Encouraging the Clergy

The feast of St Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney, celebrated today, is the day we traditionally pray with special fervour and gratitude for parish clergy. Not being a priest, I don’t know how far the Curé d’Ars inspires, encourages or perhaps even daunts, those to whom he is presented as a role model. I have known parish priests who have followed a contemporary version of his austere lifestyle, living off the plainest food, denying themselves every luxury, leading a life of prayer and sacrifice in an effort to serve God and his Church. Others have been more relaxed in their approach to the good things of life and will doubtless recall that today is the day when Dom Pérignon allegedly invented champagne*. The one thing they have all had in common is an opinion about their bishop and the people they serve.

Criticism of the Clergy

It is easy to knock the clergy for what they are not. Every time I hear some sort of patronising comment or belittling remark, I shrivel up inside — not so much because I am hurt as because the perpetrator is hurting himself. Sadly, such remarks are often the result of the priest himself feeling a need to assert his value in the face of apparent indifference and disregard. Too many feel that their bishop has little connection with them and only a cursory interest in their concerns. Too many feel that their congregations are distant from them, critical of everything they say and do. As to the media, the lack of respect for Christian clergy, Catholic especially, is sometimes shocking in its intensity and hostility. We do not justify our own sins by reference to those of others. While no one would attempt to defend the terrible history of abuse and cover-up in the Church, it is wrong to assume that every priest is guilty or regard the guilt of some as justification for negativity towards all.

How to Encourage the Clergy and Why

So, on this bright and sunny morning, I wonder how to encourage the priests we know. We pray for them, of course. We listen. In happier days we were able to offer the hospitality of the monastery, a shared meal, discussion of matters of common (or even uncommon) interest. Sometimes what is most needed is probably reassurance, that what the clergy are and do matters. Occasionally, a challenge has to be thrown out, but always, I trust, with courtesy and love. The Curé d’Ars was plain-spoken, but no one ever left his presence feeling diminished. There is something there we could all learn from, clerical or lay. Together we build up the Body of Christ, or, as St Benedict says, serve alike under the banner of the same Lord, but to do so we must encourage one another. May I invite any clergy reading this to tell us, laity and religious, how we can encourage them in their particular task and mission?

*He didn’t, but he introduced some important improvements in method, quality controls, corks for bottling and so on.


7 thoughts on “Encouraging the Clergy”

  1. I have a Spiritual Director who is very devoted to St Jean Vianney and while not at all austere, his care for the parish, his love, concern and time giving to his parishioners is modelled on St. Jean.

  2. I was sacristan at my previous parish for over 20 years, and all the priests who served us were hard working, kindly men, available to their flock 24/7. (Even on their “day off”. I have seen too often how much work it took to arrange something special, and the disappointment when few parishioners came. I pray for our priests, and if they put something on, GO.

  3. Thank you for your column, and for the question that you ask at the end of it. I wish I could give you an answer – but I have never been asked the question before.

    Knowing that I am valued both as a human being and as a priest would be a good first step I think. And by that, I do not mean I want to be put on a pedestal, but to be loved like any other member of humanity and the Church. Being loved means be thanked when I get things right, lovingly and gently challenged when I do not, and accepted for all the bizarre gifts and talents that God has given me.

    Apart from that, prayers are always appreciated and welcomed – I need all the help I can get.

  4. Thank you for your post today and for the invitation to respond.
    I’ll offer that the best members of my parish can do for me is
    daily hold me in prayer that I grow in love and patience with them
    as well as in devotion to God and to the ministry to which I am
    Perhaps you might see the potential conflict that pertains. Thus,
    the great need for patience!

  5. Just seen this. We were celebrating our 48th wedding anniversary with (not Dom Perignon) but Aldi’s best and remembering the learned, saintly, fun and no nonsense Canon Emil Puttman RIP who married us. So many good and holy priests and I feel much sorrow that they have been associated by many, with the sins of others who have betrayed their Christian life and calling.
    It’s a hard life and often very lonely. In the old days there was usually a kindly housekeeper to keep the young curates in order (Canon P told me that they had to be ‘over 40 and plain of countenance’) – that says a lot! And there was a community of older and younger men and one wise woman. All gone now and unless we have an Anglican married convert, so so lonely. They really need our prayers and support.

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