By Sherry Brownrigg
On the day of my brother’s ordination to the priesthood, I watched him in awe as the sacred ceremony unfolded. He prostrated himself, received his vestment and pledged his allegiance to the Church through the archbishop. My little brother had become a priest!
Moved by the ceremony and visions of how my brother would serve, I thanked God for his vocation and prayed silently for a holy and successful priesthood. Then God whispered His response to my heart, “for the rest of your life.”
“What for the rest of my life?” I asked Him. “Pray for him, love him and support him,” He replied. My first thought was that I already do that, so boom. Done. But in the years that followed God showed me what He really meant. He showed me just how much my brother – and other priests – would need my support.
As Catholics, our view of the priests at our parish is often one dimensional. He is there celebrating Mass, smiling as he greats us afterward, maybe we run into him at another church function. We often view the priesthood as just a job – this is what a priest does for a living – and we may not get to see what happens or know him well behind this public face.
There is an incredible depth to the spirit world beyond the naked eye, and it’s never more apparent than when contemplating the priesthood. Upon the ordination of a priest, a spiritual and ontological (his state of being) change occurs. He is still human of course; however, this change imprints an indelible spiritual mark on his soul and allows Christ to work directly through the priest.
As a human, he is still subject to all the things that we experience such as loneliness, sorrow, poor health, envy, and the general messiness of life. I’ve seen these lived out in my brother’s life and the lives of many other priests. One day during lunch with a priest friend, he told me he had celebrated the funeral of someone from the parish just the day before.
It was a small parish in rural Nebraska, and this man was a dedicated volunteer, showing up and helping the priest when no one else could. As the priest told me how beautiful the funeral was and how the family had leaned heavily on him for solace and understanding, tears welled up in his eyes. He looked up at me and said, “And I lost a very good friend whom I dearly loved.” No one had thought to comfort the priest who had lost one of his best friends.
Priests are also a primary target of Satan who seeks to take them down, knowing he can also take down a large number of followers of Christ with every priest that falls. Due to the fallen nature of many of his brothers, the faithful priest often now bears the scorn of the public who see all priests as abusers. One priest I know was just finishing hospital visits when a young man spat on him in the elevator while calling him every name in the book.
Yet the priest’s ultimate goal is to pour his life out for each of us in loving service to the Father, just as Jesus did. He aches for our souls that need to be saved, and he has been charged by Christ, the head of the Church, to guide us safely to our eternal home in heaven. As women, we have a very high capacity to love. And as Catholic women, we have a very special role in loving and supporting our priests.
We can follow the example of the Blessed Mother, who by virtue of being the Mother of the Son of God is also the Mother of all priests, and answer the call to Spiritual Motherhood. If that is not your calling, you can simply use the gift that God has given the feminine heart to be open and receptive to the needs of others. Resist the temptation to simply see your pastor as the CEO of a little business, forgive his homilies and bad singing voice, support him even if it’s just with your smile, allow him to be the spiritual father to you and your family he has been called to be, pray for him, and above all, work on your own holiness.
Venerable Fulton Sheen once talked about the effect a holy priesthood has on the laity, but the opposite is also true. The holier we are, truly living a Christian life, the holier -and more supported – our priests will be.
About the author:
Sherry Kennedy Brownrigg is the founder and president of the Kennedy Brownrigg Group, a PR and marketing firm working in the Catholic marketplace. She lives in Omaha with her husband Steve and new puppy, Gilly, hopes to be a saint someday, and her worst fear is not being of use in God’s kingdom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love this! How true it is. We all should take time to invite our beloved priests to dinner or some other way to let them know how much we value them. My husband has taken two of our priests to college hockey games, on separate occasions, and they both were so happy to be invited to something that they may not have had the opportunity to enjoy. They are human beings that God has chosen to teach and lead us and as you said, “to get us all to Heaven”. Thank you and thanks for the reminder to always smile and thank our priests at the very least.
Gwen, such a beautiful witness to the power of love!
I don’t know if all archdioceses have this program but the one I live in does. It is a Spiritual Mother group. Anyone wishing to be a Spiritual Mother to a priest signs up and signs an oath that they will pray for a priest everyday. You are then sent the name of a priest, his address, Birthday and ordination date as well as a prayer. You are never to reveal the name of your priest to anyone and your priest is not given any information about you. I have never met my priest but have been praying for him for years and sending him cards and gifts for his birthday and anniversary all signed from his Spiritual Mother.
Linda, this is so beautiful! You have such a generous heart. 🙂
Linda, I know that a number of dioceses do have this, and it is a great idea!
I am a priest, Sherry’s writing says it all. Priests need good, holy friends and families that will “take them in”.
God be good to all who love and care for priests!
Fr. Khouri, thank you for your comment. You will forever be in my prayers from now on!! God’s blessings to you and all whom you serve!
bmbtnow.com. for over 30 years we have been praying for holy priests and that includes more vocations to the holy priesthood. Our Blessed Mother is the Foundress of this Mission of Love for Priests.
Claire, I just visited your website, and your writings and mission are beautiful!! I am part of an apostolate called Maria Regina Cleri (prayingforourpriests.org), and we also encourage prayer for priests. It’s wonderful to hear that our Blessed Mother is bringing about many groups to pray for her priests – together we can get them all covered! I’d like to talk further about how we can work together – I’ll be in touch. God bless you!
Sherry, this is a beautiful reflection and I have to say I am convicted, because I do not pray for priests as often as I should. But I vow to from this day forward. After the last big round of priest scandal blowups, our pastor said he had never before felt shame at admitting that he is a priest. We do forget that they are human and have human struggles just like we do. The story of the priest in the elevator just about broke my heart. Thank you for this outstanding sharing.
Thank you so much, Donna. I have heard that over and over – good priests who struggle each day to overcome the shame and harm that their brother priests have wrought. My heart broke when that priest told me his story, and I cry even today when I remember it. I think the Lord wants us to have our hearts broken so we can respond. God bless you!
We just began a Seven Sisters Apostolate in our parish. WONDERFUL program: seven women each choose a different day of the week that they will pray only for their pastor during Adoration. If you get more than seven women, the second circle’s prayers focus on the associate. http://Www.sevensistersapostolate.org .
Ruth, I love the Seven Sisters Apostolate! I have a little apostolate that you can read about at prayingforourpriests.org. We have supplied many SSA chapters with our prayer books!