A few Sundays back was mission Sunday at my parish. The priest who came this year is actually a real-live missionary: He's stationed at our diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic. His story was fascinating to hear. Not older than his early thirties, he's pastor of an impoverished parish that serves over sixteen communities, all of which he has to travel to by truck or on foot to provide the sacraments to the faithful. And his faithful are poor.
Father told the story of a family who basically had nothing to eat, and to whom he kindly provided some extra money so they could have a "feast" around the holidays. The feast consisted of cooking a whole chicken for the family of five. Father went to visit with the family for the meal (they invited him) and as he waited for the meal, he was struck that the mother first served slices of chicken to her neighbors and then, once they were fed, gave the leftovers to her family and their guest. The solidarity of the poor with the poor was amazing to him.
His struggle felt real
Hearing Father preach that mission was encouraging. Actually, it was more than that. As an insanely busy father with three children, I actually felt some level of connection between my life and this missionary priest. My kids wake me up first thing in the morning, ask for things all day, and then, once I'm off, it's to get to an unending list of things to do. Even joyfully embracing these pains, life is still hard. The work never ends. I admire this priest because like my life, his life is insanely busy and the work never ends. While I'm sure neither he nor I are the paradigm of virtue, his daily struggle with the obligations of his vocation felt real.
With the surge of horrific stories about Cardinal McCarrick, the Diocese of Lincoln, and others, news of the Church's pastors is once again grim. It's unfortunate that as Catholics we've had to come to endure such evil from our shepherds. We cannot defend those who did nothing to protect the innocent and who perpetrated such crimes.
In the face of this evil, however, we've come to accept a standard of relative mediocrity for ourselves and for our priests. Generally, we are happy if Father preaches a faithful homily, says mass with some attention, and shows up for the sacraments when we need him. This is a time when we are called to have a great deal of hope and where we, as the lay faithful, must work side-by-side with our local priests to support them in their vocations.
"We are hungry"
But we need more than that: Our priests need to know that we want them, in fulfilling their vocations, to forget themselves and to pour themselves out for their flocks. The mission priest I heard is definitely onto something: America should increasingly be recognized as true mission territory, where most do not not the joy of the Sacraments and the fullness of Christ's revelation in the Church. News about the Church might be bad today (as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow), but the reality of the Church, as the bride of Christ, as the lone guarantor of Christ's work on earth, also remains today, as it did yesterday, and as it will tomorrow.
My mission priest poured out everything of himself from morning to night for his flock. In fact, his flock say they expect that of him. "We are hungry," they say to him. Not only for food—although dirt poor as they are, I'm sure they lack—but for the Sacraments and for faith. I wish more priests could spend some time away from their dioceses and their flocks (and their toys), in order to spend the last drop of themselves in the mission fields. It's impractical to send them all to the Dominican Republic. But now as much as ever we're assured that the call to radical evangelism exists even in the heart of the richest country on earth.
Mattias A. Caro is the Executive Editor of Ethika Politika.