“Your parish priest is a fallen human being. He may hurt your feelings or he may make bad decisions—just like the Apostles did to their contemporaries. But he needs your gratitude, your help, and your encouragement. He needs your prayers.”
Spring teems with new life—not just in the form of budding trees and flowers, but also in the spiritual realm as well. These months bring first Communions, Confirmations, weddings, and ordinations. As the northern hemisphere celebrates the changing of the season and natural beginnings, we also celebrate supernatural changes as well.
If your diocese is blessed with the ordinations of new priests and deacons this year, I highly recommend attending the ordination Masses. There are few things more moving than to witness men giving their lives in total service to the People of God. As the men lay prostrate on the cathedral floor, they physically demonstrate what they’re prepared to do with their lives for Christ and for us.
Men that you may have known for years – perhaps even when they were small children – are ontologically transformed. Through the prayer of ordination and the laying on of hands, these men are now capable of bringing Christ onto our altars. They have the power to bind and loose, to whisper words that echo into heaven and blot out sins. Normal, mortal men. Men who remain human. Men who can sympathize with our weakness, who know what it’s like to love and to lose, to fear and to trust, to fall and to get back up. (If you find yourself wondering why God gave us men to be priests, and not angels who would never disappoint us, I highly recommend John Henry Newman’s essay, Men, not Angels, the Priests of the Gospel.)
Several years ago, one of my best friends was ordained to the priesthood. Weeks before his ordination, I asked him if I could be his first confession. After making the request, I second-guessed myself. Did I really want to go to confession to someone who knew me so well? Did I want to be that vulnerable and humble in front of someone I was friends with – and hoped to continue to be friends with? What was I really thinking?
He gave me the great honor, and it forever impacted how I understood the priesthood. As I knelt in that small private chapel, just an hour after his ordination—his palms still smelling of chrism—I received the forgiveness of Almighty God through His human instrument. An instrument who had not changed in appearance, temperament, weakness, or strength; a man who had not been somehow transformed into an impeccable or infallible superhero. But an instrument, a servant, who now had the power through which Christ had promised to be with us always: the sacramental powers to forgive, consecrate, baptize, and heal.
We do priests a great disservice in putting them on pedestal, as if they are untouchable and no longer sons of Adam. When we do that, we are bound to be disappointed and hurt. Why do we expect more from them than we expect from ourselves? Why do we hold them to a standard to which we are not willing to hold ourselves? Father is called to be a saint, yes. As am I. And I fail at that vocation every single day. Father is alter Christus, another Christ. But he is also alter Petrus.
We also do priests a great disservice by ignoring the ontological change that happens at ordination. The day before my friend’s ordination, he could have heard me name all of my sins. I could have gone to him with my struggles and my failings, and he could have given me advice. But he was powerless to actually do anything about them. That changed drastically the day of his ordination, after the sacramental change that occurred at that Mass: “Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these your servants the dignity of the priesthood…” He now could raise a soul from the dead. Priests are not just nice counselors or wise preachers. They are our incarnational link to the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Your parish priest is a fallen human being. He may hurt your feelings or he may make bad decisions – just like the Apostles did to their contemporaries. But he needs your gratitude, your help, and your encouragement. He needs your prayers. Every time we criticize a priest, judge a priest, or gossip about a priest, we should do a holy hour for their intentions, strength, and growth in virtue.
Remember that the man who baptized you, the man who gave you your first communion, the man who married you and your spouse, and the man who gives you Jesus every Sunday are all mortal men. Father is not a devil, no matter what his sins. Nor is he an angel, no matter how beautiful his homilies may be. He’s a man. He needs you. Love him, support him, and pray for him.
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