The Perfect Priest

The entry here reminded me 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{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Lighter fare, Year of Priests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JohnW says:

    The priest of our parish as a child was the prefect priest. He would offer Mass at 5:30 every morning. After the 8:00 Mass, he then take holy communion to the shutins and sick. I wouls see him many mornings as I walked to school,I would not wave because he carried the Blessed Sacrament and was in deep prayer. After his communion calls he very often visited the parsh school. The monsignor also coached the school baseball team always wanting his boys to win the championship. Monsignor would do all these things and never miss saying his Divine office. If only today was as yesterday, our pastor was a Saint. I have A rosary that he gave me as an altarboy I feel that it is a relic.

  2. idatom says:

    Father Z.;

    …….. and he must also be able to walk on water.

    This morning after Mass I was speaking to a woman at church saying that I don’t envy any pastor. None can please everyone, his can be a very thankless position unless he has a very strong faith.

    In our diocese if our priests want to choose their parish they must move on after six years or they can wait twelve years and then a committee selects their next slot. I hate this. I think pastors should stay for life for the sake of continuity and the good of the church. After all they are our spiritual fathers you don’t normally throw out your father.

    Thank God for our priests, their lot could be tremendously discouraging but for the sake of the kingdom.

    Tom Lanter

  3. Jane says:

    Priests often have a heavy load. I know of one young priest who is exhausted, by the endless duties and the driving involved. He told me that in his ‘spare time’ he is slumped in a corner. I felt very sorry for him and worry about burnout.

  4. spock says:

    Our priest actually can walk on water; but only during January or February.

    But seriously folks, I actually see the wisdom in this. My childhood priest would use the term “Personality Cult” to describe an excessive desire of people who have to attend Mass by one particular priest. The problems in the Church have only made this worse. One’s faith should not be so attached to a particular priest. Whatever actions or behaviors that you appreciate in a priest should be manifest in yourself as a way of showing respect for the way he operates. He should then go on and perform those actions or behaviors somewhere else. That’s a way for the Church to grow out of the difficulties it’s in.

    A counter to this (perhaps among others, please tell me), is a case where you have an elder priest, perhaps a Monsignor who serves the diocese as a kind of conduit to new priests, getting them “up-to-speed” so they can then go on and run other parishes. In that case, the “double whammy” of having the Monsignor run to new parishes every six years AND getting new priests up to speed, may be too much.

  5. Random Friar says:

    I wish they’d stop sending that chain letter. I keep having to move every 3 weeks!

  6. Jack Hughes says:

    I agree with idiatom that Priests should stay in the same parish for life ( or at least a very long time), reminds me of that scene in the West Wing where Bartlet flies his childhood Priest up to the White House.

    Quick question to any Eastern Rite readers -do you know the average length of time that a non-monastic priest stays in his parish ? I ask becasue I know (to the best of my knowledge) that a fair porpotion of your non-monastic clergy marry before ordination and one can imagine how moving parish frequently would affect families.

  7. Jack Hughes says:

    sorry about the strikethough on previous post – don’t know how it happened

  8. avecrux says:

    Conversion takes time. It also takes trust when there are deep seated wounds it the human psyche – so prevalent today due to the breakdown in the family and masculinity/femininity. Trust is impossible to establish without a sense of stability. Many Catholics today are actually in need of being evangelized before they can be catechized. A Priest is barely getting to know his people 6 years into his term. His work has only just begun. Like the Cure of Ars, if he is praying for his people and growing in holiness, a prolonged stay in a parish really is an opportunity to sanctify his people. If the Cure had been moved every 6 years, would he be the Patron of this Year of the Priesthood? Who knows. What we do know is that he has been given to us as a model for this Year of Priesthood – and his Priesthood was lived out in one parish with one flock for his entire lifetime. I think there is a lot in that. Leave Priests in their parish. Allow them to pastor their flock. We have a new generation of beautiful Priestly vocations. Let them do what they have been called to do and see what happens.

  9. JohnW says:

    The monsignor that I wrote about earlier was our pastor for over thirty years. Everyone knew that he was there for life. He was forced to retire and it made everyone very sad. The priest that followed had a very hard road to take up after a much loved pastor was forced into retirment.

  10. yatzer says:

    Well, I try to help out, relay or make positive comments, and give what I can. I appreciate the love our pastors have for us, and pray for them. Bless you all!

