Cultivating a Healthy Reverence
for the Priesthood

A healthy reverence for the priesthood in the parish goes a long way in encouraging priestly vocations, for obvious reasons. When the priesthood is revered and admired, young men notice. “That could be me,” becomes a welcomed thought.

But the key word is healthy; it’s possible to have an unhealthy reverence for the priesthood, too.

On one hand, sometimes priests are put on a pedestal simply because of their priesthood. They can be thought of as “holier” or “better” than other members of the Church, but the office doesn’t make it so. Holy Orders imparts a sacred character to the soul for a ministerial purpose, but personal holiness is a separate matter; priests, like everyone, become holy through God’s grace and the practice of virtue.

On the other hand, it’s important to recognize the separate roles of the priesthood from the laity. While appropriate participation of the laity in many aspects of the life of the Church is encuraged, we must be careful not to conflate the roles of laity and clerics in an attempt to make everyone “the same”. Pope Francis recently gave this admonition: “Priests are subject to the temptation to clericalize the laity, while many laypersons ask on their knees to be clericalized, because it is convenient. This is a sin committed by two hands. We must resist this temptation.”

A healthy reverence for the priesthood is also distinct from a “cult of personality.” Sometimes there is a tendency to overemphasize the personal qualities of a priest, to develop an undue attachment to him for the wrong reasons. But this can create resentment, for example, when a priest is transferred to a new assignment, and the priest who replaces him does not have the same qualities. While it is good to recognize the personal qualities, talents, and interests of our pastors, and for parishioners to be able to connect with them through these things, a “cult of personality” which overemphasizes personal qualities is detrimental to the life of the Church.

Healthy reverence for the priesthood isn't reverence for the priest himself based on his own qualities or personal holiness – it’s reverence for Jesus Christ, in Whose place the priest acts. And, rightly so, this reverence should reflect the fact the Jesus is our Lord! Therefore, it is correct to show reverence to the priesthood by calling priests “Reverend Father”, or kissing the Bishop's ring. These are beautiful signs of devotion when done with the understanding that the One being revered is Christ Himself, through His representative. A priest, in humility, shouldn’t dismiss a sign of reverence given to Jesus through him, nor should the faithful forget that this reverence is actually given to Jesus. It’s not about him, it’s about Him!

A diminished reverence toward the priesthood can also have a diminishing effect on vocations. If a young man knows his priest only as a fun-loving guy who has great personal talents for serving in the parish, he could rightly say, “I don’t need to become a priest to do that!” But if he sees his pastor taking great joy in his sacramental ministry, and participating in the spiritual and social welfare of his parishioners in a way that is particular to the priesthood, he will be able to see that the sacred office of the priesthood is a unique, important vocation that is worthy of discernment.

Is our own reverence for the sacred office of the priesthood healthy? Do we try to treat every priest with appropriate dignity and respect, regardless of the personal gifts or faults we perceive? Let's try to be aware that every priest is acting in the Person of Christ. In doing so we will help to promote a healthy reverence and love for the priesthood which can have a positive influence on young discerners.

Thank you for helping promote vocations in the Diocese of Ogdensburg! Your work and prayers are greatly appreciated.

If you know a young man who is interested in the priesthood, please encourage him to contact us. Likewise, if you are aware of a young woman or man who is discerning religious life, please send them our way. We'll help connect them with respective religious communities. And of course, let us keep praying for each other and for all holy vocations in the Church.

The Vocation Team
Cathy Russell
Vocations Coordinator
Fr. Douglas Lucia
Vocation Director
The Vocations Office and this issue of "Come Follow Me" are supported by
The Bishop's Fund Appeal
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