PRIESTS ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD

Friendship is a powerful and essential element to our lives.  Friends help us to grow, mature, learn, as well as navigate and enjoy life.  I have found over the past few months, and in retrospect, the past 20 years, the incredible gift I have of being friends with priests.

When I was in middle school and high school, I prayed for clarity in my vocation.  My dad took me to vocations events at the seminary, I talked to my high school guidance counselor about discernment, and I told our pastor.  The Holy Name guys took me to the Chrism Mass and made sure I made it to at least a few ordinations.  I knew so many of the men who would become priests in our diocese because we discerned, just a little bit, alongside each other.  Ultimately, God called me to marry my beautiful wife and have three amazing little boys, but I never lost the bond I made with those priests.

Now that I am so entrenched in the throes of being a husband and father, I am seeing how much time family life consumes.  If we’re not working, we’re playing, planning some outing to a birthday party, going to a sports game, or getting over to the parish for an event.  This leaves little time for other people most of the time.  One thing that I have become so keenly aware of is how much busier the life of a parish priest is these days.  The vocations shortage is only getting worse, and their schedules are only becoming more demanding.  Priests, just like the rest of us, also have a desire to be connected to other people.  So many recently ordained priests end up serving in a parish with 5 worship sites and live in a rectory by themselves.  What these men experience in the seminary is community, and to be 3 years out from hanging out with a bunch of guys striving for holiness to sitting in a rectory all by themselves should be seen as an opportunity for all of us.

God’s Holy Priests are here to serve the Lord, and the most primary way they do that is through serving His people.  They literally get to “work” when they hang out with you.  Now why does this matter to me?  I am grateful to have an incredible spiritual director who might be the humblest man I know.  He is just a real guy living in the real world striving to be holy as he can.  He embodies the call to “get to heaven and bring as many people with you as possible.” Our conversations about my life often are over wings and beer in a dive bar, and that has made quite an impact on me.  I remember the first time I shared a meal with a priest who ordered a cocktail, and I was so surprised.  Now if I’m out with a priest and he won’t let me buy him a beer, I get just a little disappointed.  But rest assured, priests can be fun without frosty libations.

The one thing I have noticed about priest friendships is that they seem to supersede time.  Priests are shuffled from one location to another so often, that sometimes they just seem to hit a stride in a parish then off they go, sometimes 100 miles away.  You may not see the priest with whom you connected for ten years.  I have noticed that so many of these guys remember faces, they remember your life, they ask how you and your family are.  They don’t bat an eye about the time that’s passed, they only want to get to spend some time with you again.  I had the pleasure of reconnecting this week with a priest I hadn’t seen in more than ten years with the exception of some funerals we both happened to attend.  The conversation we had, albeit brief, was just like no time had passed.  He was hospitable enough to invite me to have coffee on the rectory porch in the 30 minutes he had before leaving for noon Mass and adoration.  Even with an impending liturgical responsibility, there was no insistent focus to rush me out or stifle our conversation.  These examples are just two of the many I could write about, but I do want to share the other side of this topic from my perspective.

Priests need and deserve this kind of relationship too.  So many times, people wait to call the priest when they want to get married, need a baby baptized, or have a loved one anointed.  We as the lay faithful cannot treat priests like sacramental vending machines whose only purpose is to dispense grace on command.   Invite your pastor out for dinner with your family or for a cookout this summer.  Priests eat, drink, swim, and have fun like the rest of us.  The more we invite them into our families, the more we can better reflect the beatific vision of eternity.  The complex and indelible mark on the souls of His Holy Priests will be evident to us in heaven; let’s hang out here before we get there.  To quote one of my brother’s favorite songs:

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth
They say in Heaven, love comes first
We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth
Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth

I don’t expect Belinda Carlisle ever thought she’d quoted in an article about having priest friends, but she certainly captures our call as Christians.  When we put love first, especially in Holy friendships, we can certainly make the world a little more perfect.

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At the National Eucharistic Congress, Decided Excellence Catholic Media - with the help of Bishop William Waltersheid - will be presenting "Beautiful Revelation: The Eucharistic Timeline". Throughout human history, God has left repeated proof of His presence in the Eucharist and that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Salvation. God has given us the wisdom. Have you taken the time to understand? Read this spiritual journey through time to examine critical moments that God uses to reveal the truth of the Body of Christ.

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