QUAERITUR: The Perfect Priest

I received the following e-mail:

Maybe this is a dumb question, but in a recent survey in our diocese, the priests stated that one of the most stressful problems for them were what the survey question called "expectations of the laity". Apparently, the stress is from either unreal expectations, or demands which seem impossible owing to a priest shortage.

However, one of the questions this raises is "Can the laity expect their priests to be holy, have courage and show leadership?" Are these unfair expectations? Just wondering what your opinion is of expectations from those of us in the pew.

People ought to have realistic expectations about their priests.

But think about the following:

There is an old adage that people get the priests they deserve.

Frankly, I hope we all get better than that!

People have the obligation to foster vocations and be positive about priests in their families with their children, and how the speak about priests and treat them. 

Sometimes I get the impression that many people think everything they want from the Church can be expected or demanded without reciprocal cost.

Ministry of priests included.

If people want their priest to be courageous, they can help him be so by being courageous in their vocations.  If they want him to be faithful, they must support faithfulness.  If they want him to be priestly, treat him as if he is a priest. 

Two things now pop into my head.

I am thinking of a sermon of Fr. Ronald Knox, I think for a first Mass, about expectations for priests and their own way of seeing their vocations as the years past.  He talks about the priest being, for example, during Holy Mass, a worker, just a priest saying Mass.  He gets about his work in a journeyman-like way. 

Perhaps some people think that the priest is supposed to levitate or shoot light from their eyes.  They should let him be a priest, not an angel.

Finally, I am reminded of an old chestnut about a chain letter:

The Perfect Priest

The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect priest preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.

The perfect priest smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.

If your priest does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their priest, too. Then bundle up your priest and send him to the church on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 priests and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.

One parish broke the chain and got its old priest back in less than three weeks.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mrsmontoya says:

    Thank you! Good to have a chuckle today.

  2. AnAnonymousSeminarian says:

    I have felt the need to post this elsewhere already today… This post is non-controversial and lighthearted, so I hope it would be well received here. Never forget to pray for priests and bishops.

    Prayer for Priests
    O Jesus,
    I pray for Your faithful and fervent priests;
    for Your unfaithful and tepid priests;
    for Your priests labouring at home or abroad in distant mission fields;
    for Your tempted priests;
    for Your lonely and desolate priest;
    for Your young priests;
    for Your dying priests;
    for the souls of Your priests in purgatory.
    But above all I recommend to You the priests dearest to me;
    the priest who baptized me;
    the priests who absolved me from my sins;
    the priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion;
    the priests who taught and instructed me;
    all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way.
    O Jesus, keep them all close to Your heart,
    and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity.

  3. Julie says:

    Just passing on a blog I found, applicable to the topic:


    Although it’s directed towards priests…we can all benefit by reading what he posts and what he says. It calls us ALL to the same standard of holiness, even if lived out differently.

  4. Joanne says:

    Very funny. Thank you for posting this.

  5. supertradmom says:

    Thank you for your good reminders concerning the duties of the laity. We have a little green book in our home which is full of prayers for priests. “Prayers for Priest” is the title and some of us pass this out on a regular basis.

  6. Jane says:

    Tough standards. Mothers are also required to do the impossible

  7. Margo says:

    [chuckles…no, out-and-out laughs]

    That chain letter was GREAT!

    Thanks Fr Z.!

  8. Michael says:

    Father Z, you said that you hope we get better priests than we deserve…

    The Sacrament of Ordination is more than we deserve. The fact that some people have received it is more than we deserve. The fact that we can talk to these people is more than we deserve. And, of course, the mass that they offer is more than we deserve (even, dare I say it, when said… erm… sub-optimally?).

    We could, perhaps, say we wish that they all realized this and acted appropriately, but all we can do is pray for them, and thank God that they are praying for us.

  9. I think they also forgot:

    “Leaping over tall buildings while keeping things down to earth.” :-)

  10. Dear Fr. Z. (Father, Bless!):

    Thank you for this good comment and satire on the unrealistic expectations of most of the faithful as regards priests.

    Unfortunately, I have some very, if not “realistic” expectations, then at least the “conciliar” expectations of Vatican II. Which is to say, the expectations which the Council Fathers had at the Second Vatican Council, and which were expressed in “Optatam Totius” and “Presbyterorum Ordinis”.

    By those standards, few modern priests measure up, alas. I am happy to say that you appear to be one of the few who do. Thank you.

    Thank you also for your website, which helps to set the bar as regards what a true priest can and should be doing.

    Finally, I am happy to be able to write the following, and to know that you are one of the few priests these days who can understand and appreciate it:

    Tu es sacerdos in aeternum, secundum ordinem Melchizedek.

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