From a reader:
Hey Father, I wanted to share with you an anecdote from my day at work. I’m a consultant manager at a department store and my job consists of walking around and assisting customers and getting feedback about our store. I noticed an older gentleman in a plaid oxford and slacks sitting in my favorite patio-furniture chair, so I went over to ask him if he loved it as much as I did. Over the course of the conversation it came out that he was an Irish priest visiting, and I had been a seminarian for four years.
We discussed a few things but as soon as I found out that he was a priest, my attitude changed noticeably, so sayeth a co-worker. When Father rose to leave, he shook my hand, and out of habit, I kissed it, and Father began to weep. He told me that no one had kissed his hand in thirty years, and it suddenly "brought forth what a priest, in his dignity, really is." Father then embraced me on the sales floor and told me, still crying, that he was going to go back to the house where he was staying and put clericals on and continue wearing them in public from now on, even when on vacation.
In short, even though this Priest of God was not in clericals, a fairly simple, and rote act informed the coworkers, and even Father, I think, that he was a VIP. Incidentally, it gave me a window to explain to some coworkers about the nature of the priesthood. So it really made my day!
UPDATE 2228 GMT:
A priest reader sends this from the UK:
Two and a half decades ago, as a newly ordained priest I was venturing out on to the street, when an elderly lady came up to me grasped my hand and kissed it. “Oh get up get up” I said, with all the arrogance of the young, “I am only an ordinary man you know”. The woman looked at me with gentle humour and perhaps pity in her eyes “Father” she said “I am a wife and a mother, I have a husband, I have three sons, I know how ordinary a man can be. It is the Priesthood of Christ I reverence; a priesthood you are privileged to share. Never forget that Father”. I haven’t or the Lady for whom I frequently pray with gratitude.
With thanks for the work you do and the assurrance of my prayers.
I have my own stories about the custom of the kissing of the hand of the priest in Rome, including being alternately spat up in my cassock and then having my hand kissed in the next block.
The spitting was not unusual in Rome, actually. I was once spat upon by a bystander when I was giving last rites to sometime in the street who was hit by a motorcyclist directly in front of the Chiesa Nuova. Blood everywhere… and spit too, as it turned out. St. Philip would not have been amused.
But there was fellow who would stand outside a bar in the mornings, watching and commenting on people going by. I passed that place everyday as a matter of routine for sometime on my way to the Vatican for work or school. Sometimes this fellow would resort more to verbal abuse of the most colorful sort only Romans do well. Sometimes he spat.
One day I gave back a comment about his needing medication. He went bananas with inventive invective course.
The next time I passed by he hailed me and invited me for a coffee. I accepted. And we were cordial thereafter… though I always kept some paper towels in my satchel on that route.
If priests declare themselves in public, dress as priests, people are generally not indifferent…. even if they are pointedly trying to be. You can see it in their eyes and body language.