The longer I work for the Church the more I am confirmed in my decision not to pursue a priestly vocation. Let me state that more positively – The more time I spend with priests the more I admire them and realize I am not suited to their heroic vocation.
I cannot imagine running a parish. I’m not the type of person who even wants to know 2,000 people, much less be their spiritual father, sick visitor, gripe-bearer, grief-sharer, teacher, admonisher and occasional punching bag.
Priests, even the best, get an awful lot of grief from parishioners. Occasionally, it is quite legitimate. Often it’s petty. Sometimes, it is just dead wrong. For both good and ill, pastors get lots of complaints. Baker Bishop Robert Vasa even speculates that “if St. John Vianney himself were in many of our American parishes there would be an abundance of letters from concerned parishioners about the direction in which he was taking the parish.”
I expect he’s right. The quote is taken from Bishop Baker’s column this week titled, “We must encourage prayer and sacrifice for our priests”.
Let the Bishop explain:
It comes as no surprise to any pastor that St. John Vianney was severely abused and derided because he called his people to chastity when debauchery was the norm, to sobriety when drunkenness was rampant, to holiness when secularity was much more popular. Because he loved, however, he did not cease to challenge sinfulness and call his people to repentance. He did this at great personal cost because of his determined love for souls. I strongly suspect that if St. John Vianney himself were in many of our American parishes there would be an abundance of letters from concerned parishioners about the direction in which he was taking the parish. This in no way implies that letters about priests to chanceries all across this country are not sometimes warranted and it in no way implies that our priests are comparable to St. John Vianney. It does imply that most of us do not respond well when the sinfulness of our own lives is challenged.
The old adage about the need to “hate the sin but love the sinner” makes perfect pastoral sense but the situation is often made very difficult when the sinner has such a solid affection for and attachment to and even defense of the sin that any attack on the sin is deemed an unjust and indefensible attack on the sinner. In some ways the adage has been revised for American sensibilities so that its present rendering might go something like: “Love the sinner, condone the sin.” It can also happen that what is determined to be sinful by the pastor, in accord with Church teaching, is not seen as sinful at all by a significant number of the faithful due to their ill formed consciences or due to a false understanding of conscience. This makes preaching about sin difficult. It is all the more difficult when there is a sense that such preaching is likely to fall on deaf ears. It is not at all uncommon to encounter members of the faithful whose personal conviction is that something that is really sinful, and in many cases seriously sinful, is not sinful at all for them. This is a clear symptom of a seriously defective formation and understanding of conscience. As the American view about the apparent acceptability of artificial contraception, homosexual union and abortion gets ever more firmly entrenched the Catholic conscience is gradually eroded and thus fails to recognize any of these serious evils as sinful.
Read on. Pray and sacrifice for your priest during this Year for Priests. And give him a break (just for this year).