For many priests that I know, one of their favorite and most vivid memories is the moment that they stood in the Cathedral immediately prior to their ordination. The Director of Vocations has just presented them to the Bishop and has spoken about their maturity and the training they have received. In response, the Bishop, speaking on behalf of the Church, officially calls these men to receive Holy Orders.
This is the moment at which a man’s vocation is confirmed and the whole community present rises up singing “Thanks be to God,” which is accompanied in the United States by loud applause. It is a very tangible statement of their love for their priests and their willingness to support them in the years to come. But do we do this?
This weekend, in our readings, we hear about another battle between the people of Israel and the forces of this world on their journey toward the Promised Land. It is a battle in which Moses, as leader of the people, has a very specific role to play – a role that only he can carry out, due to his advanced age, with the help of Aaron and Hur.
This story always reminds me of the countless people who go to great lengths to support the leaders of our parishes. These are the members of the various groups and movements in our communities, as well as the untold number of the faithful in the pews without whom the work of priests would be all but impossible to accomplish. No amount of thanks will ever be sufficient for all that they have done and continue to do each day.
However, the opposite is unfortunately also true, as there are many who fail to support their shepherds. My brother priests and I are far from perfect and from being holy. Yet, as a priest, nothing is more hurtful than hearing gossip and complaints about other priests, oftentimes over the most trivial matters. I have heard of people leaving churches over the vestments a priest wears, the way he cuts his hair, the music they play at Mass, and his favorite hobbies or pastimes.
While at times these responses are understandable, since no one is above criticism, still this attitude not only threatens the unity of the church but also delays the victory of the people of God over sin and evil, as we see in the reading.
So, we must support our clergy, and the reading itself shows us how. Aaron is a symbol of the spiritual support we are called to offer. We must pray for our priests. And the most effective way to do this is through fasting.
Many bishops have been encouraging the faithful to once again celebrate Ember Days. These specials days of fasting and abstinence, the last of which were in September and the next in December, contain special prayers to protect the vocations we currently have. Likewise, each Friday of the year is a day to abstain from meat. These days, too, are perfect for offering up a very small inconvenience for our priests and bishops.
But we must also physically support our priests, as Aaron’s companion, Hur, shows us. And while priests love the homecooked meals and desserts that are often shared with us, the best way to physically support our priests is through volunteering at our parishes.
Even the smallest of communities are complex businesses. And while the pastor may be in charge, he cannot do everything well. Volunteering for a committee, teaching catechism, or helping with repairs – though small things – go a long way to alleviate the burdens on our priests’ shoulders, freeing them up to do the true work for which they are called.
God has designed his Church in such a way that, while no one receives every gift and ability, each gift and ability is not only useful, but necessary, for bringing His Kingdom to fulfillment. We need to remember that, so that by supporting one another, especially our clergy, we may remain steadfast during the trials of this life until we, too, enter the Promised Land.
By Father Joseph Ganser, parochial administrator of Sacred Heart Parish, Palmerton.