The “Renaissance man,” epitomized by Leonardo da Vinci (who was a painter, scientist, engineer, and mathematician), refers to someone who does many difficult things well. The Hollywood version is called a “Triple Threat,” an entertainer who can sing, dance and act—and commands the corresponding fame and fortune.
But what clever phrase exists to describe the diverse talents and traits which, when found in one person, are that humble servant of God: the parish priest?
One rainy Sunday, I noticed the priest exit the confessional, where he had been hearing confessions for the past hour. Considering the difficulty of that task alone, I watched him enter the sacristy, emerging moments later to pray the Mass. His homily wove together law, politics, history, and the roles of men and women. He then consecrated the host and fed the faithful. When Mass ended, he stood in the Oregon drizzle to greet parishioners before joining us in the church hall for coffee and donuts.
It struck me just how many hats the priest wears—counselor, comforter, admonisher, spiritual father—and how truly talented he is. He is creative enough to craft homilies and sermons that are delivered daily; introvert enough to pray constantly, be contemplative, and study Scripture; extrovert enough to be in constant demand and eat a powdered donut while conversing about everything from transubstantiation to complaints about the sound system.
This skill set is obviously rare.
Yet it’s often dismissed. The priest is frequently regarded not as a dangerous force in a dark world, but as nothing more than a nice guy who loves God. The reality is much more formidable and complex. The priest merges the skills required for at least a dozen secular jobs to fulfill the sacred duties entrusted to him and guide souls toward Heaven. And he also has to sing in public.
As St. John Vianney said:
If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds His place. St. Teresa kissed the ground where a priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say, “There is he who made me a child of God, and opened Heaven to me by holy Baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul.” At the sight of a church tower, you may say, “What is there in that place?” “The Body of Our Lord.” “Why is He there?” “Because a priest has been there, and has said holy Mass.”
But the priest gets short shrift in our culture. Instead we revere men who excel at throwing balls through a basketball hoop, sing rock songs in packed stadiums, or design technological gadgets that “change our life.” None of which actually care for us as individuals, know us by name, or provide wise counsel on the path to eternity.
The priest is blessed with abundant gifts, yet seeks no glory for himself. He lacks the fame of the Triple Threat and the acclaim of the Renaissance Man. He sacrifices that we might have Life. Let us not forget, as we shake his hand after Mass and pass him a donut in the church hall, that our nice parish priest is a soldier on the battlefield, the presence of Christ made visible, a Triple Threat to the forces of Sin, Death, and the Devil.
O Jesus, Eternal Priest, keep Your priests within the shelter of Your Most Sacred Heart, where none can touch them. Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Your Sacred Body. Keep unsullied their lips daily tinged with Your Precious Blood. Keep pure and unworldly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood. Let Your Holy Love surround and protect them from the world’s contagion. Bless their labors with abundant fruit, and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here, and their everlasting crown in the hereafter. Amen. —St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus