Friday, June 22, 2012

"What Lay People Are Looking for from Their Priests," Part IV

More from my recent address at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati priestly convocation ...

4.     We need you to be present fathers.

We live with a crisis of fatherhood in our country today.  Many fathers are unknown or later disappear, or are present in the photo album but not at Tuesday night dinner, because the office has taken a greater priority than the family.

Priests are true fathers.  We need you to be fathers.  We need you to be present. 

In one month and a day, I am going to be married.  The priest who prepared Brad and I for marriage is in a religious order living in a different state.  He is a vocations director.  It just so happened that the time that we were most available to meet with him extensively was during April – a month that is filled with meetings, reference calls, psychological evaluations and other activities for a vocations director.  Yet, our priest met with us for an entire weekend, eager to see that we were well prepared for the Sacrament.

At the conclusion of our meetings, we asked if he was familiar with the Rite of Betrothal.  We knew very little about the rite ourselves, but we knew it existed and were interested in becoming “betrothed,” not just “engaged.”  He promised to look into it.

The next day, Father contacted me and asked if we would be available the following evening before my plane departed, for him to celebrate the Rite of Betrothal. 

We entered the chapel, where he spent the next hour, not only celebrating the Rite of Betrothal, but also a private Mass, with a homily and petitions prepared just for Brad and me. 

I cannot begin to tell you how touching it was that a priest who is particularly busy (and I know, all priests are always busy) would spend an hour on a Monday evening praying with one engaged couple and celebrating Mass  for us.  When he said, “This is the Lamb of God,” and held our Lord only inches away from our faces, I knew that Jesus really was loving me in the particular way in which He loves each of us.

This priest was a present father to us – spending hours over a weekend, sharing meals, taking the time to research a now-rare Rite in the Church and celebrating Mass for us.  Father is a vocation director, not a parish priest.  He had no obligation to lead our marriage preparation.  This was a priest whose fatherhood was evident in his interactions with us that weekend.  This was a priest who touched us both with his love of the human person as a unique and unrepeatable gift from God. 

It is rare for us to have a conversation with another person that is not interrupted by a text, a tweet, a facebook update, an e-mail, a cell phone alarm or a phone call.  It is rare to have the undivided attention of another whose eye contact, focus and engagement witnesses to the belief that each person is unique and unrepeatable.

In fact, a study in the United Kingdom last year found that on an average “night out,” adults spend 48 minutes on their smartphone.

It seems that a key component of the New Evangelization is “simply” to be present. 

Easier said than done, certainly, especially with the rigors of parish life.

But we need present fathers.

We need you to engage us in conversation, to remember our names, to ask us about our families, our schooling, our hobbies.

We need you to spend time with families during dinner.

We need you to have conversations without being distracted by non-urgent phone calls, e-mails and texts.

We need you to be interested simply because we have been entrusted to you as your sons and daughters in the faith. 

One of my high school students told me of a priest he knows who calls every one of his parishioners on their birthdays, taking an hour or two of his time each day, but it is a task that he finds important, and therefore finds the time necessary to execute. 

We need you to model fatherhood for men who are striving to be fathers to their families.  And we need you to model fatherhood to all those in your parishes, schools and communities who do not have a present father.

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