Last night, we had one of our parish priests over for dinner. I made a simple meal, and it was a very low-key affair that we all immensely enjoyed.
This was the first time Father had been to our house, and our first real opportunity to get to know one another. We talked, laughed, ate, and shared stories about our backgrounds and families. The story of how he’d discovered his vocation was truly engaging. Father was very grateful for our invitation and we were delighted that he’d accepted.
One thing did disturb me, however. Father mentioned that it’s not as common as it used to be for families to invite parish priests to share a meal at home with them. In fact, it doesn’t happen very often at all.
That grieves me terribly!
Our priests leave behind the families in which they were raised, forsake having families of their own, and commit themselves to serving Christ – and us – in a ministry that is all-encompassing and demanding. They’re people, too, and have a need to feel welcomed and to experience a sense of family just as we do.
I often hear comments from folks who are reticent to invite their priests to dinner because they fear they’ll be “too nervous” or won’t “make a good impression” or even that they’ll “be judged.” They worry they won’t be able to find anything to talk about. At least in my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Over the years, we’ve had many, many priests come to our home to share a meal and companionship – family time, if you will. True, some priests are more shy than others and therefore aren’t as relaxed joining in a family dinner. But those examples are rare.
I can say with complete certitude that we have never, ever, regretted having a priest to our home.
I daresay you won’t, either.
Our priests not only need, but also they deserve for us to show our love and appreciation for them. No matter if we are or aren’t on the same page with them, so to speak, in terms of how they handle things at the parish or what they say at the pulpit. It’s not about parish politics or homily content; it’s about acknowledging them as children of God who are striving in their vocations and doing the best they can in the work God has given them to do. It’s about extending Christian love and charity to them because they’re human beings in need of support.
Some will decline your invitations, and that’s okay. Some might have schedules so packed that a dinner date is nearly impossible. So, how about brunch? How about lunch? How about inviting him over or taking him out for coffee? The main point is offering hospitality in whatever form works for you and him.
All of that being said, I have five reasons why you should invite your priest to dinner.
- It’s a way to show your appreciation for all that he is and does. It needn’t be a fancy meal or a formal event. In fact, our experience is that the priests who have come to our house have enjoyed it because it was simple, laid-back, and low-key with a family atmosphere in which they could relax and feel at home.
- It will be a mutually enriching experience. Everyone has a backstory. Everyone has insights about the Faith. Everyone has life experiences to share. I’ll bet you can learn wonderful things from your priest and that he can learn wonderful things from you that are more easily shared in family setting than at the back of church after Mass.
- It’s a way to encourage vocations. Supporting our priests means supporting their vocations. When a priest – or anyone, for that matter – feels supported, appreciated, and encouraged, they’re far better able to live their vocations with authenticity and fervor. If you have children (or grandchildren), they’ll get the message that priestly and religious vocations are honorable and vital. It sends a message to friends and neighbors that you value your priests, which in turn helps them to value the priestly vocation.
- It’s a way to give back to the parish. When we support our priests, we support our parish and by association, the Church. When a priest feels loved and fortified, he’s better able to serve in his capacity. This is true, by the way, of priests of all kinds – those acting as parish priests but also those who are members of religious orders and serve God’s people in other capacities.
- It’s an act of Christian charity and a corporal work of mercy. Face it. Priests are busy, busy guys who seldom have time – or energy – to cook for themselves. They’re on the go, expending their energies for our sakes. Occasionally, priests will have parishioners who will drop off meals for them (another way to support your priests, hint, hint), or they may be able to hire someone to come in at intervals, cook, and store meals in the freezer for them. A real, freshly home-cooked meal can be a real treat, a great reward and blessing for a priest who isn’t able to cook for himself.
Please. Get over your hang-ups, stop worrying or assuming, and give it a try. Invite your parish priest for dinner. If he can’t do dinner, try lunch or going out for coffee. Yup, it could feel a teeny bit awkward at first. So what? We’re all human, and your priest knows that as well as you do. But, if you only dare to extend a hand of friendship and appreciation to him, you’ll be bountifully rewarded and so will he.