  11. Mamma B says:

    Jack Hughes — we have been blessed to have the same priest at our Byzantine Rite Ukrainian parish since 1981. I don’t know what the average length of stay is for Eastern Rite priests in their parishes, though I have never heard of moving the priests every 6-7 years, which seems to be the practice in the local Roman Catholic churches.

  12. MargaretC says:

    He must also be a successful fundraiser, and possess marked telepathic abilities, so that he can tell when someone is sick and needs to be visited without being told…

    I have recently moved to another city and have been asking God to let me look beyond externals in choosing a new parish. The priest of my former parish received me into the Church, so I tend to use him as a standard, which I admit is unfair. (He also likes to celebrate the Novus Ordo in Latin, which further prejudices me in his favor.)

    My local parish has two priests. So far I have heard one good and one very good homily. One priest has a rather dry manner, and celebrates mass decently and in order. The other priest has a “folksier” manner, and has some bad habits that I don’t think rise to the level of liturgical abuse, but probably reflect the era in which he attended seminary. The parish has Perpetual Adoration, a school of which they are obviously very proud, and the music is standard Haugen-&-Haas.

    As I said, I’m praying for a spirit of discernment and the jury is still out.

  13. JenB says:

    I understand the cult of personality thing. But… it is wonderful to have a priest who is orthodox. Throw in extra characteristics such as friendly, outgoing, warm, empathetic… and it is hard to have to settle for less than. My parish had the most amazing pastor. He was a brand new pastor, and he was just everything one could ever hope for in a priest. When he consecrates the Eucharist, you can see tears in his eyes. He elevates the Host for what seems like eternity. He takes the time to meet personally with anyone who has need.

    And then, I moved across country. The pastor at my local parish sarcastically chides the parishioners during his homilies. Many Sundays went by where I heard nothing of the readings or God in the homily. Despite shaking his hand and talking every Sunday for several months, he did not recognize me. Not that I expect him to know my name. But, a woman with two loud preschoolers is not that easy to miss, and 6 months after beginning to attend that parish, he asked me if I was new to the parish. Perhaps it is a cult of personality. Perhaps I need to learn to offer it up. But, I drive out of my way now to attend a Mass with a slightly more orthodox priest, and one who is slightly more up on his people skills.

    All of this to say, I don’t believe that a “cult of personality” is always about the personality, sometimes it’s about a spiritual need. And, I don’t believe it’s always bad.

  14. catholicmidwest says:

    In trying to avoid liturgical abuses, I’ve had to avoid certain priests whose masses are pretty outrageously full of them, but it’s not really a cult of personality I’m practicing–more a cult of avoidance–and that’s unfortunate but it’s been necessary.

    I personally think the cult of personality is one of the key features of catholicism. It doesn’t sound like a new development either, but I’ve only been Catholic since 1985, so maybe I’m not the one to ask. These personality cults are almost always really awful and unfortunate, even if not for the adorer, then for the priest. It does him absolutely *no good at all* to be doted on and treated like someone who can do no wrong–sometimes they come to believe it.

    Besides, we worship God not other people or ourselves.

  15. Cecilianus says:

    Mamma B:

    I envy you. We are about to lose a wonderful pastor to another parish; fortunately, he is celibate (a Greek Orthodox monk before his reception into communion with Rome) so he does not have a family to drag across the country with him.

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    And I guess what I mean by “one of the key features of catholicism” is that it is one of the key *FOLK* factors, ie. culturally catholic factors. In the cultural & social way I’ve seen it, it can have rather little to do with holiness or leadership or witness. Many priests, maybe most in fact, have no idea how to offer spiritual direction or advice beyond the basic level. They do know how to provide the sacraments, however (even when they’re dissidents and they pretend it’s done some other way than what the church teaches). Some priests use it for their own ends too.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    And I personally think it’s a good idea to move priests every few years. There are a couple of reasons for this:
    1) Laypeople can get very spoiled and start to think of the church as their personal possession and the priest as their personal guru. It does a parish good every few years to revisit what they’re about and who they’re supposed to be serving. Reassignment is a heads up that the parish belongs to a diocese and the diocese belongs to the church universal because that’s where the bishop got his power to move the priest.
    2) Priests who stay in the same place for decades can start to think of the property as their possession and the parish as their little kingdom. All kinds of things can and do happen under these circumstances from cliques at the mildest to much worse things at the most severe end.

