A couple of weeks ago I went to confession and instead of the crusty old monsignor (who just happens to be the the reason I drive 30 minutes to this parish to go to confession there) a young priest came back and walked into the confessional. I was intrigued. I had never seen this priest before. I was pleasantly surprised by the spiritual counseling that he gave me. My eyeballs about popped out though when, instead of the five Hail Mary's and five Our Father's I'm used to, I got five decades of the rosary for my penance. And then I was taken back when he granted me absolution in Latin.
I grabbed a bulletin on my way out hoping to find something out about this priest. Was he new to the parish? Was he replacing the monsignor? I found a little snippet about a request for prayers for this priest as he began his vocation. I went home, got online and found out that he had only been ordained four days earlier. I may have been one of the first confessions that this young priest had heard.
This got me to thinking about the life journey this young man was embarking on. I think as Catholics we tend to put priests in two different categories. We either put them on a pedestal and think that they can do no wrong or think of their vocation as just a job that anyone could do.
Some Catholics will think it's wrong to say anything bad about a priest. You can't say that a priest is boring. You can't criticize him. You can't critique him. This is silly. They are men. They are just people. Just like you and I. They have human emotions. They enjoys having a beer at a baseball game. They may give boring homilies. They enjoy jokes. They make mistakes. They are on a spiritual journey just as you and I are. They don't have all the answers ready to blurt out like some sort of computer.
On the other hand, there is something special about them. They have dedicated their life to God. They've made promises of celibacy and obedience. They receive the ability to act in the person of Christ (persona Christi) and are able to forgive sins and transform bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. I couldn't imagine the graces that our priests receive. I've been given many blessing--a wife and kids--but that doesn't compare to the blessings priests are given. I also haven't been asked to make the sacrifices that priests are asked to make.
For the last year, we have celebrated these men by dedicating the last twelve months as the "year of the priest." This was a good idea--to take the year and reflect on our priests and to take the time to appreciate them. Just as Valentine's Day is a day to remember our loved ones or Father's Days (cough--this Sunday--cough) is a day to treat our dads in special ways, the "Year of the Priest" was a year to treat our priests in a special way. But just like we shouldn't forget our loved ones or our dads when it isn't their respective holiday (in fact--I think we should treat our dads special 365 days out of the year) we shouldn't forget our priests now that the year is over.