The Year of the Priest has passed but the effect it had on my life has not. It was a moment that God gave specifically to priests but also to lay people, so that we could learn how to more fully support and love our shepherds, not just for a year but for all time. During that year, I enjoyed reading many articles that bring attention and light to the gift we have in our priests. One that stands out for me is “The Proper Care and Feeding of Priests” by Leon Suprenant. In it, he proposes ways to help us love and support not only the holy office of the priest but also the men of flesh and blood who have given their lives in service to God and His people.
Do we love our shepherds only when they do what we like? Do we love them for our own sake? Do we pray with “strings attached” that our priests will be made in our own image? Or do we love them in imitation of Christ: selflessly, sacrificially, and for the sake of their own souls and the glory of God?
Suprenant writes: “We esteem the priesthood and like the idea of getting a new priest…Yet…priests tend to fall off the map after ordination. The priests that we do have, day in and day out, are easily taken for granted. Over time their personal quirks or shortcomings overshadow, in our minds, the graces that come to us through their ministry…
And the fact is, serious Catholics and nominal Catholics alike-and everyone in between-can tend to depersonalize priests. We treat them as mere functionaries, as sacramental dispensers, not terribly unlike how we treat tollbooth operators, gas station attendants, and postal workers. We just want to get a “fill-up” of grace without annoyance or hassle.
So, it seems to me that the first step for us is to recognize that behind the priestly garb is a human being. He has forsaken many natural goods so as to choose the supernatural good of serving the People of God (us!) as an ordained minister.
The Church is not a private business or a government entity, but the Family of God, and the priest serves a fatherly role in the local family known as the parish. So clearly the priesthood is meant to be relational and not merely functional. We see in this reality the need to build the bonds of friendship, fraternity, and solidarity with our priests. But how?”
He goes on to give some very excellent and concrete suggestions. In addition to his suggestions, I have searched and found a number of others worth passing on. There is one particular recommendation that struck me powerfully when I recently encountered it:
Love him like a real brother.
I stumbled over it a bit. Our priests are “Father” and now they should be “brother”, too? In spite of my initial confusion I grew to cherish the suggestion. In his priestly office, the priest is “Father.” As an adopted son of Our Father through Jesus Christ, the priest is also “brother”. How do we love these ‘brothers?’ Perhaps we can learn to take them as our very own, helping to defend them soul (and body) in the midst of the spiritual battle that St. Paul exhorts us to remember. Above all, we ought to make sure our ‘brothers’ know that our community loves them as Christ exemplified—unconditionally—in spite of any failings or quirks. My own parish priests are well fed (I hear they could survive for a couple years on the goodies dropped off at the rectory during a single Christmas season) and have a solid brick home to protect them from the elements. So, how do we care for them? Here are some excellent suggestions (including Suprenant’s) for properly caring for our priestly ‘brothers:’
*Get to know them through personal interaction.
*Welcome interaction with your family. The priestly and marriage vocations are complimentary and draw strength from one another. A priest’s presence will help foster vocations in our families and also offer loving friendships to him.
*Deal with difficulties gracefully. “When we befriend priests and treat them with respect, we have earned the right to express concerns in charity to them.”
*Offer positive assistance and encouragement.
*Pray daily for them.
*Pray, especially through the Rosary, that Mary will be a tender mother to them and find them good friends.
*If you say the Liturgy of the Hours, offer it up in reparation for all priests who have stopped saying their Office.
*Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet asking God to be merciful to His priests.
*Make a regular holy hour for priests.
*Start a prayer chain. Parishioners can divide up prayer hourly so that at least one person in the community is always praying for the priests of the parish.
*Make a regular communion of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the sins of priests.
*Beg God that they avoid giving scandal.
*Sacrifice daily for them by fasting or offering a portion of your sufferings for them.
*Pray for newly ordained priests who face unique challenges.
*Pray for new vocations to replace them when they can no longer serve.
*“Adopt” or pray for a particular priest or bishop you find especially troubling, rather than (or in addition to) one you like. This requires greater sacrifice and will strengthen us in the selfless love of Christ as well as building up a struggling shepherd.
*Shield them from temptation.
*Remember them at times when it would be natural to reach out to a real brother.
*Become a saint that they may become saints. “In a real sense, our priests are a reflection of us.”
“As we observe this Year for Priests, we will surely find that we get back far more than we give, as personally and spiritually renewed priests will return the love shown to them in myriad ways, for the good of souls and the betterment of our parishes.”
*All quotes taken from The Proper Care and Feeding of Priests by Leo Suprenant in the Nov/Dec 2009 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine. Read the entire article here: http://www.cuf.org/Laywitness/Online_view.asp?lwID=1909
Copyright 2011 Melody Lyons