As a parish secretary for several years, I have had ample time to reflect on the role of priests and the laity’s view toward them. The following are five things I’ve learned:
1) Priests maintain the life of a parish. We see priests offer Mass and hear Confessions, but what do they do when they are not behind the altar or in a confessional? Occasionally a myth arises that says priests sit in their office writing homilies all day. This could not be farther from the truth. Parish priests administer Sacraments, tend to parish operations, provide spiritual direction, and fulfill duties to which their bishop calls them. Priests also prepare couples for marriage, administer Holy Communion to the homebound, and anoint the sick and dying. They work on annulment cases, offer funeral and memorial Masses, perform baptisms, and catechize through R.C.I.A. and Adult Confirmation classes. Like a good parent, priests minister to people in every stage of life.
2) Not every diocesan priest works in a parish. Some priests may assist parishes on occasion while working full time at another job assigned to them by the bishop. In my parish, two priests work full time at the parish, another priest works full time as a canon lawyer in the tribunal, and a fourth priest works full time as a Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry at a nearby college. They all work for the glory of God in our diocese, just in different capacities.
3) Respect the priestly office. “Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account” (Heb 13:17). If you want to respect God, respect those to whom He has entrusted the souls of His people. Doctors, lawyers, judges, college professors, and a host of other professionals elicit a sense of respect from us by virtue of the office they hold and the duties they perform. Priests also hold an office and perform duties. Consider how much more a divinely sanctioned office calls for respect than those in the professional world.
4) Priests are people too. Ordination to the priesthood does not annihilate their human nature. Personalities, temperaments, and personal interests remain. They still need sleep, food, and friendship to sustain them in life. A little bit of fun and laughter helps too. One of the funniest people I know is a parish priest. Humor is a gift from God that remains in men when they become priests for the simple reason that human persons—not angels or animals—are ordained.
5)Priests model the obedience of Christ. As Americans, we live in an individualistic society that scoffs at the idea of obedience to anyone outside ourselves. But obedience is exactly what Christ showed us when “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Parish priests follow Christ’s life of obedience through their obedience to a bishop. If we as parishioners want to be obedient to God, then we must follow the example of our priests, not by making a promise of obedience as they do, but by following the directives of our bishop to the extent that we can. We live our obedience to the universal (catholic) Church, among other ways, by living in communion and harmony with both the bishop who leads us in our local church (diocese) and the priests who carry out the bishop’s work in our parish. When we ignore or rebel against our pastor’s directives, we create disunity and disharmony amongst parishioners, staff, and clergy.
Expanding our knowledge about the priesthood can deepen our understanding of the Christian faith and how we can live that faith more fully as laity. Further reflection on the priesthood may be found at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/priesthood/priestly-formation/faqs-priesthood-ordination-seminary.cfm.
St. John Vianney, pray for our priests!
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.