Of Parish Priests, Past and Present

Today’s feast of St John Mary Vianney is a reminder to pray for all parish priests. I sometimes think we forget that, so busy are we enumerating their shortcomings or indulging in various kinds of ‘if onlys’. Yet without their fidelity and sacrifice, where would we be? And how can any priest be truly faithful in what is often a difficult and lonely task if we do not support them with our prayer?

I tend to go through a private list of those I remember with particular affection, beginning with those of my childhood and youth. There were the Jesuits who ran the parish of Corpus Christi and preached interesting homilies which made one think as well as pray; then there was Fr Fisher of Holy Redeemer, a new parish, where he lived a life of great austerity such as St John Vianney would have approved, and was a gentle encourager in the confessional, all the while raising money to build a church. Then there was Fr Jacob, a truly patriarchal figure, whose rather uncertain artistic taste was equalled only by his warm heart and delightful tendency to start announcements with the phrase ‘On behalf of Our Lord I’d like to say . . .’ I think, too, of one outstanding confessor, Fr Ignatius, who brought to the confessional immense insight and compassion, though not without challenge, too.

Among the living I pray especially for my priest friends, few of whom are actually parish priests but whose priesthood has been an enrichment of my own life and the lives of others, who are an alter Christus for us all. I also pray for those priests I’ve known who did not live up to their calling — those who were guilty of child abuse; those who struggled with addictions to alcohol or gambling; those who upped and left, feeling a failure and burdened, often, with a terrible sense of guilt and sin.

If you happen to be a priest reading these lines, please know that you are prayed for daily and that I am grateful, indeed, very grateful, for all you are and do. If you are not a parish priest, please make time to pray for those who are, including those who have retired from active ministry.