Sunday thoughts : September 2019

By Monsignor John Devine

I still recall Bishop Gus Harris’s advice when I was a student for the priesthood. One of our own priests, Gus Harris became auxiliary bishop before being appointed Bishop of Middlesbrough. Upon retirement he returned to Liverpool. He said that people remember the priest who is kind. If he is kind, parishioners overlook his other faults.

I’ve always remembered these words, even as I have failed to live up to them. Gentleness doesn’t come easy to me. And I recall that advice once again when I see the first reading for Sunday 1 September (Ecclesiasticus 3:19): ‘Be gentle in carrying out your business and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.’

It’s so easy for a priest to convey the impression that the majority of parishioners aren’t quite up to the mark. They present themselves for marriage, for baptism, for first holy communion, for funerals. My tendency is to think ‘I haven’t seen you at Mass’. And I need only think this way for the impression of condemnation to be given. Without speaking any words, judgement is conveyed.

And isn’t it true that most Catholics are already on the back foot before they knock at the door (or press the send button)? They know their shortcomings and they steel themselves for the encounter. Their courage and generosity deserve a warmer reception.

A lady once told me she had never met a parish priest who wasn’t cross. Her advice was always to go to the curate. Unfortunately, curates are a dying species.

So, what’s the bottom line? Is it orthodoxy – believing and doing the right thing – or is it compassion? Is the priest an enforcer or an understanding fellow traveller, a ‘wounded healer’?