[dropcap type=”4″]W[/dropcap]e sat there in the restaurant, two women who have been friends for more than 30 years, and talked about the nine sons between us. There were times we wondered if we would survive (hello sleep deprivation and teenage shenanigans) or if we’d ever have an uninterrupted conversation again.
All nine are men now and tower over us.
One of those boys is studying for the priesthood and my friend shared how her son asked if she still had her wedding gown. Turns out that a new priest’s first vestments are sometimes made with a bit of fabric from mom’s dress.
But what really got me — and I must confess I got choked up as she explained — was the tradition that one of mom’s diamonds are sometimes used to adorn her son’s chalice. Weren’t we just pregnant with these boys?
These days, it’s the rare mother who can discuss her son’s vocation to the priesthood. I was perusing the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate’s website the other day (cara.georgetown.edu) and came across some disquieting numbers that emphasize just how rare.
In 1965, there were more than 58,000 Catholic priests in the United States. Today, that number has dropped to about 38,000.
I bring this up not to depress, but to illustrate something that might not be so evident here in sunny Phoenix. In other parts of the country, they’ve been closing parishes and schools. Out here, thanks be to God, we’re still building them. And in a couple of weeks, the Diocese of Phoenix will welcome a new priest to its fold with the ordination of Dcn. Fernando Camou in a ceremony rich with symbolism and tradition.
During the ordination rite, Dcn. Camou will prostrate himself on the floor of the cathedral during the Litany of the Saints. But why?
It’s a way to show humility before God and the priest’s utter dependence on Him. But it’s also meant to remind us that the new priest will depend on the prayers of the faithful.
Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington took to the “Catholic Answers” radio show recently to talk about how important it is to pray for priests. As a young cleric, he said he suffered a crisis.
“I spent a week in the hospital and took a month off. I spent some good years in psychotherapy,” Msgr. Pope said. “I really feel strong these days but it was a journey. It’s clear that Satan attacks priests.”
Priests these days tend to get a lot of complaints and criticism. Appreciation and encouragement? Not so much. At times, they even become the focus of gossip.
So, my fellow Catholics, let’s commit ourselves to building a culture of vocations by supporting our priests, both the new and not so new. Here are some practical steps you can take:
Pray: There’s nothing Satan would enjoy more than to “strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep.” Pray for your priest every day. Offer up your Mass intention for him or pray a decade or more of the Rosary on his behalf.
Thank: Tell him how much you appreciate his homilies or his leadership. Send him a note of encouragement.
Celebrate: Learn the date of his ordination and congratulate him or send a card. Priests are spiritual fathers, so honor them on Father’s Day. Show your love for them on their birthday and at Christmas too.
Get involved: Be active in your parish and support it with your time, treasure and talent. Consider joining the Serra Club.
Think: Priests are human too. At times, they get tired and overwhelmed. They may have been up all night on a sick call or had multiple liturgies.
Across the Catholic world, June is traditionally the month in which we celebrate ordinations. Let’s remember to keep praying for and supporting the priests who baptize our babies, bury our loved ones and consecrate the bread and the wine to bring us the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
For more, visit www.encouragepriests.org.