In Defense of Your Parish Priest

A scene from a fictional parish parking lot… sound familiar?

“That was beautiful.” Kim said to her husband Jeff as they walked to their car after Mass.

“Absolutely!”  Jeff responded.  “I am always inspired by Father Chris’ reverence for the Eucharist and the love and devotion he shows for each aspect of the Mass.  I had Father Chris for Reconciliation yesterday and it was the most thorough and helpful conversation I have ever had with a priest.  He really helped me understand why I committed the sins I was confessing and gave me penance that will strengthen me to avoid those sins in the future.  He is a special priest and I am glad we have him at our parish.”

They spotted Kim’s friend Andrea in the parking lot walking over to them with a look of disgust on her face.  “That was the most boring Mass I have ever attended at this parish!  Father Chris always tries to teach something deep in his homilies and I just can’t follow him.  Between that and his need to constantly remind us of the need for Reconciliation, getting involved in the parish, sharing our faith and a dozen other things I don’t have time to do, I am fed up.  I just want an exciting homily.  I want to be inspired.  Is that too much to ask?”

Jeff could tell that his wife was struggling to contain her frustration with Andrea’s point of view and was surprised at the calm tone in her voice when she said, “Andrea, I am not in any position to judge you or how you feel.  But, I am your friend and I want to you to know that I think you are looking at Mass and Father Chris the wrong way.”

Andrea was quite surprised at Kim’s statement, but to her credit, she remained silent and listened.

“Andrea, consider why we are in Mass.  We are there to experience Christ in the Eucharist.  We are there to give thanksgiving to our God. We are there to partake in the sacred mysteries and join our brothers and sisters in Christ in a wonderful celebration.  You are complaining of being bored and missing the whole point of why we are there!  Father Chris and all of the other priests have the responsibility for teaching us the faith and encouraging us to live it out in our daily lives.  They are not there to entertain us.”

Andrea looked at her thoughtfully for a minute before responding.  “Kim, I hear what you are saying and I want to think about this and maybe pray about it a little.  You know, I am not the only person who feels this way.  Craig and Susan Johnson as well as a few other families just started going to Mt. Olive Community Church a few weeks ago.  They love the great worship music, the inspiring talks from their preacher and the fellowship.  It is set up like a theater with big screens broadcasting his sermon all over the church and to a few satellite locations they have around town.  He is supposed to be a fabulous speaker.  They love it!”

Jeff looked at Andrea with a look of sadness as he said, “I know that sounds exciting, but couldn’t they get the same excitement from a rock concert?  We are Catholics.  We have the fullness of the faith and our Church was founded by Jesus Christ.  He gave us the Eucharist.  He gave us priests to absolve us of our sins and administer the sacraments.  I think Craig, Susan and the others you mentioned are horribly off track and putting their souls at risk.  They sound like they are following this exciting preacher instead of our Lord.  Please consider what Kim said and know that we are going to keep you in our prayers.  Can we talk about this again soon?  We are also going to pray for those who have left the Church to chase a little temporary excitement, when they had the path to Heaven laid out before them…”

* * * * * *

I feel blessed to understand and appreciate the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist since my conversion to the Church in 2006.  My family and I come to Mass for the Eucharist and if by chance we hear a good homily it is a bonus, but it is not necessary or even good to simply be “entertained”.  I have been in or overheard similar conversations like the one you just read over the years that I have been a Catholic and the unfair criticism of our priests not being exciting enough or having thick accents or a host of other petty complaints is frustrating.  These good men have sacrificed everything for Christ and His Church and are here to help us get to Heaven.  Are they perfect?  Of course they’re not.  Are many of them good and holy men?  Definitely.  These men deserve more respect and support than they often receive from us.

Maybe one of the reasons people feel bored with the Mass is they have forgotten that the center of the Mass is Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice, not inspiring music and exciting homilies.  Let’s stop looking at the priest as “Entertainer-in-Chief” and pay him the respect he is due.  Boredom is a side effect of our fast-paced, materialistic culture.  We feel bored because we are constantly being over-stimulated and sold on the idea that we can have it all now and that something better is always around the corner.  As rational human beings, we must realize that this is neither true nor sustainable.

Do we ever take a moment to consider the challenging life of a Catholic priest?  In addition to being our spiritual shepherds, parish priests are the administrators of complex organizations often beset with unique problems ranging from people issues on the staff to budget shortfalls.  Their days are filled with saying Mass, presiding at weddings, funerals and baptisms, hearing Confessions, visiting the sick, prayer, study, meetings with parishioners and dozens of other duties we may not fully appreciate.  They are not our entertainment directors.  Before we complain about something these men of God did or didn’t do, we should reflect a little and say a prayer of thanksgiving for their life-long commitment to help us attain Heaven.  These good men need our prayers and support every single day.  They do not need nor deserve much of the criticism that is sent their way.

I think we are blessed to have many priests like the fictional Father Chris who labor to teach us the Truth and inspire us with the love and devotion they show for Christ and His Church, especially during the Mass.  They aren’t mega-church “rock stars” and they don’t always give electrifying sermons that leave our hair on fire.  But, remember that we can’t get to Heaven without the help of these good men.

“Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption here on earth…What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods…Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest and they will end by worshiping the beasts there..The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.”   (St. John Vianney, Patron Saint of Parish Priests)

Looking for a way to support and encourage our Priests?  Check out www.EncouragePriests.org


Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore. 

The Catholic Briefcase was recently voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.

Randy Hain’s new book, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith will be released by Liguori Publications in November 2012 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Looking for a Catholic Speaker?  Check out Randy’s speaker’s page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.


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3 Comments

  1. As the sister of 2 Catholic priests, I just want to say thank you and God Bless you for this wonderful and oh-so-true article 🙂 Very well done and thought provoking.

  2. I, too, have gone to ‘battle’ for priests who show courage by preaching about ALL areas of morality. We cannot be angry but we must help. Pray for priests and support them. Many feel unsupported. Share your support to them and encouragement–it really, really goes a long way.

    This article articulates the bitter fruits of possibly poor catechesis over the past generation, but we share in the Mission to love and help our neighbor and our priest.

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