We’re awash in the annual festival of pink and red, with its not-so-subtle reminders that love is best expressed in cards, flowers and candy. Whatever the pious origins of Valentine’s Day, it’s now a commercial bonanza for anyone “in a relationship” (to use the FaceBook term). As obsessed as our culture is with “young love” on any given day, we’ve come to expect the sentiment to go into overdrive at this time of year, and often the shallowest understanding of love finds expression in the loftiest of venues.
No matter. We all lived through the crushes, the anxiety of waiting, the delight in little expressions of affection. It was a bittersweet and harmless rite of passage, but now we know more. We know what lasts. We recognize silly heartfelt gestures for what they are, but find a deeper comfort in more enduring tokens. Suffering heartaches, loneliness, illnesses and the loss of loved ones has deepened our ability to consider the nature of true love, for consolation and wisdom like this can only come with time.
This year, perhaps a way to make a difference would be to share this appreciation with our priests. If anyone deserves love and gestures of gratitude, it is they. While we see the limited more visible portions of their ministry, we don’t see their quiet devotion to their bride, the Church.
The priest is similar to any devoted husband, who expresses his affection concretely. There are the prayers, devotions and sacraments. Priests minister to those who are sick, who are grieving, and who are struggling with life’s crushing blows. The priests patiently teach their flocks, pay the bills, fix the roofs and juggle the priorities — wondering how to fit it all in a given week. While they await the fruits of the new springtime, at present they often cover more than one parish and find their limited resources stretched even further. The consolation of priestly fraternity from long ago has slipped away, leaving many living alone, eating alone, and praying alone.
And yet they persevere.
So what would a valentine to a priest entail? He doesn’t need another black sweater or rosary. He may or may not have a sweet tooth. Even the most devoted golfer only needs so many personalized tees.
Instead, pray and sacrifice for your priests. They are perpetually available for your prayer requests year-round, having lifted up your intentions for every needy loved one. Now is the time to assure them of your prayers for their intentions — which are abundant. While they fervently pray for the sanctification of their flock, they need graces for their own pilgrimage. Remember that the accumulated distress of the souls entrusted to them requires heroic measures of hope to see God in the darkness. Their fidelity will be buoyed by our sacrifices.
Support your priests. Trust that they must always deal with a variety of diverse personalities and have to discern how best to carry out God’s holy will. It isn’t easy. Take the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers anecdote and twist it: “These men have to dance blindly with hundred pound weights on every limb.” Lighten their load with sincere expressions of your support and appreciation for their vocations. We need them.
Finally, love your priests. Consider them your brothers in faith — “in a relationship.” Not just any relationship — but wed to a spotless bride for whom they would lay down their lives on any given day. If any example of love isn’t saccharine or shallow, it’s the life of a faithful priest, modeled on the divine love of Jesus himself. And that’s a gift to treasure.
[The Anchor 2.13.09]