Were you aware that priests exist outside the walls of the church and that they work more than one hour a week?
One day many years ago, while I was student teaching, I encountered one of my second graders shopping with her mother in our local supermarket. When our carts met mid-aisle, her little eyes grew wide and she said in astonishment, “Miss Leslie, you SHOP here?” Apparently, it was the first time she had encountered a teacher in a real-world setting, and she was confused. “Yes, honey, I eat food too,” I replied with a laugh while surreptitiously sliding my box of triple-stuffed chocolate cookies under a bag of fresh fruit. “Even teachers are allowed to shop in the real world.” Her mother smiled in recognition, grabbed her little hand, and reached for the same cookies on the shelf.
It seems the little girl believed teachers magically appear each day in the classroom, instruct her in the finer points of the alphabet and numbers, then are deflated and packed away at the end of the school day. (Note to self: submit inflation/deflation proposal to local board of education. The amount saved in salaries would most likely offset the budget for helium tanks.)
Some Catholics subconsciously relegate priests to this out-of-sight, out-of-mind status too. Once Sunday Mass has concluded, have you ever wondered what priests do with the other 167 hours in the week?
I have been interviewing seasoned clerics for the milestone biography supplement of the newspaper, and I’ve been inspired by their diverse interests and good works. One cleric, realizing local media lacked a Catholic focus, created a radio program. Another learned English as an adult and now counsels Hispanic couples. Others have spread God’s Word in Guatemala, Africa, and India, still others have left financially profitable careers in music, the law, marketing, teaching, and construction to serve His people. Priests are God’s representatives in prisons, hospitals, schools and military bases; they travel and preach and heal and inspire every hour of the week, not just within the confines of an hour-long mass.
I heard the sad news that one of my priest interviewees died yesterday. The 80-year-old Monsignor had described his 55 years as a servant of God as a love story. “The priesthood is a ministry of love….You can’t be selfish, you have to be outgoing,” he told me just last month. Though his love story with God may have concluded on earth, it has just begun with Him face to face in heaven, and will continue to inspire those of us who remain.
So, the next time you see a priest during the other 167 hours of the week, say thanks and clasp his hand in gratitude. It never hurts to slip him a bag of fresh fruit (or a box of triple-stuffed chocolate cookies) either!