“When people want to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice; and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.” (St. John Vianney)
St. Paul's message to the Thessalonians was for the people to honor and respect the elders serving their local congregations because these men by the work of their hands and the fruit of their labors were offering their service to the people of God. It reads:
"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work." (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
Do we as parishioners in our local parishes heed the words of St. Paul? Do we show our pastors the love, honor, and respect that they deserve as the men who shepherd us as their flock?
It seems today this message has fallen to the waste side when there are parishioners that feel that they can either do a better job than our pastors or actually take the role on as pastor themselves. When we are members of a parish there will be times when we disagree with the actions of our pastors, and sometimes they will have a lower approval rating than other times when it comes to decisions they make for the parish. As a parish family we will never all agree, it is just the fact of the matter, but when we do disagree it is pertinent that we disagree in a way that still shows the utmost honor and respect for our shepherd. Because at the end of the day he is still the pastor and the authority to run the parish the way he sees fit is a role for him and for him alone.
As members of a parish we have the ability to voice concerns and dialogue with our pastors about how we feel with regards to this or that action, but it must always be done with the understanding that he makes the ultimate decision because he is responsible for the souls in his parish. I know that our good and faithful pastors would never make any decisions that they did not feel were in the best interest of our parish family. Can they make a decision that is not the best at times? Of course they can, they are not perfect, and at the time it is obvious they made a decision because they thought it was the best decision for the parish. I have never come across a pastor that purposely made a decision to hurt the members of his parish, and we need to think of that whenever we are upset about a decision made by our pastors. And also keep in mind that we do not see the whole picture. Our pastors know things that we do not know.
It is important that even if we disapprove of a decision made by our pastors that we do not feel that we have the right to take matters into our own hands by making our own decisions within the parish that end up affecting other parishioners. The laity do not have such a role, and can never have the role of being the pastor of a parish. It is a fact and not an opinion.
It is so incredibly frustrating because so many parishioners do not understand the role of their own pastor. As members of the laity we do not have the right to just do whatever we feel like doing in our church when it affects our fellow parishioners; we need to ask our pastors permission. As the pastor he is supposed to know what is taking place within his own parish, and if we have an idea or take issue with something we do not have the authority to do as we please without asking our pastor first and foremost. The pastor has the right to know when it comes to changes being made in the parish because he is the only one that should be permitting the changes not members of the parish themselves, and that is not them being a control freak or power hungry. It is NOT clericalism! Our pastors are doing their pastoral duty:
"The pastor (parochus) is the proper pastor (pastor) of the parish entrusted to him, exercising the pastoral care of the community committed to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been called to share, so that for that same community he carries out the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing..." (Can. 519)
I can attest that when we let go of our concerns, frustrations, and heartache, and leave it in God's hands He ALWAYS resolves the situation, and I mean that wholeheartedly. The moment we just surrender, the Lord takes over and everything winds up being fine. The solution is not to personally attack our pastors by gossiping to other parishioners, which upsets and angers me more than I can even explain in words. How does belittling and degrading our pastors to others accomplish anything? Discussing in a respectable manner an action we are disappointed in or upset about is one thing, but outright saying unkind and uncharitable things about our pastors I have absolutely no tolerance for and it has no place in our parishes. I have walked out of the sacristy and refused to answer text messages from those who refuse to tame their tongue when it comes to showing a lack of love for a pastor, and I will not apologize for it.
Do we know how hard our pastors work to try to do the best they can for us each and everyday? How many of us truly are thankful for what they do for our parish family? There are a lot of difficulties and challenges in being the pastor of a parish, especially now during the pandemic, and we need to be thankful and show love, appreciation, and respect towards our pastors. Anyone who thinks running a parish is easy; whether it be a parish of forty families or one with several thousand families is sadly mistaken by a long shot.
I ask you that the next time you turn to a fellow parishioner or a parishioner from another parish to "throw shade" at your pastor, if you could please say a prayer for him instead. And I invite all of you to also take part in fasting for our priests, especially for our pastors. Perhaps on Wednesdays and Fridays we can together offer a day of prayer and fasting for our pastors.