|Some of the BU Catholic Community Serving Mass for Cardinal Sean.|
The other day while sitting in the coffee room at the Boston University Catholic Center, one of the students said, "I told Denis that if he gets ordained, I want him to marry us, baptize all of our children, and come to our house for holidays." The Denis to whom he was referring is an alumnus of the Catholic Center and now a seminarian. I told the young man who said that, "I hope you hold yourself to that."
This evening, I had supper with some former parishioners of mine who met me at a restaurant near my rectory. Occasionally, when I was their parish priest, I would join them for dinner--especially on Easter. We conversed tonight about many things, but I mostly enjoyed hearing them talk about their children who are now all college graduates. It is educational for me to hear about their experience raising a Catholic family. It's a privilege to know people like them and to be part of their life.
Occasionally, I've been told by priest friends of mine that I've been particularly blessed by the people to whom I've been assigned. Throughout my priesthood, I've had people who have made it their mission to love me. They've invited me to their homes for dinner, treated me like a part of their family, invited me to use their vacation home, joked with me like I was a normal human being and not an alien from some far off galaxy, and confided in me what is most profoundly affecting their lives. Not every priest has this experience. I feel sorry about that. So, I just want to offer a personal witness to any lay people who happen to read this blog.
In my life, one thing that has greatly helped me in my priesthood is the love that lay people have shown me. I've been invited on vacations with lay people, eaten dinners with them in their homes, enjoyed the twelve pack of beer that they dropped off at the rectory on Christmas, and appreciated their genuine concern for me and my life. But, not every priest has this experience. So, I offer these suggestions as a way of helping to build up the Church. I'm not talking about me here. I'm talking about guys who have not been as blessed as I have been.
Invite your priest to dinner--either at a restaurant or at your home. Buy him a bottle of bourbon, a case of beer (good beer!), or a bottle of wine at Christmas. Joke with him. Tell him about your experience raising children. He needs to hear these things. Let him come to your home and feel totally comfortable about sharing his life. Make him feel like he's a part of your family. Allow him to let his guard down and enjoy hanging out. Love him.
The other day when the student at BU mentioned how "cool" it would be for his future children to have "their own family priest," I wholeheartedly agreed. Some might say that priests need to be completely disinterested and lacking in any personal or human needs. Not me. What sustains me in my priesthood are the people who go out of their way to care for me, to love me, and welcome me into their lives. Occasionally, I have played some small part in helping other men consider a vocation to the priesthood. My hope for these men is that they experience the same love and affection that I have experienced from the lay men and women whom I've encountered along the way.
Love your priest. Love him not just in some vague and theoretical way. Love him in practical ways. This kind of love will help him to be a better priest. It will help him to be a more human priest. The longer I've been a priest, the more I realize how much I continually need to grow as a priest. At the same time, I realize that the way I've grown most in my life as a priest is through the experience of being loved by the People of God.
Bottom line: The people who love me, save me. They make life better and encourage me in my vocation. There are a lot of priests out there. Love them, encourage them, and save them.