Thank God for priests

November 13, 2006 | Background, Conversion | 6 comments

The discussion in one of my previous posts reminded me of something I’ve wanted to mention for a while:

I cannot describe how much I appreciate our priests. Every time I see a Catholic priest I’m filled with a sense of hope and closeness to God. The concept of devoting one’s life to God, being open to that call and heeding it when it comes, forgoing marriage, kids and being in control of your own life, all for the sake of God, is so inspiring to me.

These guys don’t hedge their bets. They’re betting it all that God exists. Unlike most of the rest of us, if the Catholic Church has it wrong and God as they describe him does not exist, then they’ve sacrificed pretty much everything for nothing. Even though I’m sure many priests experience periods of doubt, they’re still living their entire lives for their faith.

This has always been stunning to me. I was pretty sheltered from Christian thought growing up so I didn’t realize until I was older than priests really couldn’t get married and really did live their whole lives for the Church. I was shocked. As a person completely immersed in secular society, I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was almost like…they really believed.

In all the years I spent badmouthing Christians, I would always shut up when the topic of Catholic priests came up. Even as an atheist, I admired their faith. It was like nothing I’d seen in the rest of society. I was intrigued and impressed.

I remember a few years ago, before my spiritual journey had really begun but when my heart had softened from loathing Christians to just having a vague dislike for them, I was having lunch by myself at a restaurant. It was a beautiful day and I was sitting out on a large tree-covered patio. I’d brought a magazine to look through but found myself annoyed with all the garbage in it. It was full of cynical diatribes, scantily clad women, glitzy ads for overpriced crap that nobody needed. I wondered how our society had spiraled this far down the toilet as I set it aside. I thought to myself that more and more it seemed to me that something is very wrong with our world and I didn’t like what I saw. I felt a vague aloneness, not just in the restaurant but in the world.

Just then I looked up to see a priest, also sitting by himself, at a table near me. As I looked at him, a strong feeling came over me to go talk to him. I wanted so much to run over to his table, pull up a chair and ask him why on earth he was devoting his life to this God business, what had convinced him? What made his faith so strong? If God is so obvious to an intelligent-looking man like himself, why can I not see him?

But, fearing looking foolish and possibly offending him, I remained in my seat. As I returned to my lunch tears stung my eyes a little bit as I thought, “Thank God for priests.”

6 Comments

  1. Kasia

    More than likely he would have been happy to respond, but I can well understand your recalcitrance. Thank God for priests, indeed! They have more courage than I.

  2. Dennis

    When I was at an NFP conference last week, I saw a couple giving the standard witness talk about how they started out using fertility observation to avoid pregnancy without pills, and then gradually found themselves moving towards holy chastity in their marriage.

    The husband described how difficult it was to learn to sacrifice for his wife. When he spoke about learning to be chaste during fertile days so that he would not treat his wife as an object, his wife looked at him with such devotion and admiration that, I must admit, I had to squish my eyelids together to supress a tear.

    And I thought, how much moreso must I, as a seminarian, be willing to sacrifice for my betrothed, the Church, and for my future parishioners!

    Thanks for your essay. (And while writing this comment, I’ve decided to post the same sentiment to my blog. I hope you don’t mind.)

  3. M_David

    Unlike most of the rest of us, if the Catholic Church has it wrong and God as they describe him does not exist, then they’ve sacrificed pretty much everything for nothing.

    I’m not sure I agree with this part of an otherwise excellent post…if God doesn’t exist, we all have nothing to show for anything – nothing at all matters. It’s not just priests who are looking foolish!

    I would also say (and surveys show) a priest is at least as happy as any of us. Speaking from a strictly secular point of view, sacrifice is really the only thing that makes life have any meaning. Even if there is no God.

    Life is hard for all, and priests are indeed rewarded for their service in the present. Like all redemptive suffering, a priest harvests meaning from his sacrifice even in this age. As the Scripture says:

    Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

    “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”

  4. Adoro Te Devote

    It just goes to show that clericals really do make a difference! I’m quite certain that had you sat down with that priest, he would not only have answered your questions, but would have given you a blessing. And who couldn’t use a blessing? Even as an atheist?

    God’s grace overcomes all, and clearly, you were in a state of mind to cooperate with that grace. And look…even though you didn’t follow that impulse, God has still used that moment in your life to bring you closer to Him.

    Awesome!

  5. Anonymous

    I always love when I see priests or nuns out in public in their clerical garb. It really gives me a sense of security and peace.

    Unfortunately, in this part of the country, the anti-priest sentiment in so rampant due to the priestly abuse scandals that many priests do not feel comfortable wearing the Roman collar in public. It’s so sad, and my husband I both feel tremendous sorrow over the whole mess. I can’t imagine having devoted my life to my vocation and sacrificed so much only to have my chosen vocation the object of so much disgust and disdain by society at large. Priests really do need all our prayers during this time of such pain and confusion in the church!

  6. Father Kyle

    Jen,

    Thanks for the post, I certainly appreciate hearing things like this, as we priests all too often just hear the other side of things.

    What would I do if you stopped at my table? I hope I would have answered your questions with grace and understanding, please pray for me that I can do that if the opportunity presents itself.

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