Every Holy Thursday, I think of a friend of mine, an exceptionally humble and childlike mom (and grandma). When I grow up, I want to be just like her. Whenever Ann sees a priest, she immediately approaches him, folds her hands, bows her head, and asks for his blessing. Just that, and no more. I’ve seen Ann do this even when she was in mid-conversation with someone.
“Father, may I please have your blessing?” she politely inquires.
Unless the priest knows her personally, he’s usually a bit taken aback. After the initial surprise comes the joy.
“Of course,” he replies and then graciously blesses her.
“Thank you, Father,” Ann says and then leaves as humbly as she came.
Most of us probably focus our Holy Thursday attention on the Last Supper in terms of Judas Iscariot and the betrayal that will lead to Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, Passion and Crucifixion. Before all that, Our Lord ordained the Apostles as his bishops, instituted the holy Eucharist, and through them initiated the holy Mass. It is the “birthday” of the priesthood.
That’s why I think about Ann on this day. Not only does she understand, but she lives the appreciation and respect due all of the Church’s priests and she demonstrates her appreciation and respect by by her uninhibited requests for them to exercise their office and bless her. How absolutely beautiful!
At the Chrism Mass in Rome earlier today, Pope Francis spoke to and about priests in appreciation and respect of not only their office, but also of their hardships, service, responsibilities, and joys.
And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.
According to the Holy Father, the priest’s joy is a “guarded joy,” that the faithful must watch over in order to protect and proliferate it in every way we can. So often, I hear folks banter in criticism of a priest’s failure especially those who fall into alcoholism, depression, and even suicide. It’s as if they believe that ordination is a magic spell that will ward off all human weakness. That simply isn’t true. Ordination renders the priest able to serve Christ, the Church, and confer sacraments. It doesn’t make him superhuman.
That’s why it’s up to us to do as Ann does – to show our ardent appreciation and respect for all the Church’s priests and to demonstrate that to all who we encounter. Have you told the priests in your life how much you appreciate them? You should. Have you prayed for the priests in your life? Or for all the Church’s priests throughout the world (living and dead)? You should.
Don’t let today go by without celebrating the gift of the priesthood, without congratulating the priests you know on their “birthday.” You might even try Ann’s technique and approach them for a blessing. You might shock them, or you might just escalate their joy.