Last week I was upset to hear a friend criticizing her priest. She was not critical of his homilies or how he "ran the church" but upset that he takes one day a week for himself. A day off.
About 10 years ago, an episode of King of the Hill poked a little fun when the Hill family's Methodist minister left to become an online minister. Upon hearing the news, Peggy made a comment about the man "only working half a day a week."
As laity, we often forget just what a gift it is to have a priest. And we forget that priest's themselves are human. And even God took a day off. A few years ago, Jeff called our parish priest with a question (nothing urgent) and left a voicemail. The following day the priest called back and in the voicemail he left us, he apologized that we had missed him because it happened to be his day off. Jeff said, "I'm glad he gets a day to do whatever needs to be done! Everyone deserves that." Indeed. Being a shepherd is hard work. It requires constant attentiveness. But let's not kid ourselves, shepherds out in the field sleep. They work in shifts.
Being a priest is not typically the easiest job in the world. It means shepherding people, which is much more difficult that sheep. Sheep don't talk back, among other things. Priest's not only say daily mass and Sunday mass, they hear confessions, visit the ill and shut-in , counsel couples before weddings and families before baptisms, they conduct funerals, they confirm young adults, they meet with any number of parishioners regarding anything from civic activities to personal tragedies, and many oversee schools or a mission parish. I'll willingly take my lumps for saying it, but priests are as busy as any parent. And like parents, they don't have set hours. People don't convieniently pass away or have a major crisis between 9 am and 5 pm eastern standard time.
So, what is wrong with a priest taking one day where he doesn't have set appointments and can quietly read or study or maybe walk in a park and enjoy God's creation? Every priest I know who takes this kind of time takes it "on-call" so if an emergency does arise, he can attend to it immediately. Now, since I did make the comparison with parents, I will admit, that parents typically cannot take a regular day off. However, in this day of modernity, we have drop-in care, care.com, and nap times. We find ways to get our moments in.
Yes priests not only deserve a day off, but they deserve attentiveness from us, the laity. In a take on JFK's quote: Ask not what your priest can do for you, ask what you can do for your priest. Most of us rarely, if ever think of it this way. I remember, clearly, the first time I did. It was about five years ago, a co-worker and friend of mine named Jean was telling me about something that had happened at mass at her parish that week. At the end of mass, her priest, a normally very kind and jovial person, made a somewhat angry statement during announcements about people not showing elder family members respect and love. Jean, while initially taken aback, almost immediately saw an oppurtunity. The next day she called the priest and asked him if there was anything he needed to talk about or let out. She told him that as he had heard many a confession from her, she was more than willing to let him "let it all out" with her. She said what followed was an honest discussion of things happening in his personal and family life. And she was nearly moved to tears at the end of the conversation when he thanked her for reaching out. Jean saw her priest as more than just a collar, a confessor, a shepherd; she saw he was a sheep as well.
When was the last time you dropped a homemade meal off at the rectory or had your kids make cards thanking your priest or just asked him how he was doing? Pray for your priest daily and consider, even just once a month doing something special for him. He is our shepherd, let us sheep show him we appreciate it!