Archive | July, 2013

The Proper Care and Feeding of Priests

31 Jul

Pope with childrenLike many parents, I’ve heard the incessant pleas of my children to get a pet (or in our case, another pet). With these pleas come all sorts of promises and assurances that the dog, cat, or gecko will receive abundant love and impeccable care. All will be right with the world–or at least with our home–if we simply were to adopt Rover or Princess.

Then, of course, we get the pet, and the enthusiasm diminishes with the first accident on the carpet. The kids are still fond of animals–they love the zoo or Animal Planet, and maybe would like to own other pets. But the pet or pets they already have are taken for granted, and what was previously considered loving care is now experienced as a burdensome chore.

Pet Seminary

When we think about it, there’s a similar dynamic at work when it comes to our parish priests. We’re concerned about the looming priest shortage in many areas. We have vocation directors and parish committees on the constant lookout for prospects. We come up with 101 ways to support our seminarians. We esteem the priesthood and like the idea of getting a new priest.

Yet, as a pastor in California once confided to me, priests tend to fall off the map after ordination. The priests that we do have, day in and day out, are easily taken for granted. Over time their personal quirks or shortcomings overshadow, in our minds, the graces that come to us through their ministry.

In short, the idea gives way to the reality.

Like anything else, the best way to act upon the godly inspiration to support our priests is to make good, practical resolutions and carry them out. What are some resolutions we can make when it comes to supporting our priests?

Prayer Necessities

Most practicing Catholics would readily accept that the first order of business would be to pray for our priests with renewed ardor and consistency. But while the intention is there, we often fail in the execution. What we need is a concrete resolution to incorporate prayer for priests into our daily routine, so that it becomes a habit-even more, a virtue. To that end, here are some suggestions we might wish to consider.

Mass. There is no better way to pray for priests than to remember them in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This can be done whenever we attend Mass on Sunday or other days, but maybe we can even pick out a particular weekday or Saturday each week or month in which we go to Mass specifically to pray for our priests.
Special prayers. We can offer specific prayers or novenas of our own choosing–anytime, anywhere–for the sake of our priests. It’s especially appropriate to seek the intercession of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests. And offering our daily sufferings, crosses, and inconveniences for priests is a good idea, too.
Eucharistic adoration. Praying for our priests in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass is highly recommended by the Church. And on a larger scale, parishes may want to sign up adorers for each hour of the day specifically to pray for their priests throughout the year.
Prayer chain. Even if Eucharistic adoration is not presently available, parishioners can divide up among themselves the hours in the week, such that at any time, day or night, there is at least one person praying for the parish priests in that community.
Family prayer. Prayer for priests should find its way into the rhythm of family prayer. One excellent time to remember priests is during the family Rosary. Most people pray for the intentions of the Pope during the Rosary, but why not also include our bishop and our parish priests? This prayer would also instill in us–and even more, in our children–a greater sense of the Church as being both universal and local.

No Strings

How we pray also matters. I’ve met people whose prayer for priests imposes their agenda upon God. They pray that the pastor will be transferred to another parish, or that he will (finally) fire the flamboyant liturgy director, or that he will bring in program X and/or dump program Y in the diocese or school.

There may, on occasion, be some validity to such agendas, but more fundamentally, with a humble, childlike faith, we should simply lift up our priests in prayer without any strings attached.

Let’s look at it this way: We know that Jesus is the physician of our souls (cf. Mk. 2:17). Even more, He’s a surgeon, always willing and able to repair our brokenness. But further still, He’s the diagnostician par excellence of the human heart. We do well to let Him figure out how to draw individuals to Himself.

When a loved one is injured or very sick, our job is to call 911 or drive to the closest emergency room. In other words, we take him or her to the doctor, knowing that the doctor is the one who is able to diagnose and treat the ailment.

How much more is it important for us to spiritually take our priests–and all the people in our lives–to the feet of Jesus and let Him take it from there. May He give them strength in the face of temptations, consolation in the face of loneliness or setback, and courage in the face of opposition. And may He give them the grace to be holy, faithful priests who bring Christ to us in Word and sacrament.

Our Just Desserts

In one sense, we don’t “deserve” priests, any more than we deserve grace. But in another sense, we get the priests we deserve. In a real sense, our priests are a reflection of us (as are, often to our shame, our Catholic politicians).

