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.
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