Virginia Barton

Cherishing our parish priests


Catholic Herald, 19 August 1988


It’s all change in our neck of the woods. Short of man-power, our bishop is re-shuffling such cards as he holds and our parish priest is moving on. He is under orders and has no choice, but it’s a traumatic time for his flock.

The news of his departure coincided with the end of the Marian Year. One of the ways that Year was marked in our church was a weekly recitation of the Rosary. This was attended by the usual stalwarts of the parish with a few irregular strays.

I suppose every parish has its hard-core, 90 per cent female and past the first flush of youth. They are the same people who disperse coffee after Sunday Mass, clean the church, arrange the flowers, organise the animal Jumble Sale, mend and launder the linen, and polish the brasses. There must be a special breed of  these faithful creatures, hardy perennials whose features would fit as well in a mediaeval Book of Hours as in the pews of the concrete boxes circa 1965.

Thank God for them! Should they desert the humble duties of patient toil, our churches could barely function.

I am ashamed to admit to undisciplined wool gathering. Coercing my thoughts into a coherent praying of the Rosary is akin to shepherding baa-lambs into a pen. Circling well below the Glorious Mysteries my mind was quite pre-occupied with the imminent loss of our PP and the possible identity of his successor.

It never occurred to me that there might not be a successor. I have referred before to “precious” priests, and anyone who has lived anywhere where they are thin on the ground, will appreciate the adjective. We expect them to be on hand to baptise, marry and bury us, and to celebrate the Mass. In fact we take them for granted.

The little fruit of that Rosary was the image of Our Blessed Lady devoting her entire life, body and soul, to God. If priests are Christ’s representatives on earth, perhaps we ought to make more space for them in our lives and replicate, however modestly, the example of Our Lady.

Particularly nowadays. Consider the priest’s role from his perspective. Dwindling congregations with an alarming fall-off among the young. Empty confessionals. Skimpy collections. Initiatives strangled at birth for lack of support. A dearth of altar boys and sacristans. A gloomy picture, but not unrealistic overall.

The priest is trying to build a community, he is not running a service industry. We all have an obligation to assist in the building of that community. The time and skills of parishioners should be at the disposal of the parish priest, let alone a proportion of income.

The priest is often a sociable fellow who enjoys an invitation to family gatherings; he is also poor, so a pair of socks, some soap or – dare I say it – tobacco, wouldn’t come amiss. No, not cosseting – cherishing.

And do parents suggest the possibility of a vocation to their sons and daughters? Or does such a notion run counter to the current ideology of the enterprise society?

Much muddled thinking re the status of women agitates many a column inch. While sorting out the strands and deciding exactly where we fit in, we could be making sure that our contribution to parish life is as generous as it should be. If Our Lady is our ultimate ‘‘role model”, our priests will not lack encouragement, and the next generation will not be short of these servants of God.




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