  18. avecrux says:

    The Church is universal in order to be personal.
    We don’t have parishes as something akin to satellite offices of a worldwide corporation, somehow serving the corporate structure. The parish exists to extend the Presence of Christ (His Eucharistic Presence, presence in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, sacramental presence) to each and every particular human person. This is done by having an alter Christus in their midst. As Christ healed and pardoned and offered HImself as Priest and Victim, the Priest in a parish does the same for the souls in his immediate care. Not a “personal guru”, but in persona Christi capitis – in the Person of Christ the Head. In that sense, it is more appropriate to say that the Church universal and diocese exist to serve the parish as the focal point for the sanctification of the people of God.
    A Priest who thinks of property as his possession or a parish as a “little kingdom” is a sad story. I have heard others give this as a negative for lengthy pastoral placements, but it is something I have not seen personally. A father in a domestic Church, with a wife and children, may adopt a similarly dysfunctional attitude but the answer is not to move him around, obviously – the answer is for him to have a conversion of heart. In the film “Fireproof”, a husband wants to get a divorce. His father calls him on it – no, don’t do it. Spend the next 40 days truly putting your heart into loving your wife, not being selfish. The same with a parish Priest. We don’t solve problems by moving people around. (Are we understanding that in the Church yet?) We just expose more and more people to the same problems. A Priest does not come to see a parish as a “little kingdom” as a consequence of duration in one place. The problem is in his own heart and in an impoverished view of his sublime vocation stemming from personal selfishness. A Priest with this petty an attitude would have difficulty serving well no matter how long he is in a parish. Instead of moving Priests for being dysfunctional, it would be better for his Bishop to be a true father and say “Hey – you need to pray more, do more penance, spend more time in truly Priestly, pastoral duties…” etc. Maybe even get some counseling. Spend time loving Christ and loving his spouse, the Church, as present in the people of his parish. Because if he doesn’t get that down, he won’t be able to serve well anywhere.

  19. catholicmidwest says:

    I’ve seen it several times. It’s ugly.

    We can wax all gushy about what a priest is supposed to be and act, but when the rubber hits the road, we have to look at what really happens. Enough of this emotional slop.

    Leaving a priest in the same place for many years fosters such a “little kingdom of mine” attitude. Why run things badly when they can be run well??

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, yes, the church universal serves the local church and the local church is to serve the church universal. That’s a given.

    The priest is “in personna christ” when he does the church’s work of administering the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. He is a regular guy with smelly sox, albeit an ordained one, when he is doing the mundane things all human beings do. This personality cult thing is obnoxious.

  21. geoff jones says:

    I needed to read this, as I have been very critical of my local parish priest.

    I agree that a priest doesn’t need to be superman. He can’t be. But he must be trained to have some professionalism in his job. From my personal experience it is all too clear that they have not been. (I do know priests who are very professional about how they do things. One used to be a lawyer, and the other is a retired senator. They didn’t get their professional attitudes from their seminary formation.)

    A priest should be good at delegating tasks to lay people. He should be a motivator and a facilitator. He should put some effort into motivating the laity into volunteering, and be able to see what jobs different individuals may be suited to and put them in the right direction.

    If he doesn’t do these things then he will end up doing everything himself and ending up burnt out and/or jaded.

    The Baptists and Mormons do do these things and, frankly, they are leaving us for dead.

  22. rakesvines says:

    This came in just in the nick of time. I was about to blog a blistering criticism about the priests in
    the parishes that I attend because they failed to show up for confession last Saturday and because my
    new pastor did not welcome me warmly when I presented myself and my family to him upon his invitation.
    (It had something to do with my kids’ behavior during the Mass.) But I’ll suck it in, cut them some
    slack, repost that old chestnut at and maybe give a buck at the
    collection plate next Sunday. Great post Fr. Z. You never know when the Lord will use it.