Incorporating prayer for priests into our lives may not perceptibly change them or particular situations, but it will change us. We may find, over time, that our parish will be transformed little by little into an environment that’s more conducive to our priests’ growth as men of God.

Prayer and Feeding

If we do nothing else besides pray for priests, we have done well. Yet we also sense that our prayer should be accompanied by acts of personal affirmation.

While that sounds good in theory, we may struggle when it comes to getting close to our priests. Their lives are very different from our own, and their schedules and responsibilities can be brutally demanding.

And the fact is, serious Catholics and nominal Catholics alike–and everyone in between–can tend to depersonalize priests. We treat them as mere functionaries, as sacramental dispensers, not terribly unlike how we treat tollbooth operators, gas station attendants, and postal workers. We just want to get a “fill-up” of grace without annoyance or hassle.

So, it seems to me that the first step for us is to recognize that behind the priestly garb is a human being. He has forsaken many natural goods so as to choose the supernatural good of serving the People of God (us!) as an ordained minister.

The Church is not a private business or a government entity, but the Family of God, and the priest serves a fatherly role in the local family known as the parish. So clearly the priesthood is meant to be relational and not merely functional. We see in this reality the need to build the bonds of friendship, fraternity, and solidarity with our priests. But how? Here are a few simple suggestions:

Get to know him. Do we bolt for the door after Mass? Or even after Communion? Why not stop and say hello to him? On occasion, why not invite him out for a cup of coffee, or even welcome him into our home? Such one-on-one encounters are much more life-giving to most priests than big, noisy banquets.
Interaction with families. Priesthood and marriage are vocations that complement and draw strength from one another. A priest’s involvement in our family’s life could help during difficult phases of our lives and possibly even foster religious vocations in our children. But priests also benefit greatly from the loving friendship they are shown by families that open their hearts–and homes–to them.
Deal with difficulties gracefully. I’ve known pastors who actually hide when they see certain parishioners walking toward them. They do that because they know that these parishioners talk to them only to hammer them about some liturgical or doctrinal concern. Whatever the perceived difficulty may be, such an adversarial approach doesn’t respect the person of the priest (nor his office, for that matter). When, however, we befriend priests and treat them with respect, we have earned the right to express concerns in charity to them.
Offer positive assistance. Along with that, all of us need some encouragement at times–even priests. Affirming the good things they do (Nice homily, Father! Thanks for your time, Father! etc.) is a good start. But we can go even further: Rather than complain, perhaps we can offer (not impose) assistance to our priests, who almost universally carry a very heavy burden of responsibility in serving us each day.
As we support our priests, we will surely find that we get back far more than we give, as personally and spiritually renewed priests will return the love shown to them in myriad ways, for the good of souls and the betterment of our parishes.

Yes, we need more priests. But, with the Church, let’s remember and take good care of the priests we have!

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Lay Witness magazine.

St. Mary Magdalene

22 Jul

St. Mary MagdaleneToday the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. This saint has been at the center of some controversy in recent years. For some solid biblical teaching on this beloved saint, click here.

I will be on vacation for the rest of the week. Look for new posts at this blog during the week of July 29th.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

16 Jul

Our Lady of Mount CarmelToday the Church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The beauty of Mount Carmel was praised in the Old Testament, where it is compared to the beauty of the bride in Solomon’s song (Song of Songs 7:2-6). It is also the site where the prophet Elijah defended the purity of Israel’s faith in the living God (see 1 Kings 18).

Caves in Mount Carmel provided shelter for monks through the ages, where a monastery was built dedicated to Our Lady under the title Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”). In the twelfth century, hermits withdrew to that mountain and later founded the Carmelite order devoted to the contemplative life under the patronage of Mary, the holy Mother of God. Famous Carmelites include St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of the Child Jesus (better known as St. Therese of Lisieux, or the “Little Flower”).

Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is now worldwide, and many Catholics are familiar with the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the Brown Scapular. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock on July 16, 1251, and gave him the scapular with the following words, which are preserved in a fourteenth century narrative: “This will be for you and for all Carmelites the privilege, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire.” The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was instituted for the Carmelites in 1332, and extended to the whole Church by Benedict XIII in 1726.

