My dear priests,
The thought of composing this letter came to me Saturday afternoon after I left the confessional and knelt down for my penance. I'm not sure why it came to me then and there, but what is important is that it did and I've a few things to say to all of you who hold the office of the priesthood in the Catholic Church and are faithful in the manner you carry out your vocation.
In all my years as a Catholic, I have been remiss in not expressing my gratitude for what you have done for God, me and the Church. I have been neglectful in offering my prayers of thanks to God for all of you. Not to say I don't pray for you, but it certainly is not often enough for the things that you do.
First, I want to thank you all for saying yes to God as our Blessed Mother did long ago, and allowing Christ to come to us through you as priests. Mary did it through her motherhood, and you through the power bestowed to you at your ordination. God plucked you out of the masses as ordinary men and made you ordinary priests to do extraordinary things. Yes, you are ordinary priests for the most part, but that is where I see your perfection as priests of God. Let me explain.
If I had had the chance to go to a Mass celebrated by Padre Pio, I probably would have been in awe. I would probably have come out of the church and remembered that Mass celebrated by a future saint for the rest of my life and recounted to my grandchildren that I once saw Padre Pio celebrate Mass. But you see, not all priests are a Padre Pio, or even an homilist that gives everyone an "ah ha!" moment every time they speak. Not all of you are called to be a great and powerful influence in the Church because God only chooses certain persons for specific purposes when He feels the time is right for the Church's needs. You may not be able to lay your hands on an invalid or sick person and see an instant miracle occur, and perhaps you may not be able lead your entire parish to a deeper conversion with your presence in the confessional, but that isn't the point.
The point is, when I go to Mass every Sunday I usually see it celebrated by you and what I see is an ordinary priest that can do the very same thing Padre Pio did at his own Mass: nourishing us with Christ. The fact that you are an ordinary priest and not famous, even nondescript if I may, means I am not focused on you as I would have been if you were Padre Pio. Instead I can focus on God, through your words and your actions at the alter. Without drama or flare you reverently recite the words of consecration that you know from memory, then you 'decrease' so that Christ 'increases', as He becomes present to us in the Host that you hold aloft. Very visible and and very real. That is what I remember at the Masses you celebrate and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
You may not think much of your homilies, but I can assure you that the prayerful time and effort you give to prepare that homily that comes from your lips on any given Sunday touches someone sitting in the pew. You may not know it, or get a pat on the back for a great homily, but then again, that is not the purpose is it? Someone sitting there needed to hear those words you spoke no matter how staid you think your homily was. It doesn't matter if the homily touches on many of the same things week after week, because we, being human, have a tendency to forget what is important at times and we need reminding often, especially after living in the secular world for a week, and your homilies do exactly that. I promise you. Someone is having an "Ah ha!" moment, and it's usually me. Thank you for that.
Ok, you made a mistake at Mass, so what? I don't care if you forget a prayer or stumble over one, or if you forget some action that you were suppose to do during Mass. We all have our days like that and I know you didn't do it deliberately. That mistake stands as a reminder that you were taken from our midst as an ordinary man, one of us, called to do the extraordinary and that is no small matter. No apology is needed from you, for again it is a reminder to me that you are human and we all make mistakes. Thank you for your humility. We notice.
Speaking of mistakes, or sins actually, remember how nervous I was when I entered the confessional Saturday? Remember how I told you that I very often feared and loathed coming to confession and having to publicly confess my faults, my shortcomings, my sins to another, a priest, because I found it humiliating and shameful? You told me I shouldn't feel any fear and what mattered is that I came anyway and that I was sorry for what I had done. Then you said the words of absolution. Just like that. No scolding or harsh words came from you, but words of encouragement to try and do better and advice on how to do just that. I know that it was Jesus that forgave me, but it was your face I saw and your voice I heard and it reflected Christ in every way. Through Christ, you healed me. Thank you.
With all the scandals that have happened because of some of your brother priests, I really don't know how you hold it all together, but I'm glad that you do. I know the temptation to remove your collar before going out in public on your days off must be strong, just to avoid those suspicious glances you get from people wondering if you are one of those priests. But with courage you wear it anyway. Let me tell you what it's like to see a priest wearing his collar in some unexpected place where I happen to be.
I was at Walmart one day and getting very annoyed at all the pushing and grabbing that was happening. I was in the middle of a sea of people, and I was quickly becoming anxious and claustrophobic. Then suddenly I thought I saw you walk by but I wasn't sure it was you until I saw your collar. Immediately my mood changed and I relaxed considerably. The sight of your collar had a soothing and healing effect whether you know it or not. It reminds me and others like me that no matter where I am, or what is happening, Christ is there. Thank you for being strong and wearing your collar. It means more than you know.
I once heard an actor portraying a priest in a movie say, "I didn't become a priest to judge you but to heal." I want to assure all of you, that is what you do as ordinary priests and you do it in an extraordinary way. I just wanted to thank you all for that. I truly am grateful to God for all of you.
The Ordinary Catholic