I have to admit that I've never really prayed for priests before. I know, as Catholics we are reminded to pray for them often. But when I pray, they are the last people I think to pray for. I mean, they are already holy, right?? Well yesterday, when I received not one, but three reminders to keep them at the top of my list. The first one was pure drama.
My sister and I were visiting a place that shall not be named because apparently, they also don't want be associated with this particular priest. We were invited to go to Mass before touring this place. You know me, the Catholic mom who wants nothing more than for her kids to grow up living and loving their faith; I try to sit right in front when we go to Mass. My kids aren't going to get nearly as much out of Mass if they can't see what's going on. Plus, I think it helps them to pay attention- in theory.
So, I sit in the second row with my brood, hoping they will be good- as good as a two year old, four year old, and baby will be-- after they've driven and hour and a half. For the record, I did let them run around for about 15 minutes before Mass began.
Mass starts and they still have the jitters. They were a little more bouncy than normal and more distracted. I did not think they were loud. Nothing above a whisper, except for my baby who was a little winy because he was hungry. No more "running to Jesus" this time, I thought. I'll wait until after communion to feed him. (Here's that little story if you missed that dramatic moment). I figured the priest would enjoy seeing kids there at Mass, anyway. I couldn't be more wrong.
During Mass, the priest payed extra attention to us and would stare at us- even stopping what he was doing to stare. At first, I thought he was maybe happy to see us...then things got weird. Before consecration, he stopped for 30 seconds to stare at me. Then during the Our Father, when we say "as we forgive those who trespass against us, he looked up and stared at me. It gave me the chills. We are supposed to think about people we haven't forgiven, why did he suddenly look at me? I thought. On the drive home, it all made sense.
As I walk out of Mass, the priest comes up and kindly asks my name. Then he puts his arm on my shoulder in sort of a confidential way and says, "You know, you really should have brought your kids into the foyer. It was incredibly distracting to me and the others in Mass." I tried to counter his nonsense with, But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me". His response: when they are at the age of reason and are able to sit quietly and still, then they are welcome into the church. If not, they belong in the cry room or in the foyer. You kids were wiggling, jumping, talking, running...yada, yada" I stop him short to squeeze in: they were not running! He said it didn't matter, they were a distraction. "You should be going to your own parish for Mass. This parish is for the students and faculty....You shouldn't be coming here...go to your own parish for Mass. " I tried to make an argument as to why my kids have every right to be there in front as anyone else, but he wasn't going to listen. He told me to be more docile and obedient.
It came to mind after the conversation who was the real distraction- to Jesus, ultimately. Not to mention during the Mass, when everyone was watching the priest watch us! In all respect for the Cloth, he more of a distraction to who Jesus really is than my children- in action, attitude and speech. My children, bouncy or not, mirror the face of Jesus more than adult. Jesus himself said we should all be looking toward the children to see how to pray to God! And talk about who deserves to be at the wedding feast of the Lamb- well, my children in their innocence and purity deserve more than any adult to be right there in front, praising Jesus with the angels. They may not be doing it the way the priest wants them to do it, but we are working on that too.
Bottom line: if my kids were talking out loud, really crying, or running around, I would have stopped them or taken them out if they couldn't be stopped. Believe me, I try my hardest to keep my kids away from any attention at Mass. No matter how hard I try, they will be jiggly, make some noises and whisper. I know Jesus doesn't care, so I try not to let any frowns around me me bring me down.
Back to the priest, I told him that I and my children will be praying for him. My sister, who witnessed this conversation, said it was the first time he didn't know what to say. I was serious too; we will be adding him to their nightly prayers- not out of spite, but in all love, for our brother in Christ.
This encounter made me realize how much weight is really on a priest's shoulders and how much more they are expected to behave as true models of Christ. Had this been anyone else, it wouldn't have been so disturbing. When we see priests behave badly, it shakes the very foundation of who we know Jesus to be. Later that night, I was even hesitant to go to confession because I didn't want to encounter another priest. In fact, as my husband and I drove to church, I said I didn't want to go to adoration. The feelings were so fresh. I know in my mind that priest and church don't mean that priest and church, but subconsciously, it was very slightly carried over. I could see how devastating this kind of encounter would be for someone who was not a frequent church goer. It made me more resolute in my decision to pray for that priest and all priests.
When we entered the church, Eric hands me a pamphlet that was sitting by the holy water font, A Rosary for Priests. I tucked it in my purse. I hope they don't mind, but I won't be giving it back.
Right as I was leaving the confessional, the priest said, "please pray for me". I will, I answered. I will from now on.