Thursday, June 05, 2008

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Ever get in one of those really rotten moods where no matter what you say or do, the entire day just gets worse minute by minute, hour by hour? Ever find yourself stewing and brooding over the petty and stupid remarks, complaints and/or demands thrown upon you when you are feeling your absolute worst? It is then that Our Lord will occasionally send us a little boost known as a consolation. Not a genie in the bottle with three wishes nor a goose that lays golden eggs, but a little respite from the ratrace, a small detour or rest-stop to allow you to catch your breath and keep things IN PERSPECTIVE. That happened to me recently. After a nearly three hour Finance Committee meeting where my blood pressure almost rivaled the nuclear incident at Three Mile Island atomic reactor plant, and weeks of haranguing criticisms and complaints over piciune and peripheral issues not related to the salvation of souls, I then got a nice email from a parishioner. I had been down the dumps all day and never expected to get any happy or positive message, at least not on that day.

He went out of his way to thank me and congratulate me on my 20th anniversary of priesthood and to express his gratitude that I have been his pastor for the past six years and that the Bishop just reassigned me for another six-year term. He thanked me on behalf of himself, his wife and his children. He expressed appreciation for the spiritual, theological, fiscal and physical care I have provided for both parishes under my care. It was so nice to read something nice for a change. It is so easy to be obsessed with the few complaints and to allow the vocal minority to cloud your view. Being a Sicilian makes it even more difficult since we never forget anything and take everything to the grave, if you know what I mean. Nevertheless, like a visit to Martha, Mary and Lazarus, even Jesus spent a little down time with people who appreciated Him and who expressed that appreciation. He did not spend 24/7 with His enemies and opponents. He did go away to pray and He did find time to relax and rejuvenate. If Our Divine Lord did that, who are we to think we can do without? Especially we priests, deacons and bishops, i.e., those of us in Holy Orders who are the public face of the Church, often bear the brunt of people's ire and anger for something WE DID NOT DO but sadly one of our colleagues did (or did not) do. The scandals only intensified the situation like cranking up the heat under the frying pan.

When you go to a restaurant and the service or the food is not up to snuff, it is easy to complain to the manager or if the service stinks, to leave a small or no tip whatsoever. We have no problem expressing our displeasure at cold soup, lukewarm coffee or if our special request to remove the onions was not observed. It is easy to identify the bad attitudes or poor service we get in public by those who serve the public. The rude teller is easy to report to the store manager. What about the good one? Why don't we make the same effort with the same zeal to identify a good worker to their boss? Why don't we make a point to tell the manager that the meal was superb and the service impeccable?

A priest friend of mine was called in to see his bishop. Whenever you get that call, your stomach sinks and you wonder "what did I do now?" Worse yet is when the Chancery calls you on Friday and makes you wait all weekend until Monday to see the Bishop. Gives you 72 hours of living hell imagining every possible worse case scenario. Well, my colleague went to the Diocesan HQ and saw the Boss. His Excellency began by saying "I got a letter the other day." Someone had written the bishop about one of his priests. The Bishop proceeded to say that 90% of the correspondence he gets is negative, pejorative and often petty. Much is just a difference of opinion, some is nothing more than someone bellyaching and occasionally there are the real, significant and urgent problems that need to be addressed and corrected ASAP.

This particular case, however, the Bishop read aloud a letter thanking him for sending Father X. to their parish. While not perfect and not yet a saint, this priest won the admiration and gratitude of this parishioner, his spouse and his entire family. The Bishop said he would like to get more positive letters and whenever he does, he shares them with the priest since the negative ones are too easily taken out of context and never forgotten. My friend literally wept since it was the first time his Bishop gave him a compliment. Not only did he get a positive letter from a parishioner but the Bishop also added his own words of appreciation for the work done by this priest.

This is why I urge my parishioners at least once a year to consider making an effort to recognize the waiter or waitress at their favorite restaurant by complimenting them to their boss. I urge them to compliment the doctor on his or her receptionist and on their nurses who rarely get thanked. I ask parents to send a letter at least once a year to the principal about one of your children's teachers, expressing your appreciation for their hard work. When I preach a mission or give a spiritual talk in another parish, I exhort the people to at least once a year write their Bishop and thank him for their pastor, parochial vicar and deacon. All too often we only WRITE to complain and criticize. All too frequently, we forget to ENCOURAGE those who serve us on a regular basis. Why wait to when Father is being transferred to express your appreciation of his priestly ministry to the Bishop in the hopes of getting him to stay? Better to let the Bishop know NOW about his good priests and deacons. Likewise, write the Nuncio to commend and compliment the good Bishop you have. Definitely write if you have bad, mediocre or inadequate clergy, but do not stop there. Whenever you encounter a good, holy, devout priest who does his job, celebrates a reverent Mass, preaches and teaches orthodox doctrine and who lives an exemplary and scandal-less life, then tell his superior once in a while. If we identify and recognize the good and the bad, perhaps more good will appear and less bad. It's worth a try.


Dan L. said...

Dear Sweet Father:

After reading this post...

I really, really feel for your own really, really touching and close personal feelings. God bless you, Father.

If it is just as simple as an email to help lift you, let me suggest...

