I posted yesterday about my inspiring trip to reconciliation. As I walked out of church I was pumped up, having just felt an extremely close encounter with the Holy Spirit. As I walked to my truck in the parking lot a woman whom I had never seen before approached on her way into the church. She looked at me and asked with what seemed to be a little attitude, “Who is it this evening?”
I initially assumed she was arriving a little early for 5:30 mass. We have a pastor and a parochial vicar assigned to our parish, I’ll call them Father One and Father Two to protect their identity. I told her that Father One was hearing confessions so he would also be saying mass. The woman looked at me and replied, “Oh, I wish it was Father Two, I like his better.” Not knowing exactly what to say, I offered my rejoinder, “Well, it’s the Word that matters.” She looked at me kind of funny and then walked on past. As I unlocked my truck I suddenly wished I could back time up a half a minute so she and I could have a little one on one conversation.
I would have liked to ask her what it is about Father Two that she prefers. Is it that she likes the dynamic homilies he occasionally gives, or some other personal quirk that appeals to her over Father One? I wanted to ask her if she’s ever considered that Father One might have the time to prepare more edifying homilies if he didn’t have to manage and administer two parishes.
I would have liked to tell her that I hear homilies from a couple dozen priests during the course of a year and every priest has his own style of delivery. Some are enlightening, some not so much. It’s not so much what the priest is saying in his homily, it’s the Word that matters, and what we hear God saying to us. It’s Jesus in the Word and in the Eucharist that we come to receive at mass, not the priest. A less than kind me briefly thought it would be fun to suggest that if it’s a sermon that she comes to get fired up over, then maybe she’d be better off attending a Methodist service. For that, I thought I might need to go back to confession. Maybe next week.
I wondered if she knew that every Catholic church on earth reads the same scripture passages on any particular day. No two priests have the same homily and there are no standard homilies. The priest formulates his homily based on what the Holy Spirit is telling him. Not every priest hears the same message. Likewise, if there are 400 people in the congregation during a mass, then there are 400 different and unique messages being sent from the Holy Spirit, one to each person there. The priest’s message might get you in the ballpark for understanding what God’s will is for you that day, but if that’s all you hear it might leave you in the cheap seats with a message that probably isn’t uniquely yours.
Mentally chiding myself for that devilish thought from a moment ago, I thought if I were a true disciple I would be helpful instead of so snooty and teach her how to meditate on the daily scripture before attending mass. That way she could more readily hear God speak directly to her instead of second hand through the lector or priest. Then, it wouldn’t matter who’s giving the homily.
Suddenly realizing that my know-it-all-pride had just displaced any humility I thought I had, I decided I was making a mountain out of a mole hill. So I got in my truck, buckled up, turned the key and saw that it was only 4:25. I thought maybe the lady was going to confession first. Perhaps she was intending that she preferred Father Two over Father One to hear her confession.
Well, checking my pride didn’t last long as I thought of some new things I’d have liked to ask her. Did she feel more comfortable going to one priest over another? If so, why? Not why as in, “Does Father Two make you feel less sorry for your sins?”, but rather, “Why does it matter?” You don’t go to confession to be comforted. You go to tell God you’re sorry you offended Him and that you’ll do everything in your power to keep from doing it again. You go to be reconciled with God, not reconciled with the priest. After all, it’s God working through the priest, In Persona Christi, Who is the forgiving, All Merciful One.
Once again dismounting from my high-horse, and sorry for being so judgmental, I knew I needed to back off. It’s not for me to judge what’s in someone’s heart by the tone of five simple words. I realized my thoughts were a defensive reaction to protect the dignity of our priests. I look up to them and am thankful they have devoted their lives to helping us on our journey to heaven. Their’s is a demanding “you-can’t-please-all-the-people-even-some-of-the-time” job. They are too often taken for granted and not often enough thanked for their goodness. It seems we too often relegate our spiritual welfare to them instead of taking responsibility for it ourselves. We need to realize there are too few priests as it is, and, as members of the Body of Christ, start carrying more of the load.
I think I know where I’ll be next Saturday afternoon.
“Merciful Father, please forgive me for being so prideful and judgmental. But, thank You for letting me see the value of our caring, generous, and hard-working priests, and accepting their uniqueness, flaws and all, just as You accept mine. Amen.”
(It’s the Word that Matters was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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