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.