To begin, it’s worth acknowledging that every parish church is different.
While the Mass, in its structure, readings, and language is always the same (across the globe) there are myriad aspects of church that differ from parish to parish. Some churches are busting at the seams, for example, with Bible studies and activities for families. Some churches have none. Other churches worship very reverently with a healthy dose of genuflecting and bowing. Some churches do not. And, for our purposes here, it’s important to note that, of course, every priest is different too.
I’ve written elsewhere about my struggles with the local parish church. I’ve written before about feeling disappointed with the lack of rigor and book-learning taking place in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) class. Compared to other experiences of other RCIA programs, mine seems slow and plodding and not very eventful.
In the midst of that challenge, however, I realized that, remarkably, it isn’t all about me.
There are others in the class. I’m there for a reason. And I’m not the center of the universe—and that’s a very humbling thing.
I was equally humbled last week, and that’s what this little missive is about, by what I learned from a tired priest.
When I Stopped Going to Mass
For the most part, I stopped going to Mass at my local parish church. I thought, and talked, about making the switch to a different parish and a different RCIA program as well but that train of thought lost steam after I was graciously humbled by the Lord, and realized RCIA wasn’t all about me. But, I did stop attending Mass there. I didn’t, it turns out, learn my lesson in humility quite all the way.
My experience of Mass at my local parish was a mixed bag. A mixed bag but, ultimately, disappointing at its core. The experience, in large part, was driven by what I, from my place in the pew, perceived as a languid and listless working through the motions by the priest. He seemed, I thought, a bit bored. If that were me handling the Body of Christ, I thought to myself, I would be holding it much higher, I would be bowing much deeper. If that were my sermon, I thought, I would speak more passionately, I would work much harder.
My experience of the Mass, then, was colored by what I saw as a lack of attentiveness and dedication. What I saw was a mopish priest performing his duty and then, literally, running from the room.
It disappointed me.
An Overworked Priest?
So, as you can imagine, I was stopped in my tracks and the disappointed me became disappointment in me when I overheard a conversation last week after our RCIA class.
“Can you believe how many Masses father celebrated last Saturday,” one of the sponsors of the class was saying. “He had 2 weddings, 2 funerals, and the vigil on Saturday. Plus the Masses on Sunday, and then Baptisms.”
It hit me.
I was disappointed by a priest who seemed disinterested in the incredible job he’d been given by God. In reality, I was judging a tired, overworked priest, who was doing his best—and who was rushing out the door to give last rites to a parishioner, after performing a week’s worth of Masses in one day.
Across the span of my journey towards Catholicism thus far God has had this incredible way of humbling me through the challenges and disappointments I’ve faced. Here I was, disappointed at the attitude of a priest when I, in reality, knew nothing of the situation. Here I was looking to find a different parish, looking to find someone more reverent, a priest who took his role more seriously, when I didn’t realize that all these Masses are offered precisely because he takes his job to heart.
I Should’ve Been Praying
I was complaining when I should’ve been praying—and I was rightly humbled, again.
What a tired priest taught me, in the end, is that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge the heart. I should pray, not complain. I should’ve learned through my experience with RCIA that the whole world isn’t about me—it doesn’t revolve around my needs alone. But I don’t learn so quick.
I thought his sermon was short because he didn’t take the time to put much effort into it; his sermon was short because he didn’t have the time to put much effort into it.
What a tired priest taught me is to be humble, again and again, and to pray for humility. And to pray for the tired priests.