As a child, my family had a close personal relationship with the pastor of our parish. He frequently dined in our home and was a visitor at holiday celebrations. In today’s age of priest shortages, I found myself wondering about what might be a way to support and encourage my current pastor during the holiday season.
For some answers and advice, I turned to Fr. Stephen J. Rossetti, director of the Saint Luke Institute and author of the new book The Joy of Priesthood (Ave Maria Press, September 2005, paperback, 221 pages) (1). Thanks to his work counseling priests, Fr. Rossetti was able to share an interesting and informed perspective on how Catholic families can be of support and encouragement to their parish priests during the holiday season. I’m pleased to share my conversation with Fr. Rossetti and invite your family to join mine in special prayers this holiday season for all of the priests who work so diligently on our behalf.
Q: Please tell us a bit about your own background and vocation.
A: People often ask priests why they became priests...my answer is simple but I believe it: God called me. In the end, that's the nub of it. John Paul the Great once said that God does not say 'yes' one minute and then 'no' the next. I believe God's call to me to be a priest is enduring and I pray for his strength to be a good one. I am grateful for this vocation, it has been a source of great grace for me, and I hope, for others.
I often marvel at how much energy people direct toward priests. If I walk in a public place, some people will smile and say something kind; others will be negative and project quite a bit of hostility. The figure of the Catholic priest is still a powerful symbol in our society, for some very positive, negative for others...but rarely neutral.
Q: Please describe your book and its primary message.
A: The book was originally meant as a kind of personal sharing between myself and my brother priests. I have worked with them personally and in their most vulnerable moments for 16 years, and so I wanted to share with them some things from my own heart and what I have learned from them...I am grateful to them for being a part of my life. However, I have been a bit surprised that people who are not priests have found the book helpful and interesting. Actually, I have been surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to the book in general. It is encouraging to me.
Q: How can Catholic families be of support and encouragement to their parish priests during the holiday season?
A: The people in the parishes might not realize it but they are really the 'family' of the priest. As a celibate individual dedicated to serving them, he looks to the people not only as one who builds community, but also as one who strongly needs this community as well. Together they work and pray. People are very generous to their priests which we especially see around Christmas time. Priests' offices are filled with Christmas cards and their kitchens are loaded with home baked cookies. While this is not always good for the waistline, it is important for the heart. My recommendation to the parishioners? Keep sending those cards and cookies! We appreciate your love more than you know.
Q: In today's busy age with the shortage of priests, is it realistic for Catholics to desire and maintain a familial type of friendship with their parish priests? How can families "bond" with or build a friendship with their Pastors?
A: This is a tough issue and one that I am very concerned about. I fear that our priests will have so many parishioners with several parishes that he won't have a chance to get to know them. Certainly he won't be able to go to all the social functions that the pastors used to go to, but there must be a personal connection between the priests and the people. This is important for both. Frankly, I don't know what to say about this. I guess I look to our priests and people to adjust to the new demands and come up with some new models and new ways of making it work.
Q: What would be an appropriate and appreciated Christmas gift for a parish priest?
A: Your best Christmas gift to a priest is to make a good confession, attend Mass regularly and bring your children. Nothing makes a priest happier than to see the faith and support of the people. When people are practicing their faith, it strengthens a priest's faith. I always find it edifying, for example, to give out communion during the Mass. I see the faith in the people's faces and it is encouraging to me.
Q: What types of difficulties do our priests face at this time of the year, and how can we support them?
A: Christmas is a very busy time of the year for priests, as is Easter. I know it is a very busy time for all the people too. Sometimes I think we don't need to do more, but we need to do less, that is, we need to focus on a few important things and then relax a bit more and spend time with our families.
If you are able to volunteer to help with a few Church things, perhaps your pastor needs a few extra helping hands. Most parishes do some projects for the poor and needy during Christmas or provide Christmas gifts to children - these are very important. Perhaps one of the best things you can do is to contact a Catholic friend who hasn't been to Church in a while and invite them to come to Christmas Mass with you. It could be the beginning of their road back.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to add on this topic?
A: It is heartening to me that, in these difficult days, there are so many faith-filled people who love and support their priests. I have found that this is really one of the major pieces of 'glue' that holds the Church together, the bond between priest and people. Keep praying for your priests and loving them. They are not perfect, thank God... God decided to ordain human beings like you and me, He did not ordain angels. Priests understand and have compassion for our weaknesses because they too are frail human beings. It is to save us all, priests and people, that God sent his Son.
- For more information on The Joy of Priesthood visit Amazon.com.
- (Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including CatholicMom.com, ChristianColoring.com and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at LisaHendey.com for more information.)