Catholic priests, especially in the United States, have received a lot of bad press over the years. The crimes by abusers and the subsequent poor decisions by some bishops in dealing with the matters have left a bad taste in the mouths of many Catholics and non-Catholics alike for the Church and clergy. This negative publicity provides fuel for anti-Catholic sentiment. It also unfairly lumps all good clergy along with the bad.
The way I see it though, the vast majority of Catholics, especially those who attend church regularly, really and truly love their priests, especially those who have a particular charisma about them. Watch how people take to their priests. They light up when they see a priest approach. They smile. They want to be near them. They cling to their every word. A priest is someone very special to Catholics.
Priests are mysteries to us laity. We are interested in who they are, yet the vast majority of us do not know any priest personally. We do not know their backgrounds, their family lives, their hobbies, etc. Maybe that intrigue is what fascinates us about them and draws us to them. When they give us snippets of their backgrounds or personalities, we cling to those bits of information.
We look upon our priests to set the example of Christian living and when the human side of them that may not be very attractive to us comes out, we are disappointed. When I speak about the unattractive human side, I mean we might see them grumpy or gruff, in a bad mood, perhaps not being very kindly, and at an extreme, behaving scandalously.
When we see our priests at their very best, we feel good about them. When we see a priest who genuinely appears happy and full of joy, loves his vocation, or takes time to acknowledge us and gives us the time of day, we are attracted to that behavior and we love them even more.
Watch a priest and the crowd he attracts at the end of Mass. People always want to shake his hand. Some people may just give him a wave. Others will be off in the distance, not approaching him but looking in his direction, smiling. You can feel the love.
We all have our favorite priest: the one who cracks a joke during his homily, the great homilist, the saint on earth, or the one who has the quick smile, the easy temperament, and is just a blast to be around.
Last year I attended the diocesan conference for my diocese. The day concluded with our bishop celebrating Mass. At the conclusion of Mass, members of the congregation swarmed and surrounded the bishop wanting to shake his hand, say a word, or take a picture with him. It was like watching a rock star!
Perhaps that is the way it should be. Our bishops and priests are Jesus’ representatives on earth and we want to be near them just as we would if Jesus were there in person. Their goal is to show us the way to Jesus. They are our shepherds. Perhaps that is what makes them so appealing to us and why we love them so.
Have you noticed throughout this article that I used many possessives with phrases such as, “Our priests” and “our bishop”? We take possession of our clergy because they are truly ours given to us by God; not men to be abused and ridiculed, but men to be cherished and respected because they have awesome responsibilities.
Please remember that our clergy are human too. They go through the same trials and tribulations we all do. They put in long days. They deal with difficult people from time-to-time. So, if they seem a bit tired or distracted please try to understand that they may have had a bad day and be sensitive to that.
For any member of the clergy reading this, you affect us in so many ways. We count on you to be our guides, our leaders, and someone we can look up to and trust. We do love you!
Please pray for our priests daily.
Copyright 2016, Michael T Carrillo