’s. Three times as many people to deal with, three times as many sick calls, three times as many anointing of the sick and that is just the beginning.
Society has changed drastically. We no longer have the support of the extended family to help us. Often parents are on their own dealing with the stress of raising children. There is an explosion of one parent families. There is a breakdown of society in terms of drugs and violence. There are so many issues for parents to deal with. Often the first person they turn to for advice is their clergyman.
Today we also have the stress of dealing with our aging parents. There are so many emotional and financial issues to deal with. We don’t know what is right or wrong, what we should do and we need to talk to somebody we can trust. Again the first person many people turn to is often our clergyman. At the same time Father himself may be dealing with this issue.
Marriages are in trouble today. Often you don’t hear anything because people keep it to themselves. It is not something you talk about in public but it is something you’d go to a priest to talk about. Many priests I know perform heroically trying to save marriages. Not everyone can be convinced to go to a counselor. Then there are those who are preparing for marriage. It is Father’s responsibility to make sure they are really prepared.
Then there are those people who need spiritual direction. They want to grow in their spiritual life and need to talk to someone. I’m having this problem in my prayer life. I feel dry. Do you think…The first person they go to is Father.
There are a lot more lonely people, seniors whose outlived their spouses and close friends. Their children are far away and often estranged over their lack of faith. At times these seniors just need someone to talk to, to listen to them, to remind them that they are loved by God.
There are many who need to be encouraged about their children. They need to be reminded to keep praying and trust that God will bring them back to their faith.
There are those who have left the faith because of marriage issues or some other problem who near the end of their lives seek help in returning or preparing for death.
All of these people come to Father for advice. Some he may be able to encourage into going to professionals for help, others won’t go to anyone else but Father. None of this would show up in the bulletin and not all of them occur during office hours. I worked my way through Catholic high school by helping at the rectory and there were a lot of appointments at night. If you think about it working people can’t always come during office hours.
Many of these kinds of appointments are physically and emotionally draining. You have to listen both to the people speaking and the Holy Spirit. You want so badly to be able to help the person and comfort them. It is draining. Praying with people is draining. That kind of situation takes a lot more out of you than you’d expect.
Then there are the things you think of as a priest job, preparing sermons, doing funerals and sick calls. We all know about these but do we really have any idea how long it takes.
A good priest doesn’t just sit at the computer and whip out a sermon. Most of those I know take time to pray first then prayerfully read the readings and then think about what to say. A weekday sermon could take anywhere from a half hour to over an hour. A Sunday sermon would definitely take hours.
Funerals take even more time because you have to make it personal. For many priests with the size of the parish you need help because it is impossible to know everyone that well. The priest has to do a little research, talking to family members in order to give a good sermon. They have that task along with the normal duty of comforting family members.
Sick calls take more time than you’d think. First you have to drive to the home or hospital. Then you usually spend time with the patient and care giver talking. Father may be the first person they had to talk to in days so he can’t just run in and out. It takes time especially if he hears their confession. Often the care giver needs comfort at this time.
We also don’t know how often Father goes to visit nursing homes. Then there are the many parishioners who can’t get out. It is true that many extraordinary ministers bring communion to these people but they like to see Father and only he can hear their confessions or anoint them
This is probably only the tip of the iceberg as far as demands on a priest’s time. You had all of the meetings necessary to running a parish, the organizations and activities that he has to support and attend. You have all the diocesan demands on his time, reports and meetings.
Our priests have sacrificed a great deal to serve their people and the Church. They could have had successful careers and families but instead chose to answer God’s call to service. They do this out of love for God and people. They do this because they wanted to help us draw closer to God and help us into heaven. They deserve our respect, our support and our prayers.