First of all, before we get started, let’s make some things clear. This is NOT a post about priest-bashing. It is our priests, the lovable ones, the grouchy ones, the aloof ones, the bookish ones, the weak ones, the wounded ones (you get the picture), who bring us the saving sacraments of Holy Mother Church, and without whom, we laity would have no access to these supernatural and truly awesome graces. So no matter what our particular gripe may be, or how legitimate we may deem it – let’s begin with a great big “thank you” and “we love you” to our priests.
We’re not suggesting that everyone doesn’t like their parish priest, but we do acknowledge that there are times when we may struggle with him for one reason or another. But we endeavor to love, pray and try anyway. This post isn’t a criticism of either priest or parishioner, but it is a reminder of how much support our priests need, and an encouragement towards the building up of strong, vibrant and enthusiastic parishes. Here we share 6 thoughts on how best to support, encourage and build up our parish priests.
We often ask our priests to pray for us, but don’t forget how much they need our prayers too, regularly and unstintingly! One of our authors explains: “My spiritual sisterhood in college gave the friars a spiritual bouquet once, and they cried with joy and loved it. Instead of giving someone a bunch of flowers, you give them a bunch of prayers.” So, as a special gift, you could also offer your priest a spiritual bouquet, a collection of prayers, rosaries, or Masses said for his intentions. You can also think outside the box: “sometimes we tell them creatively by writing them on decorative paper or with a bouquet, but usually it’s on a card where we write down that we offered up a rosary or a three-mile run for said intention or person.”
No one can like everyone all the time and there might be times when you have a parish priest whom you don’t get on with. They still need your support and your love. Another of our authors explains: “Try to understand your priest and why God has put him there with you. When I first had a change of priest and the sermons were nowhere near as awe-inspiring as the previous, I came to realize that this new one had an incredible knowledge of Scripture, and all the historical contexts. So, while it wasn’t what I may have felt that I wanted, I learned so much from what he did offer, and God used him to open up this whole other dynamic of Scripture which I had somewhat neglected.”
If we really want to support our priests, foster vocations and build our parishes, we each need to look to our own responsibilities for our faith and how we live it out in our daily lives. Is there more that we could be doing to understand those Church teachings we may not like or struggle with? Do we really seek to know more about our faith, or do we just show up on a Sunday, feel good and go away again? Do we understand the Mass and why we are there and what is going on? There are plenty of ways to do this. Books, podcasts, videos and blogs can always be an easy way to access and understand what is happening during Mass. A stronger understanding of the Mass leads to greater reverence, which in turn leads to a deeper experience of it. It also allows the priest to lead a more docile congregation, willing to listen and actively participating in the proper way. Proper roles and relationships have a way of creating harmony.
It’s important to state here that in seeking to support our parish priests, we are not looking to fawn over them or put them up on a pedestal. A priest’s role deserves utmost respect, they are In Persona Christi – in the place of Christ. But without overstepping any important boundaries, we can also be warm and inclusive and real with them, sharing our joys as well as sorrows, our humor and our jokes, making sure to remember important times of their lives, such as their ordination date or birthday, and maybe inviting them for dinner or something similar when we can.
This is so important. It is a two-way process between us and our parish priest. Instead of complaining if you have a lackluster parish priest or wishing you could have that fresh and amazing priest from another parish, make every effort to be on fire for your faith and engage with what’s right in front of you in your own parish. Find the time to go to more than just Sunday Mass. Go to Adoration, go to additional “extras” offered by your parish. Sure, you may be one of few, but your parish priest needs to know these are worth offering. Adoration and Confession are precious. They are the kind of things we will miss if they are gone. Don’t ever take them for granted.
Be a parishioner that inspires him to be a better priest. I don’t mean pester him or harangue him, that would be awful. But I do mean, engage with him, let him know if his homily inspired you or if you want to hear more about something in particular. Help him to know that the work he is doing is appreciated and that his words aren’t just going in one ear and out the other! We know that in some places Mass attendance is dropping (while in other places it is growing). In the places of growth, there is an attitude of passion and reverence, there is no lukewarmth. If you don’t like noise and chatting in the pew before Mass starts, ask your parish priest to instigate a silent and prayerful atmosphere before Mass. If you think the music could be more uplifting, offer your talents to arrange something more substantial. If you hate the tacky 1970s altar backdrop, offer to fundraise for something beautiful. If you see there are youth/elderly/lonely, but no one to support them, start a group. Do so with care and tact and respect, but do! In that way, the parish can build the priest and the priest can build the parish.
Gracious and loving God, we thank you for the gift of our priests.
Through them, we experience your presence in the sacraments.
Help our priests to be strong in their vocation.
Set their souls on fire with love for your people.
Grant them the wisdom, understanding, and strength they need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Inspire them with the vision of your Kingdom.
Give them the words they need to spread the Gospel.
Allow them to experience joy in their ministry.
Help them to become instruments of your divine grace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns as our Eternal Priest.
If you’re interested in learning more about what a priest does in his daily life, check out this great video from our friends at Lifeteen.com!
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