  23. helgothjb says:

    I would agree that the pastor should not change so often. It used to be that when the pastor retired another priest in the parish took the reins, now we are lucky to have one priest in a parish (at least out west). It is hard to form long term plans when one is moved so often. Plus, putting a parish in transition every 6 years really seems to slow things down. What ends up happening in many places is that the ‘new’ priest, the one that just moved there, says, ‘ok, how do we do things here?’ That sets up the laity to be directing the parish for the first 6 month at least. Then it takes a year or two for a priest to change the direction if he thinks that is needed. By then, he has maybe 4 years to get some things done. As for building his kingdom, that is where the bishops is supposed to come in.

  24. Charivari Rob says:

    6-year assignments with optional six-year renewal (for most cases, obviously the Bishop needs to be able to exercicise his discretion) is one of the soundest organizational practices of the Church.

  25. cheyan says:

    There’s a cartoon that I think is relevant here – it’s by an Orthodox cartoonist but it’s still perfectly appropriate. (And funny.) Orthograph #34 (completely work-safe/child-safe)

    [Here it is… very good.]


  26. Supertradmom says:

    There is no perfect priest, just as there is not a perfect husband or perfect wife. If one feels the need to criticize a priest, pray a novena for him first, or better yet, do a thirty-day novena of Masses for him.

    Love conquers even the worst critic. Thanks for the laugh, Father Z., but of course, you fill all the criteria, plus giving food to the little birds of the field. Feeding the birds needs to be added to the list. And, being a faithful blogger needs to be added as well,

  27. avecrux says:

    Holiness is neither gushy or emotional slop. When this world ends we are in one of two destinations – heaven or hell. If we get to our particular judgement before then, we may end up in the purifying fires of purgatory… The holy Priests aims with St. Paul to have Christ live in him rather than develop a personality cult. Having said that, holiness attracts. It should. It’s beautiful. That’s why we canonize saints. When the rubber hits the road, I am going to side with St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis, St. John Vianney and countless other saints who reverence the Priesthood. The smell of a persons socks probably isn’t investigated by the Church when making a statement of heroic virtue – although I have heard of something called the “odor of sanctity”. Supposedly Padre Pio had it.

  28. catholicmidwest says:

    But, avecrux, many priests are not particularly holy. Their ordinations are precious but many of them are fairly ordinary in most ways other than that.

    I appreciate the fact that the priesthood should be reverenced, but that doesn’t mean that these men can do no wrong. On the contrary, priests have a great deal of responsibility and their temptations can be very serious, and they are quite human like all of us are.

    The denial of these plain facts is part of the glamour that enables cults of personality in the priesthood. It’s good to care about your priest; it’s excellent to pray for your priest; it’s wonderful to revere his ordination and his call to the priesthood; but to make him out as some sort of superhuman creature or adored entity is a bit odd and not very Christian. This kind of adulation does neither priest nor parishoner good, and in fact, can short-circuit the way things are supposed to work.

  29. avecrux says:

    catholicmidwest – I work for the Church. To even suggest that reverencing the Priesthood means Priests can “do no wrong” is very obviously false. But lets get past this preoccupation with the fact that some Priests may not be holy. That is not shocking. Its a tragedy, but it is not shocking. Same with lay people. Freedom is a frightening thing. The road is narrow that leads to life. That’s a given. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Jesus has told us to be perfect, as His heavenly Father is prefect. He said that for a reason. Scores of saints, by the grace of God, have taken Him up on it. Its still happening. This is how religious communities and movements in the Church spring up. People are inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit in a radical commitment to the Gospel. Others are witness to it and come and join. It is nothing like adoration, making someone out to be superhuman, odd or un-Christian. When that does happen, its disordered. But more commonly, it is the contagious beauty of holiness still present in the Church, from Pope Benedict on down.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    I agree with you because what I finally hear you saying in the last post is a little more down to earth. And yes, what I have often seen has been disordered in my opinion. I’m also not as optimistic as you about how often real holiness happens. I think it’s pretty rare.

  31. joan ellen says:

    Thank you all. For me, right now, I wish to resolve to TRY to practice virtuous thoughts, words, and deeds re: priests…no matter what. As one nearby priest recently said at Mass…”You don’t know the whole story.” And as one father in a parish recently said to a group of us…”Trust God.”

    P.S. And re: family, friends, parishioners, others…the same considerations as well. Difficult? For me, YES. How easy it is for me to want what I want…and forget God…and forget that God works differently in other people. Sometimes I don’t ‘see’ the holiness in others, only later to discover, especially after they die, just how really holy they were. Leaves me a bit ashamed.

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