Finally on the subject of this past week's Convocation of priests, I would like to share thoughts on what for me became a very powerful moment. Each afternoon a panel of three priests share a little about their priesthood experiences - the first day about their first assignments and on the second day thoughts on a difficult assignment. They told stories of struggles of personality with brother priests who were their pastors, or of a less than affirming experience with a superior, or of a particularly difficult situation in pastoral ministry. They told these stories with humor, and with wisdom in lessons learned, and of hurt and pain that they had to face before a transforming healing experience took place. I admire these men for the courage to share their joys and sorrows, and I respect their privacy.
There was one man who shared a struggle that I was not aware of. He is a good priest, always gentle, always positive, always affirming. He told of his first assignment with a curmudgeon of a pastor that made entry into ministry less than easy. He told of excellent assignments that strengthened his priesthood. Then he told of an assignment that was a "dark night" for him, a time of hurt and tension that left him drained and ill, an experience that nearly incapacitated him. He handled this difficulty, first with God's grace, but also with much prayer and therapy.
This struggle and pain was caused not by his superiors, not by the assignment itself, not by the lack of support from his brother priests, but by a few very determined and extremely nasty and vicious parishioners who did not know the definition of charity and whose level of respect - both for the office of pastor but even more importantly for the person of the priest involved - was hard to find. They made things so bad that he dreaded (feared may be a better word) ministering at the altar. They were cruel to the extreme, and they caused him great pain. He shared much of this openly with us, and as I said, I am in deep admiration of the man. Difficult as the struggle was, he did not allow it to embitter him or hamper him from being a bearer of the Lord's love. He came away hurt and changed, but stronger and better.
Do people know how cruel they can be at times? How demanding? How intolerant? How hateful? How destructive? I'm not sure. What I do know is that great as priesthood is, these days you are a target. And those who denigrate and disrespect the person or the office, especially publicly, need to come before the Lord and ask for forgiveness. There is some of that surfacing in the local Church these days, and it is undermining the fabric of the faith of our people.
May the Lord continue to bless this priest ... may he continue to bless this local Church ... and may he continue to bring us peace and joy of heart.