The Flip Side of the Roman Collar

In my last post, I discussed how the Roman collar/being a priest or seminarian opens the door to some very interesting conversations.  However, there is another side to the coin.  Sometimes, people start telling us things that we would rather not hear, or we field the same questions so many times that some of us (i.e. me) think about carrying FAQ cards in my pocket to hand out to people.  Like all vocations, the priesthood has its ups and downs.  Whereas every once and a while a priest may hear a Confession so sincere that it marks an obvious sign of God’s grace, I’ve hear priests say hearing grade school Confessions (especially during Lent, when every Catholic school offers Confession) is like being pelted with popcorn.  You can only hear so many “I once hit my sister” Confessions before you begin to lose focus and/or sanity. 

The other day, I was working in my parish’s garden.  One of the gardeners whom I had never met came up to me and gave me a few instructions.  Within five minutes, she had expressed her strong dislike of my parish’s priests, told me how this parish had been going down hill since my last pastor left, and sternly told me not to “be like that.”  Such is the flip side of the coin.  I abhor gossip(which is distinguishable from blowing off steam, methinks) enough as it is, and I feel dirty just listening to people make such comments.

Every priest/seminarian has encountered such things, and every one has been annoyed by it.  I try to put a positive spin on these types of encounters.  Whereas talks about celibacy and Catholicism are mostly for the benefit of the other person, these annoying conversations are for the benefit of the priest, giving him a chance to exercise patience, restraint, and charity. The priest has to be very careful regarding what he says.  Everything he says gets spread around the parish like wildfire.  Not only that, but mean words from a priest tend to stick with a person for the rest of their lives.  While I can only recall a portion of the times that I have been chewed out by laymen, I can probably recall most if not all of the times I’ve been chewed out by priests.  The priest has a lot of power over souls.  He can do great good, but he can also do a lot of harm.  Hence, I say it’s better to be silent in those situations than to let one’s temper go, even if only a little.

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