To all the priests who have answered God’s call, endured great sacrifice and given that extra measure to bring each of us closer to Christ: Thank you.
I know. I know.
The comments will come.
This priest was reprehensible for committing an act of abuse, or that priest was shameful for an inexcusable act of omission.
In this essay, I will not excuse evil that has been done by certain priests entrusted to do the greatest good. And I am sorry for any whose lives and faith have been deeply wounded by this gross negligence of God’s high call.
But this essay is about a different body of priests. It is about hundreds of thousands of men worldwide and throughout history who have faithfully done God’s work – often difficult, thankless, exhausting toil in the name of a God much greater than them.
Once upon a time I had a rather naïve sense of what a priest’s life was like. Prior to becoming Catholic, I perceived priests as bookish mice, the favorites of church ladies at potlucks, delicate and removed from the crushing concerns of daily life. Priests’ lives were clean and neat, moral and upright, vestments and protocol. Simple. But then I came across a particularly wise insight from G.K. Chesterton. In his autobiography, Chesterton described a conversation with “two hearty and healthy Cambridge undergraduates” and Father O’Connor about the nature of the priesthood. As the cultured and refined Father O’Connor stepped away from the conversation, one of the young men condescended:
I don’t believe [Fr. O’Connor’s] sort of life is the right one. It’s all very well to like religious music and so on, when you’re all shut up in a cloister and don’t know anything about the real evil in the world. But I don’t believe that’s the right ideal. I believe in a fellow coming out into the world, and facing the evil that’s in it, and knowing something about the dangers and all that. It’s a very beautiful thing to be innocent and ignorant; but I think it’s a much finer thing not to be afraid of knowledge.
Chesterton recalled his immediate reaction to this laughable naiveté on the part of this haughty, bright young thing:
To me, still almost shivering with the appallingly practical facts of colossal and crushing irony, that I nearly burst into a loud harsh laugh in the drawing-room. For I knew perfectly well that, as regards all the solid Satanism which the priest knew and warred against with all his life, these two Cambridge gentlemen (luckily for them) knew about as much of real evil as two babies in the same perambulator.
For what Chesterton had seen in his dear and wise priest was no untouchable gilded lily, but rather a man gravely familiar with the evil that men do. And as I began to consider what Chesterton wrote, I started to see priests in a new, more accurate light.
I began to recognize that it is a priest who, late in the evening, patiently waits outside the hospital room while I finish caring for an ill patient. It is a priest trudging through the wicked winter snow to offer the Eucharist to a shut-in. It is a priest who shoots baskets with boys in the city’s heart to keep them out of the clutches of ever-present gangs. It is a priest counseling the addicted, comforting the forlorn and remembering the forgotten.
I began to truly see the pictures of the ash-covered priest carried dead from the North Tower on 9/11 after charging in to offer prayer and last rites. I read stories about Father Kapaun, the prisoner of war, administering sacraments and carrying the wounded for miles on a death march during the Korean War. And I marveled at the wretched death and stunning grace of Father Damien among the lepers and Father Kolbe among the death camp inmates.
Seven years ago, I came into the Catholic Church thanks, in part, to the gentle, but deeply wise Father Michael. I am further sustained by the energetic and educating Father Mike. Week in and week out, through their own brutal schedules, inclement weather and periods of illness these priests have buoyed me with consecrated bread and wine, absolved me of my many sins, and counseled me with insight and grace. They have been sure and faithful shepherds for my family and me. And I am deeply, deeply grateful.
I know, I know.
There have been some very bad priests out there.
But there have been infinitely more good ones.
To all the priests who have answered God’s call, endured great sacrifice and given that extra measure to bring each of us closer to Christ, this belated thank you note is for you.
Quite simply, thank you.
By Tod Worner.