We, me, or anybody...often visit your blog and adore your posts. I, or we, or us, sometimes comment. I understand you are likely maxed out, as probably all priests are, so though, being the trusting soul that you are, and the commitment you have made (so big, so immense, God love you), give us...

...HELLO!...a chance to help you.

I have seen comments on your cool and grateful they are....but they go unanswered. That, in itself, is entirely understandable. But...if you, Father, whom many as I do...really admire, please....

Let some us know you even READ our slim commentary to your very well and fine posted blog pages, OK? I have read here, in your post, you are much assisted by a very loving email to you....May God love you even more, but...

Who has your email? I understand you would not want the world to have that, yet, consider please that even as we visitors share your blog with you, we too, love you, and you might yet come to know our love....

...if only we knew you knew, or if only we knew how you know.

Most Sincerely,

--Dan L.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

thanks for the kind words. I think if my Blog program made it easier to answer as well as post responses, then I would reply to every one. Right now, when a response comes in, I see at an email and click an option to post it but there is no option to reply to it. I have to go manually to the Blog space and do it. Yes, I know, LAZY, but what can I say, I'm Italian. We only sweat when it's hot, not from doing too much work.

Dan L. said...

Thank you, you are the bomb.

The bees knees.

When you need love, we are certainly here, and SO MUCH appreciate our priests.

--Dan L.

LarryD said...

Great post, Father - gave me interesting things to think about, especially in the area of giving positive feedback. I heard somewhere or other that the ratio of positive comments to negative comments ought to be 4:1. Most of the time, I think I reverse that, esp. to my kids. So thanks for the reminder.

And speaking of "downtime" - have a safe and refreshing Catholic Answers Alaska Cruise next week. Hope to read some posts of your experience. Watch out for the melting icebergs and drowning polar bears! :-)

Sister Mary Martha said...

Congratulations on your anniversary. One of my readers sent me your way. Happy to find you.

Kit Brookside said...

Amen to all you say here, Father. I work with another attorney who left the same firm I did because the atmosphere was so constantly negative, the partners regarded staff as cogs in the machine, not as human people, and acknowledged mistakes far more often than a job well done (unless you happened to settle a lucrative case!). The work was plentiful but the environment was toxic. We just couldn't stand it, but the thought of going it alone was scary, too, as we both had young families to support. Within 6 months of each other, though, we decided it was not worth spending 8-10 hours each day being miserable and wondering who was going to snipe or backstab at you on any given day, so we left, to the shock of many, and with all sorts of threats from the partners if any clients followed.

When we opened our current office, we could barely afford the basic bills, let alone a receptionist, but we swore that when we had employees, we'd make openness and gratitude a priority - praising the good things at least as often as correcting the not-so-good. We tried it out on each other until we banked enough money to afford a part-time receptionist.

Two years later, we have three employees who will tell you that they love their jobs AND their bosses. Two even tease us for being so quick with the thank-you's, while the third, who was a paralegal at the old firm, nods her head in appreciation of what we're doing and why we're doing it, and tells them "you have no idea what it's like NOT to be thanked for two years straight, no matter how hard you work."

I try to carry that "attitude of gratitude" over to other areas, too - if I am dealing with a customer service issue and calling a helpline, an insurance company, whatever, I remind myself to be polite to the person, no matter how frustrating the problem might be. Even if the first person I talk to can't solve the problem, I make sure to tell the supervisor that the first person was nice, did a good job, was helpful despite not getting the answer I needed, etc. (as long as they were, of course). More often than not, it is worth the effort, but it is definitely a hard habit to pick up in the culture of negativity and sarcasm all around us.

Anyway, ramble over...and I am eternally grateful to you, Father, for writing the book with Fr. Ken that got my underchatechised cradle Catholic husband up to speed and re-committed to his faith. :) said...

Well, this puts me in a pickle. After reading your post, I WANT to write the Bishop thanking him for the priests who serve our parish/cluster.

However, on one level, it's going to gall me to thank His Excellency for The Jesuits! :)

Jackie Parkes said...

Wonderful post...gratitude is so important.Thank YOU Fr!

Anonymous said...

Hi Father T,

I do like your blog, Father, and my family appreciates your courage in stepping up to the plate day by day, to take on your priestly duties. So great to see you and dear Fr. Levis on EWTN! It does us laity good to see a priest like you both are, who, as you said, is a priest, first and foremost, rather than a politician or one concerned more with material things.

That said, in our previous rural corner of the Cdn woods (and in a particular diocese--I'm not lumping all together!), we learned that to make known to our Bishop our high regard for a particular pastor was not prudent. It seemed as if we were then regarded as "Father followers", and that the priest in question might be viewed more negatively by the Chancery Office. Perhaps the bishop than worries that we might follow a priest rather than the Church???? Represented, of course, by the Bishop??? I'm not sure--but the lack of enthusiasm for any sort of positive encouragement for a priest on the laity's part did not seem to be received at all well.

Rest assured, though, that if for one minute, we could know that our support and admiration of our parish priest would be kindly received by our Bishop, we would not hesitate to do so, and in spades!

God Bless and Mary love you for all you do in the building up of the Church.

Embattled Catholic

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