The other day I was talking with my friend, Father McGillicuddy, the pastor of a local parish. He likes to confide in me, because he knows I’ll never tell anyone what he shared with me—unless, of course, I can’t think of anything to write about in my weekly essay. And since I have writer’s block at the moment, all I can say is: sorry, Father, I hope none of your parishioners are reading this.
Anyway, what Fr. Mac and I discussed was the most difficult aspect of being a parish priest. Surprisingly, it’s not the fact that priests have no money, nor is it the fact priests are constantly being awakened from a sound sleep to rush to the bedside of someone critically ill. The most difficult aspect of being a priest is the realization that no matter what you say or do, some parishioners will be upset. And these upset parishioners rarely keep it to themselves, as they apparently interpret St. Paul’s teachings against gossip to mean it’s perfectly okay to gossip as long as you’re complaining about the clergy.
So Fr. Mac and I made a list of the traits of the perfect parish priest, the attributes needed by the pastor so everyone in the parish will be happy all the time.
First, the perfect parish priest must schedule at least four vigil Masses on Saturday, and at least seven Masses during the day on Sunday, so all parishioners can attend a Mass that is most convenient to their schedules. And if the priest is also the pastor of a linked parish in a neighboring town, it doesn’t matter. He must offer four Masses on Saturday and seven on Sunday at that parish, too.
Every Mass the priest says must be the most inspirational liturgy anyone has ever witnessed. But it can’t last more than 45 minutes, because that’s when people start to get fidgety. Every homily must cause the parishioners to laugh a little, cry a little, and ultimately feel very good about themselves. And it must take less than five minutes. And the priest must never repeat himself. And he must memorize his homilies, as reading from notes tells the congregation he did not invest enough hours preparing the sermon.
The perfect parish priest must have a Ph.D. in psychology, so he always will say the exact right words to anyone with a personal problem. He must have a Master’s Degree in music, so the hymns and other music at Mass will be the exact correct selections to make everyone happy. He must have a Bachelor’s Degree in interior design, so the flower arrangements and other decorations in the church are pleasing to all visitors. He must be a licensed Professional Civil Engineer, so there are never any problems with the parking lot, traffic flows, and snow removal. And he must be a licensed plumbing, heating, and electrical contractor, so that no one is ever uncomfortable in church.
Finally, the perfect parish priest must never eat or sleep, as these are very selfish activities which reduce the number of hours the priest is available to serve the parishioners. And while we’re on the subject of selfish activities, the priest also must never brush his teeth, bathe, or go to the bathroom, since these, too, are time-wasters. But it goes without saying, the priest always must be clean-shaven, smell nice, and have a perfect smile, because we don’t want anyone to think our parish priest is a lazy bum.
So that’s really all that is required for a parish priest to be perfect and make everyone happy. Father McGillicuddy said he will get right to it—as soon as Satan starts wearing ice skates.