by Father Mark Goldasich
I love a good Hasidic tale. Check this one out:
It was customary back in the days of Rabbi Naftali for the rich people of the city, whose homes were on the outskirts and rather isolated, to hire men to watch over their property at night.
Late one evening as the rabbi was out for a walk, he met one of these watchmen walking back and forth. The rabbi asked, “For whom do you work?”
After telling the rabbi who had hired him, the guard asked, “And for whom do you work, Rabbi?”
The watchman’s words struck the rabbi’s heart. He replied, “I’m not sure whether I work for anyone or not.” The rabbi then walked in silence for some time with the watchman. Finally, the rabbi asked, “Will you come and work for me?”
“Oh, Rabbi,” replied the watchman, “I should be honored to be your servant! But what would be my duties?”
Rabbi Naftali answered quietly, “There is but one: to keep reminding me of that question.” (Adapted from Brian Cavanaugh’s “Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement.”)
For whom do you work?
That’s the question I’ll be mulling over this coming Sunday, as World Priest Day is celebrated. As you’re probably aware, Worldwide Marriage Encounter is sponsoring this day on Oct. 25, in conjunction with the Serra Club’s Priesthood Sunday. As stated in the Marriage Encounter press release, the purpose of this special day is “to celebrate and affirm the men who commit their lives to the Lord and the Church via the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is an opportunity for Catholic parishioners to thank, affirm and share their love and support for priests.”
Happily, most priests will say that we do feel appreciated on more than this one day. For example, one unusual and unexpected sign of support came my way after a funeral that I did recently. I received a beautiful sympathy card in the mail. At first I thought that it was sent to me by mistake until I read the words inside. One of my parishioners wrote: “I liked the card! Hopefully it lets you know I understand it’s not just ‘your job’; these are friends you bury. And, I recognize your loss and remember you in prayer.”
And coming on the heels of that card were a couple more notes: one from Josh, a student at John Paul II School in Overland Park; another from Sara, a third-grade School of Religion student from Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish, Overland Park. Written in honor of World Priest Day, both thanked me for being a priest, spreading the word of God, and “teaching lots of kids like me how to love God, go to church and be kind to one another.”
These notes answer the question posed by that watchman (and modified a bit here): For whom do you work, Father?
First and foremost, priests work for and with Jesus. If I could ask folks to encourage priests about anything at all, it would be to encourage us to take time to listen to Jesus through prayer, Scripture study, spiritual reading, meditation, and participation in Jesus Caritas groups, to name just a few. We priests can’t hope to teach others to love and follow Jesus, if we don’t take time to get to know him well ourselves.
Secondly, priests work for the Body of Christ, the people in our ministries and beyond. Following the pattern of Jesus, the “suffering servant” that the prophet Isaiah spoke about last Sunday, priests commit themselves to put the needs of others ahead of their own.
Obviously, priests are not perfect. We are sinners walking the road of faith, as are our parishioners. We can be cantankerous, lazy, distracted, stubborn, weary and impatient — qualities shared by all flawed human beings. But hopefully, we balance out those less desirable qualities with an abundance of humility, humor, support, encouragement, generosity, simplicity, availability and compassion.
I hope that World Priest Day will be a call for parishioners to become priests’ watchmen, to watch over us through prayer. Since Pope Benedict ushered in this Year for Priests (which lasts until June 19, 2010), it’s spawned a slew of prayer resources, the most convenient being a holy card with a prayer for priests. While the workload for priests has increased dramatically, our numbers have not. On those days when I can’t pray as much as I want (and should), it’s comforting to know that my watchmen are out there praying for me and protecting me from harm.
And it’s those same watchmen who will keep that question ever before me — For whom do you work, Father? — and will continually call me to realign my priorities and become more like Jesus, who came “to serve, not to be served.”