Monday, February 6, 2012
Tonight I heard the confessions of about 15 tenth grade students. I felt particularly on my game. Even though it was at the end of the day, I wasn't tired or distracted. I was happy to be there and besides providing a valid absolution, I hope that I provided a good fatherly and priestly presence. In my heart, I was pondering not only about how much I love those kids, but how much God loves them.
But, it doesn't always happen like that. Now, I've heard stories of people saying that they've been yelled at by a confessor. I have no reason to doubt their veracity, but I've never had that happen. I've had a cranky priest once. And sometimes I've felt like I interrupted the priest's book by going to confession. But, I've never been yelled at. Not even close. And, I have a hard time imagining any of the priests I know yelling at somebody in confession.
But, not every night is like tonight either. There have been times when I'm tired or hungry. There have been times when I'm hearing confessions and at the same time I'm thinking about how it is snowing outside and the snow shovellers haven't arrived yet and Mass is about to begin in thirty minutes. Or, everybody decides to show up for confession in the last five minutes and I have to go get ready for Mass. I want to hear everyone's confession, but the clock is ticking. Do I come across as distracted or impatient? Probably.
And, it's not the confessional alone where things go wrong. I've run into a nursing home to anoint somebody but needed to be back to church in fifteen minutes for Mass. I wonder if when I leave, the family resents that I've spent such a small amount of time with them. Or, when I run into the sacristy after that with five minutes to get ready for Mass, are the people in the sacristy annoyed because I'm not greeting them graciously because I'm trying to find the chalice which somebody put away in the wrong place?
And then, there's the phone number that I wrote down on a small piece of paper so that I could call the person from my car. But, when I get to my car somebody else calls me and I forget to call the person back. That person is probably annoyed too.
And then there are those times when I've tried to help somebody and helping them seems to blow up in my face. Or, they misinterpret what I've told them. It's mind boggling sometimes as a priest. You're standing outside after Mass having preached a homily on forgiveness and mercy. Then, somebody comes out and thanks you for the great homily and they tell you, "Father, thank you. You're right. I'm going to go home and throw my son out on the street." What? ! Wait a minute! That's not what I meant!!! Sometimes, things go sideways just because of circumstances, but the priest is somehow standing right smack in the middle of those circumstances.
This all came to mind today because somebody from my first assignment read this blog and in a comment thanked me for bringing communion to her dying mother some twelve or so years ago. I guess that day I wasnt' rushing, cranky, distracted, or tired. But, it is always nice when somebody remembers something like that.
It seems like this post should conclude with some sort of moralism, like, "Good priests should never be cranky, distracted, or tired." Yeah, good luck with that one. The lesson I draw from it is simply that the priesthood is a beautiful and awesome gift. God knowingly chooses men whom he knows will occasionally be rushing around, cranky, distracted, or tired. He chooses men who might say something the wrong way. He chooses men who run the constant risk of deciding something incorrectly. But, he chooses them anyways. He chooses them to be his priests.
And, the closer people are to the Church, the more they see their priests as loving fathers. Loving fathers who care deeply for them. Loving fathers who get cranky sometimes. Loving fathers who get tired. Loving fathers who have a lot on their mind. Loving fathers who are worried about some person who is in trouble. Loving fathers who are thinking about how they have to get the collection up. But always they see the "loving fathers" before they see a quirk or the flaw. This is obviously not an excuse for priests to be crumbs. Priests ought to live their pastoral life with tremendous joy. This is simply an acknowledgement that in the parish, the priest is firstly a father to his people. He's not firstly the CEO of the parish.
The specific virtue of the priest is called, "pastoral charity." The priest loves the people as their shepherd.. This is why he is sent to the parish. Over time, the relationship between priest and people is built up. He knows them and they know him. But, more importantly than knowing one another is the fact that they love one another. As the psalm says, "He has poured into my heart a marvelous love for the faithful ones."