Recently two reports were made public by the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In one, the results of a survey are presented claiming a disparity between the realities that families face and the teaching of the Catholic Church. In another separate survey results report, it was discovered that an estimated 58% of priests in Germany pray every day and 54% go to confession no more than once per year.
When I first read this, I was floored. It hadn’t honestly occurred to me that it could be a common thing for a priest to not go to confession frequently or not even pray every day. But as I thought about it, I wasn’t all too shocked. Priests are human too and in need of prayer like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, they have a responsibility to morally guide hundreds or thousands of individuals and the onslaught of cultural sins that can’t help but to seep into every individual’s life of which priests are not immune cannot help matters. They are perpetually hit with their own and everyone else’s sins daily. And yet, they are expected to keep on; faithful and strong, they must lead the flock. Can any of us do this?
There has been more than one study that linked the likelihood of success in religious formation and practice by children into adulthood with the faithfulness and encouragement of their mothers and fathers. It’s pretty simple- if your mom and dad pray every day and attend Mass, chances are you will too. The same goes for our priests- our spiritual fathers. If our priests are strong, faith filled, and practicing the sacraments, it will resonate in how their flock worships.
In the words of St. John Vianney, “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.”
Our parents who pray and go to Mass also go to their priests for guidance. But who do our priests have here on Earth to turn to for guidance, other than other priests? No one. As such it is no small wonder that they can become weary, complacent, or deal with spiritual dryness. And when that happens, it seeps into the life and vitality of the church family they minister to. Often people approach their parish priest for only two things: to get a sacrament or to get spiritual direction in a time of crisis. How often are they approached to be told what a blessing they are to their community? Or how they are appreciated for standing up for life or for having such a reverence for the Eucharist? How can we expect our parish priest to stay strong and resilient in spite of cultural norms and wayward and complaining parishioners without any encouragement or prayer on their behalf? It seems an unreasonably high expectation, and though they have taken on the vocation of the priesthood, and to some extent this situation is par for the course, it is good for the laity to charitably attempt to reduce some of those more bitter aspects.
So, what can we do for our priests to strengthen them, encourage them, and help remind them how what they do is for the greater glory of God and actually is accomplishing something?
Try doing some of the following to support your own parish priest:
Pray for your priest
Start a novena for the priesthood and seminarians
Invite your parish priest over for dinner
Compliment your priest after Mass about something they said during the homily that made you think
Praise your priest for standing up for life and Church teaching
Thank your priest for the reverence they have in the consecration and distribution of the Eucharist
Write them an anonymous card
Write a thank you note after getting helpful spiritual direction to let them know what a blessing their wisdom has been for you and your family
These are just a few things we as the faithful laity can do to support and encourage our priests!
What else can you suggest we do to show our priests how important they are in our lives?