There is something that is going on in many Catholic parishes that I find disturbing. It is something that I have noticed the more I get involved in the Church. It is an utter lack of Christian charity towards our priests by some members of the laity. Priests are attacked for pretty much everything that they do. They are scrutinized constantly. The Mass is too long, it is too short, the Homily is too long, the priest preached on orthodoxy, the priest preached on contraception, divorce, abortion, or gay marriage in line with what the Catholic Church actually teaches, there should be women on the altar during Holy Thursday even though it is a liturgical violation, the priest does not use gender neutral speech, the priest takes too long with the Eucharist, he uses the Eucharistic Prayers I or IV which are too long, he is asking too much of the altar servers, he is not friendly enough, he is too friendly, he is changing things, he is too young, he is too old. Are you getting the picture? If they are a Catholic priest, every aspect of them has been examined and criticized by someone. This is especially prevalent for the new orthodox priests coming out of the seminary.
There is a major lack of humility and charity by these folks. I myself have opened my mouth when I should not have and the priests were charitable enough to correct me. I am appalled by some of the things that are said and done to our priests. Are we Christians or not, because we are not acting like it. Here are some things that might help us to remember our place.
1. The Church is a MONARCHY, not a democracy. The priest is the head of his parish. He makes the ultimate decisions. He uses pastoral, liturgical, and other councils to guide his decisions, but when it comes down to ultimate authority, it is his. Vatican II did not change that. While Vatican II did work to end clericalism that had developed, much out of necessity (the majority of people were illiterate, giving huge responsibilities to priests), it still upholds the priest’s authority. As long as the priest is not doing anything heretical or heterodoxical, when he makes a choice, we must submit in obedience. Period. It’s a great spiritual lesson. We all must submit in obedience to God.
2. Humility. I don’t know about you, but I do not have the philosophical or theological education that an average parish priest undergoes in seminary. I have heard outright heresy from the pulpit and that should be addressed by the Bishop, but in the majority of cases, they know what they are talking about. Part of the reason I am Catholic is because I trust the Church’s 2000 years of history, tradition, writings, etc. to be the truth, because I am not the one who decides truth. If a priest preaches on something that you have chosen to be disobedient on, it is on you, not him. Contraception, abortion, gay marriage, IVF, embryonic stem cell research, divorce, etc. are all authentic doctrine of the Church that we are required to submit to. If you don’t like the priest preaching the Truth then you need to set up a meeting with him so YOU can come to the fullness of truth. Pray hard for conversion. You can yell or send nasty emails to him all you want, it is God’s law, and his job is to bring us to the fullness of truth.
3. He gave up his life for us. I told my junior high students this past Sunday, that being a priest is to give up one’s life to serve us. They are dedicated to bringing Christ in the Sacraments to us. They are our spiritual fathers. They deserve our respect, prayers, admiration, and love. I don’t care if they are 27 or 101, it does not matter. They have all laid down their lives for Christ and His Church. None of us have a right to be uncharitable or mean-spirited towards them.
4. Put yourself in his place. Rather than be responsible for his own small family, a priest has decided to be responsible for hundreds, even thousands of people. That is a tremendous burden and a tall order. They do their best to serve all of us. They cannot make everyone happy, which is why they rely on Church teaching and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). Chances are when the priest makes a final decision, it is based on research and study.
It is time for the bickering to stop. I know that this is difficult for us Fallen creatures, but part of the journey to holiness is to learn how to work together in Christian community. At the parish level, the priest is the head of our community, not you, and not me. The next time you are at a meeting, practice the virtues of humility and charity. They will get you much farther than any sin possibly could. And more than anything, say thank you to your priest. I cannot even tell you how unbelievably thankful I am for our priests. God bless all of our priests. St. John Vianney, pray for us..