Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bothering Our Pastors

At a Sunday afternoon Regina Caeli address, Pope Francis instructed the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square to:
“Bother your pastors, disturb your pastors, all of us pastors, so that we will give you the milk of grace, of doctrine, and of guidance.” (watch the short 2 minute video of his address below)

The Pope spoke these words after providing an analogy of the faithful to a hungry calf, who will bother its mother until she feeds it the milk it needs. He describes the calf "knocking" at the udder of the mother until it is able to drink freely of her milk.

These words struck me hard for several reasons:
  • I hate to be a bother.
  • I always feel like I am being a bother when I have a question (or several).
  • I preface nearly every conversation with my priest/spiritual director with either the thought in my head or the words on my lips: "Father, I hope I am not bothering you, but..."
I don't think I am alone in this. I have heard many friends express the same hesitations. The conversations go something like this..."I really don't know what God expects me to do and I would love to ask Father, but I don't want to bother him." of "I have a question about church teaching x, but I can't ask Father because I don't want to bother him." 

Are you with me?  Have you said that too?  I bet you have. It seems to be a nearly universal sentiment among the Catholic faithful I know. 

Which leads me to ask the next question - why do we think we are bothering our priests by asking them questions about our faith, the Lord, the church's teaching or by seeking guidance in how to live our lives according to God's plan?  

I propose that there are several reasons why most Catholics are reluctant to bother our priests:
  • We have heard the our priests are stretched too thin, overworked and out of time. So, naturally, as good Catholics we don't want to lay additional burdens on them. 
  • We have had a bad experience with approaching a priest and being brushed off by him. 
  • We think our questions are unimportant or not worthy of our priest's time. 
  • Our own pride gets in the way and we find ourselves using the aforementioned reasons as convenient excuses. 
Here are a few suggestions for overcoming this "I hate to bother Father mentality":
  • Yes, priests are busy. So are lay people. We all have busy lives. However, most priests I know rejoice over a person who sincerely wants to learn and grow in their faith and welcome the opportunity to help by answering questions and providing guidance. These conversations are encouraging to our priests and provide them with opportunities to exercise the ministry for which they have been ordained. Plus, they get to talk about the love of their lives - our Lord Jesus! 
  • Having said that, we do need to be respectful and considerate of Father's time. It is not realistic to expect Father to answer your burning questions while he is walking into church to celebrate Mass that is scheduled to start in 5 minutes. Instead, call the rectory and make an appointment to sit down with Father in his office. Try to come prepared for that appointment with the issues you wish to discuss, or better yet, let Father know in advance what you wish to speak with him about. 
  • Invite your parish priest over for dinner or dessert. Let him know that your family would like to ask him a few questions about the faith over this meal. After my husband and I experienced our conversion, we would invite our parish priest over for "Q and A" sessions over dinner. We would write our questions on a chalkboard which hung in our kitchen. All three of us have wonderful memories of those evenings spent together sharing both great food and the goodness of the Lord and as a result our parish priest has become a dear friend. 
  • Have you had a bad experience with a priest? "Church hurts" can be tough ones to recover from. It is important to remember that one priest's behavior is not indicative of all priests - we need to avoid the "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" attitude. Ask the Lord for the grace to forgive the priest that hurt you. You may want to share that hurt with another priest in the sacrament of Confession. The kindness and compassion of another priest, and the grace of the Lord's mercy and healing that is available in that Sacrament can go a long way towards repairing the damage caused by those hurts. 
  • Pray against any spirit of pride, and ask the Lord to give you a child-like humility. The enemy of our souls would like nothing better than to lock us up in a prideful attitude which will prevent our growth in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Pray, too, for your priests, that they may be strengthened and encouraged in their vocation. 
Let us ask the Lord together to help heed the challenge of our Holy Father so that both we and our priests may all grow in relationship with each other and with the Lord.

Read More Related Posts:
Pope Francis Do's and Don'ts of Mercy
What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession?
7 Lessons From Pope Francis

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