It’s a special day for me, too. Twenty-three years ago I resolved to ask Miss Maureen Prout to marry me on the next Marian feast day. Since it was mid-summer at the time, the next Marian feast was July 16th, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

As it turned out, the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that year fell on a Monday, and I wanted to ask her on a Saturday when neither of us had to work. So I actually proposed on July 14th, the feast of Blessed (now Saint) Kateri Tekakwitha. But Maureen and I—who incidentally did get married about six months later, on February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation—decided that we would always consider July 16th as the anniversary of our engagement.

May Our Lady of Mount Carmel continue to intercede for us and for our beautiful family.

Going to the Lost Sheep

10 Jul

calling of disciplesIn today’s Gospel, we hear St. Matthew’s account of the call of the Twelve Apostles (Mt. 10:1-7). Two points really struck me as I listened to the inspired text.

First, the New Testament gives us four lists of the Apostles (Mt. 10:2-4; Mk. 3:14-19; Lk. 6:13-16; Acts 1:13, 26). The four lists are not identical, but they all mention St. Peter first. Three different apostles (Andrew, James or John) are named second, depending on which list we’re reading, but Peter is always first.

This is a fairly simple point, but nonetheless an important one that strongly suggests the recognition of the primacy of Peter among the Twelve. This is completely separate from a study of other significant scenes where Our Lord addresses Peter alone (especially Matthew 16, Luke 5, and John 21) or where Jesus is with His “inner circle” of Apostles (Peter, James, and John) at key moments, such as the Transfiguration or Agony in the Garden.

The other point that struck me today was Jesus’s curious instruction to the newly commissioned Twelve in Matthew 10:5-6: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Clearly the master plan is to invite all men and women into the New Covenant family–that is, the Church (see Mt. 28:18-20; Mk.16:16; Catechism, no. 543). Yet Jesus instructs His leaders to follow a certain progression (see also Acts 1:8). After all, the Israelites were the chosen people, God’s special possession. Through His relationship with Israel through salvation history, God would eventually fulfill His promise to Abraham to bless all nations through him (cf. Gen. 22:18).

I see a similar dynamic at work in the “new evangelization.” The master plan has not changed: We want to invite all men and women to a relationship with Christ and His Church. Yet there is a sense that we must first reach out to the “lost sheep” in our midst: cradle Catholics, uncatechized Catholics, alienated or disenfranchised Catholics, former Catholics, “cultural” Catholics, or any other sort of Catholic who for any reason needs to hear anew (or for the first time) the good news. It may begin with a smile, an act of friendship or service, or simply a heart-felt invitation to come home.

After all, it’s really not about the Twelve. Nor is it about those of us who are already active in the Church. It is about helping others come to Jesus.

Holy Days, Holidays, and “Obligations”

3 Jul

fourth of JulyI think many of us have already made plans for celebrating the Fourth of July tomorrow. And since it falls on a Thursday this year, many of us (thank you, Archbishop!) have a nice four-day weekend built into our summer not only to celebrate our “independence,” but to enjoy a welcome rest from our labor.

There are ten national “holidays”:

New Year’s Day (January 1)
Martin Luther King’s Birthday (third Monday in January)
Washington’s Birthday (often referred to as Presidents’ Day, third Monday in February)
Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
Independence Day (July 4)
Labor Day (first Monday in September)
Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
Veterans’ Day (November 11)
Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November)
Christmas (December 25)

Most people are off on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the Friday after Thanksgiving, but those are not separate holidays per se.

In the Church, the greatest liturgical feasts are known as solemnities. Most solemnities are of such significance that the Church considers them “holy days of obligation.” What are the “holy days” (as opposed to holidays), and why are they obligatory?

Canon 1246 of the Code of Canon Law identifies them for us:

Ҥ1: Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints.

“§2: However, the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See.”

The Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19) and the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul (last Saturday) are not holy days of obligation in the United States. The celebration of Epiphany has been transferred to the first Sunday after January 1, and Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), which we magnificently celebrated last month, has been transferred to the second Sunday after Pentecost.

Further, in many areas of the country (including here in KCK), the Ascension has been transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

All that leaves the following “holy days of obligation” (aside, of course, from Sundays):

January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Lastly, when January 1, August 15, or November 1 is a Saturday or Monday, there is no obligation. But what “obligation” are we talking about?  Continue reading